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Ready to begin an IT career

I am 21 years old, have just started to learn about computers and am very interested in networking and being a network administrator but I am not sure on how to go about it. I have some MCSE books that I am going to study but any other advice would be great.

First, let me congratulate you on your decision to pursue a career in information technology.

The most marketable IT professionals possess a combination of extensive hands-on experience, technical expertise (acquired through college coursework and technical certifications, etc.) and well-developed "soft" skills such as written and verbal communication abilities. It's not going to be a quick process but you'll need to start developing each of these aspects for success in your new career.

Look to technical schools for immediate access to a broad area of expertise such as networking, web development or technical support. Four-year degrees through a university or college will provide you with a well-rounded technical education if you have the time and resources to commit. Once you are ready to specialize in a specific technology, enrolling in a technical certification program can provide you with the advanced skills you will need to further your career.

While pursuing your education, you can begin the process of developing some on-the-job experience. Consider volunteering for a local non-profit organization or seeking an entry-level position in a help desk or end-user support role where you will be able to work hands-on with a variety of technologies. To keep pace with the fast-moving IT industry, make sure you regularly read technology publications such as Computerworld, NetworkWorld, eWeek and InfoWorld, as well as business publications including the Wall Street Journal.

Once you have identified the area of technology you are interested in, try to participate in a user group or the local chapter of an industry organization such as the AITP (Association of Information Technology Professionals), NPA (Networking Professionals Association) or AIP (Association of Internet Professionals). They are excellent resources for networking with IT professionals, developing contacts and job leads, and keeping abreast of industry trends.

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