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Home-networking options

And, is there a way to combine diverse interests?

Q: I’ve been a low-voltage-wiring contractor in Atlanta for 17 years–mostly pulling cable TV and telephone wires in houses and apartments. In the last year or two I’ve networked a few homes, capitalizing on my extensive background in creatively getting wire from point A to point B. I thoroughly enjoy what I do and the challenges that each house presents. I’m told that the market for home networks for existing homes (not new construction) is largely untapped. Any thoughts on how I could funnel a steady stream of that opportunity my way? Where are the best places to look for the homeowners looking for someone like me?

A: I grew up in Atlanta and visit periodically. I know there are a lot of older neighborhoods being revitalized in and around the city. I would contact some of the home-improvement contractors who handle the executive and higher-income–style homes and see if you can work with them, either as a subcontractor or as someone they use as a reference. You could put in wired and wireless home-security systems, computerized home systems that turn lights on and off, or home theater systems that are connected to computerized controls.

You could also contact some of the manufacturers of these kinds of systems to see if you can get trained and signed on as an authorized installer for the systems in the Atlanta area. I know of a company in the Boston area that does this kind of thing. There are also a few other companies making home-networking products: Nortel Networks, Linksys, and Intel.

Finally, you could resort to making flyers and leaving them around the older neighborhoods that are in the process of going upscale.

Q: I have 10 years of experience as a field tech in the areas of computer-related cable, telephones, hardware, and satellite technology. I am currently studying networking and am on the verge of testing for the A+ certification. I am finding it hard to break into the networking area of IT. I find that there are not a lot of entry-level jobs, and my past work experience and skills are not enough to even land an interview. What options do I have in order to get some kind of break into the IT field?

A: You and I traded a few e-mails back and forth after you sent me your question. During that digital conversation it came to light that you’re under 25 years old. Unfortunately for many companies, someone that young without a computer science degree or a well-known certification looks more like a kid than a grown-up ready for the real world.

You will need a network-related certification if you want to work on the network side of things. What you can do now is finish your A+ and look for a job with a small organization that needs someone who can take care of a small network (less than 50 computers). Those jobs tend to be the jack-of-all-trades sort: You’ll take care of installing new software, troubleshooting, and fixing hardware problems. Once you’ve had that job for a few years and have gotten your networking certification, you can start looking around for a network-related job.

Q: I am 23 years old with no college degree, but I love working out and I love computers. Is there any way I can combine these two really strong interests?

A: You know, I can’t think of two activities that seem further apart–but there is a lot of overlap in all industries these days. For example, many health clubs have installed computer systems that monitor your workout as you use various weight-lifting machines. The systems track and record your performance, allowing you and your trainer to review exactly what you did during a session.

How about going back to school for physical therapy and add a focus on computers as a means to track your clients’ progress? You could also become a sports or personal trainer by getting a certification. Check out the certification process by visiting the American Fitness Professionals and Associates Web site.

You can use computers as a therapist or a trainer by using software to track performance. One such software program is Sportsware 2000 Injury Tracking Software by Computer Sports Medicine. Or look at JJA Microsystems Fitness Tracker, which is a fitness tracking software that runs on handheld computers.

With a little more specialized education in computer science (think four-year computer science degree), you might even be qualified to help create the software itself.

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