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Don’t go changin’

Should you move to IT from a successful career?

Q: I’m in my mid-thirties. I have a B.S. in accounting and an MBA in finance and have ten years of experience in these fields, as well as some software teaching experience. I have acquired the following certifications over the past year: A+, Network+, and the first three legs of the seven required for the Win2000 MCSE (I will take the fourth very soon). I also volunteered for six months at a school district, where I fixed and troubleshot PCs.

I have been working as a contract temp in accounting for the last six months, but I want to get into the tech world as soon as I can. I also want to leverage myself and my MBA for as high as it will take me. Do you have any ideas about what type of job I should be looking for?

A: We traded a few e-mails back and forth because I wanted to find out why you were so set on an IT job when you have an established career in another field. Turns out that you never really had a passion for accounting and that friends have recommended a shift into a computer-related job. We also talked about how you don’t want to leave the San Francisco area due to family ties and responsibilities there.

I suggest that you don’t attempt to leave your past behind you and that instead you make the most of it to help you make the transition into an career more related to computers than to accounting.

Consider going to work for a software development company that focuses on finance, banking, etc. either for consumer or professional use. You’d be great at that kind of stuff, and you’d be able to use your formal education and experience. You might have to get your foot in the door by becoming a software tester, but once inside the right company you’d move up quickly. In the Bay Area there should be plenty of software development firms that could use your help.

Rather than taking the scattershot approach, be more company-specific. Look for good companies near where you live, and contact them. Focus on the companies and not on the kinds of job openings they publish in the paper. Make up a list of the companies, rank them according to your preference, and then go knock on their HR doors. Your goal is to find a good company to work for, so do research until you know everything about the company, then find a way to get a job as part of the company’s IT staff.

Q: I started a Web design/programming company about a year ago, and have found that I like server-side programming. I have done sites in both ASP and PHP, and also have a limited knowledge of Java. I feel the need to focus on one area and am trying to decide between Java and .NET. I want to make my services as in-demand as possible when the tech market starts turning around. Any suggestions?

A: Well, your question called for a little outside expertise, so I contacted some IT friends whose jobs include putting together Web servers. A few said that Java and .NET skills will be in high demand for the foreseeable future, so you can’t go wrong no matter what you do. Another, the owner of a Web site development and ISP firm, said, “I lack faith in the .NET strategy. Microsoft is banking on the .NET strategy, and many will embrace it; however, a lot of others are embracing other strategies, which include Java. The safest bet is probably Microsoft’s solution because it is kind of like IBM was in the old days-a monopoly is always a safe choice. If this person is more of a risk-taker, the upside potential of the Java route could be greater.”

My take: Given this feedback, pick the one that you enjoy working with and are most proficient in. If you’re productive and you’re happy, then you’ll enjoy the money you make even more.

Q: I am able to get computer graphics training on the government’s dime, at basically any school of my choice. Could you recommend a computer graphics program that would combine ease of learning along with job availability? Something that’s hot right now? I’m an underemployed actor without any graphic-arts experience, but I’ve got the money for the training and for a nicely equipped computer for home and learning use.

A: Two things for you to think about: digital video and community college. With your experience as an actor, you know you like theater, TV, and movies. Why not apply that knowledge by learning how to capture, edit, and produce digital video? Talk about a skill that’s hot and getting hotter.

New York, where you wrote from, has a host of places where you might learn these skills, and one of those places is its excellent community college system. The Borough of Manhattan Community College offers this kind of training in its undergraduate and its Adult and Continuing Education divisions.

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