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Newbie alert

Take courage and start fresh.

Q: I’m 44 years old and want to start a new career in the IT field. I have already completed the Microsoft Office 2000 Professional course. Can you help me identify the best options in relation to my age and being new in the field? Which fields will be in the most demand in the future?

A: Since you’ve already dipped your toe into training with the Microsoft course, and know that you want to wade in a little further, you might want to take a look at offerings in some of the hotter tech fields, like security, networking, computer repair, or Web services.

However, you should probably refrain from jumping into the deep end of the pool just yet. It’s tempting to sign up for a degree program or a certification series, and launch into your sparkly new endeavor wholeheartedly, but it’s important to take it slowly and gauge how much you like what you’re learning.

For example, you could decide that security is the light at the end of your education tunnel, only to find that other areas of the networking field interest you more. Although it certainly doesn’t hurt to learn about areas that aren’t on your degree or certification path, you’ll want to be sure not to stray too far from whatever you’ve decided is your main course of study.

In terms of your age, there are many programs geared toward students with more life experience. Community colleges in particular tend to offer internship programs and individual education counseling that could be hugely beneficial, and many not-so-young learners have appreciated the time that community college instructors take with adult students.

Check out a search site like Community College Web or the American Association of Community Colleges to find a school near you.

Q: I am an IBM Mainframe programmer, with over seven years of consulting experience, and I was laid off four months ago. I’ve been trying to find a job in my field, but there are few openings. I heard that the government still uses mainframes, but the people working on them won’t be retiring for at least five years. Do I have to wait that long?

A: It’s true that there’s a coming wave of retirement for the older group of mainframe programmers, in both government and the private sector.

But you don’t have to wait for the retirement parties before sending in your cover letter. And, more important, you may want to look beyond programming for a future with mainframes.

It’s your consulting experience that could prove to be key when searching for your next job. Many mainframe programming projects are being tackled overseas, as offshore outsourcing becomes a more cost-effective option for U.S. companies.

Although this may cause some grumbling stateside, it also creates the need for experienced mainframe experts to oversee the projects from a domestic location.

With your combination of programming and consulting expertise, you’d be a good candidate for these newly-formed positions. Stress your management acumen with headhunters and CIOs.

Also helpful (and nice-looking on a résumé) would be completion of a class in international relations, employee management, or even a foreign-language course, like Russian or Hindi, geared toward outsourcing countries.

Q: I just got a computer science degree. Before I finished college I did various internships as an NT administrator, but couldn’t find a job after graduation. My problem is that I’ve never had a full-time job, so I feel at a disadvantage. Should I go back to school for an MCSE or grad school for my MIS? Which would help me more in this tough market?

A: With the availability of so many experienced programmers, you’re wise to think about getting a little extra education to prepare for the job market. You don’t necessarily have to choose between the MCSE and an MIS degree, however, since many MIS programs include the Microsoft certification in their program requirements.

Therefore, it may be a better idea to look for a degree program that would enable you to secure the MCSE as one of your first courses. This way you can decide whether grad school agrees with you and, if it doesn’t, at least you’ll have the certification if you decide to start job hunting.

For securing that first real paycheck, be sure to keep checking back with your internship contacts. Not only will they be networked with other hiring managers, but also they’ll be a rich source of advice for your new educational endeavors.

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