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Thinking locally

Find training resources in your area.

Q: I’m making a career change, after working in the United States Postal Service for twelve years as a mail processor. I’ve recently gotten a MCDBA certification, but I know need a lot more hands-on training in the area. How can I find local internship opportunities?

A: Translating knowledge into employment can be a tough process in IT, so you’re wise to want to bolster your education with some experience. Although tech internships have gotten more competitive, thanks to the current job scene, there are several directions you could pursue.

First, utilize educational resources. If you got your certification at a school, it might have a career office or development officer who’ll know about companies that need interns. If you studied independently, you may want to wander into the hallways of colleges in your area that have technology programs. Frequently, these schools have bulletin boards for students who need jobs or internships. You can find them outside of the career services offices and the technology department classrooms. Usually, you don’t have to be a student at that school to apply for these internships, they’re just tacked up at those schools because that’s where the most students happen to be.

You could also try some cold calling to the companies around you that look interesting. True, just the phrase “cold calling” sends shivers up the spine sometimes, but if twenty phone calls results in one opportunity, it’s worth the dialing, even if you get stuck in voicemail jail. Ask the human-resources director or IT manager if the company does technology internships, and whether you’d be eligible. Such a friendly, go-getter approach could also get your resume put a little higher in the pile.

Finally, have you thought about your old workplace? Because of your experience in the USPS, you probably have a good idea of how they operate, and what systems they’re using. If you still have contacts there, let them know what you’re looking for and they could do half the networking for you.

Q: I want to learn how to program cell phones and make a career out of it. What languages would I need to learn? Are there schools near me that teach this kind of programming?

A: Given the rise in cell phone use and the spate of companies trying to jazz up their offerings with camera, PDA, and GPS abilities, it seems you’ve chosen a fun area for your future career. Since you’re already thinking ahead, why not focus on where this kind of programming is headed?

Recently, Sun Microsystems released guidelines for use of Java in cell phones. The company has produced these specifications, called Java Technology for the Wireless Industry (JTWI) in an attempt to create an industry standard for programming mobile phones. The move has also been backed by Nokia, Motorola, and Ericsson, with cheering from the sidelines by Sprint PCS, T-Mobile, Vodafone and DoCoMo, so there’s a good chance that JTWI will become the new shared standard.

With this in mind, the two courses you should investigate are Java, J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) and wireless networking. The latter will give you a good base of information for programming classes, and both types of courses are offered at a multitude of training facilities and schools.

If you want to do some home study, there are some good books available, like “J2ME: The Complete Reference” by Jim Keogh, that are summarized on the dandy site for developers, DevX.

Q: After fixing computers for friends for years, I finally want to make a career out of it. I know there’s tons of stuff I need to learn, so I plan to take classes, but the only places around me to learn computer repair are small schools that don’t seem very reputable to me. How can I tell if a school is legitimate?

A: All technical training schools know that if their students don’t get jobs after they graduate, people won’t exactly be keen to sign up for future classes. So, they often keep records of where graduates go, and companies that have come looking for new recruits. When you investigate the small schools in your area, ask for this kind of information, and tell them your concerns about job placement.

If the school official doesn’t pony up the data or seems to dodge the question, cross the place off your list of potential learning spots. If you find one that has an impressive track record but you’re still wary of all those water stains on the ceiling and broken chairs in the hallway, ask to sit in on a class or talk to past graduates. Too, you can contact the companies where graduates have been placed and find out what the prevailing opinion about the school might be. Feeling comfortable with the solidity of your school takes an element of anxiety out of the job search that you’ll face once you get a certification or diploma in hand.

Send your career-related questions to Elizabeth Millard.

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