The Technical Path: Fundamentals

I have been working in the Information Technology field for the past 12 years, discovering new things everyday. The world of IT is changing rapidly, and it is almost impossible to know everything. In fact, sometimes the more you know, the less you know. Technology is both getting more simple and more complicated at the same time which can make is difficult for new members to get a good grasp on core concepts.

So if you wanted to jump into IT, or just know where to improve and elevate your game, here is where I would start.

The Soft Skills Are Strong With This One

Soft skills — “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.”

Soft skills are important to maintain and boost because they make it easier to form relationships with people, create trust and dependability, and lead teams. They are essential for your success in the workplace, your company’s success, and even your personal life.

The following soft skills are defined as being essential in the workplace. There are others, however I will focus on these:

  1. Leadership: Companies want employees who don’t require supervision, and can lead teams/other colleagues to completing the tasks at hand. They want individuals that can create and nurture relationships throughout the organization chain; up, down, and across. Leaders should be able to assess, motivate, encourage, celebrate, and discipline colleagues, and build teams, resolve conflicts, and foster the company’s desired culture.
  2. Teamwork: No matter where you are in a company, you are part of a team (either directly working within a team, or indirectly by collaborating with others). There are those that prefer to work alone, and that is okay, however you still need to demonstrate that you understand and appreciate the value of productive collaboration.
  3. Communication Skills: There are 5 components of communication skills.
    - Verbal Communication
    - Nonverbal Communication
    - Written Communication
    - Visual Communication
    - Active Listening
  4. Problem-Solving Skills: In IT, if you don’t like to solve problems, then you are in the wrong field. Problem solving is required on a daily basis to overcome bugs, roadblocks in projects, and more — these represent learning opportunities and should never be feared of. The ability to use your knowledge to find answers to pressing problems and formulate workable solutions will show that you can excel in your job.
  5. Work Ethic: Just like how you can demonstrate leadership, you can demonstrate your excellent work ethics by not being required to be micromanaged. Companies hire you with the expectation of you being responsible in completing the job you were hired to do. This includes being on time, meeting deadlines, and going over and above the ask (not all the time, but sometimes its worth it).
  6. Flexibility/Adaptability: The ability to be flexible means being able to change directions quickly in projects or tasks, and be adaptable to those changes is just as important. Companies can sometimes change an entire process over night, and being accepting to these changes, and capable to adapting is vital.
  7. Interpersonal Skills: Aka People skills. You need to be able to build and maintain relationships with colleagues and other members of the company you work for — and external clients/reps. You need to be able to give constructive criticism AND receive it, be tolerant and respectful of other’s opinions, and be able to empathize with them.

If you find that you need work on these skills, the easiest way to build them is by observing others who you know to be excellent in these skills. People tend to solely focus on technical skills when planning their development, but the deterioration of those soft skills can make it difficult to succeed in future positions that require a high degree of emotional intelligence.

“emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success”

The Fundamentals

No single course is going to get you the required fundamentals to build a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding for this field. Before you start to run, you need to learn how to walk — so let’s start with crawling.

These fundamentals should be learnt on Day 1. If you don’t know how the Operating System (OS) interfaces between a computer user and the computer hardware, you should stop right there. You should be able to open a computer chassis and identify each key component: CPU, motherboard, GPU, RAM, power supply, storage (SATA, RAID, HDD, SSD, etc.).

Along with the hardware basics, OS basics are needed to understand the complexities of hardware, hardware management, and the programs requesting I/O. There are two types of software that you should be aware of: System software (manages the operation of a computer) and Application software (programs that help the user perform a task).

Possible course you can take: Computer Hardware and Operating Systems

You don’t need to learn how to program in every language out there (~ 700 programming languages, so best of luck!), however you do need to know how logic is formed. Each language is different by ways of syntax, but they all have the basic elements: Data types, variables, keywords, logical and arithmetical operations, loops, conditional statements, arrays… It goes on, but the point is, learn the fundamentals of programming languages.

Here is a starting resource: Codecademy Basics of Programming

Having a foundation of basic networking concepts is essential to a successful career in IT as networking technologies underlie all IT activities. You should be able to look at a topology and identify the different hardware being used, the type of network is being implemented, the inbound/outbound traffic, and what protocols would be used via different applications.

Networking is broken down into the 7 layers of the OSI layers (or 4 of the TCP/IP model), and you should be able to name these off the top of your head. These 7 layers of the OSI model are extremely useful outside of networking, so much so that you can use them to troubleshoot technical issues.

Along with learning about networking fundamentals, it’s a good idea to check out Cloud Computing.

Free Sources:

After learning hardware, storage, networking and the different types of data being used, it’s a good idea to learn how that data can be manipulated. You don’t need to be a guru in SQL, and you don’t have to be a data analyst to know the basics of SQL and databases, but it does drive the world. It can be essential when having to deal with large amount of data as well as solving business analytical problems, or applying solutions in a software that allows you to extract the desired information from the database.

Resource: Learn SQL

Last but not least, its recommended to learn about source control. If you are a developer and are not using a source control method, how do you sleep at night? This is never really taught within the educational system, but is widely used in the real world, and that is why its on this list.

This isn’t just for developers and their code; use the appropriate Source/version control method for your work.

Source: The basics

Six Step Troubleshooting Methodology

One extra thing I would like to mention is the 6 steps of troubleshooting methodology. Due to the complexity of modern computer systems, there is a lot happening in the background that could be overlooked, and so following a troubleshooting methodology can really save you hours and headaches.

It goes like this:

  1. Identify problem
  2. Establish theory of probable cause
  3. Test probable cause theory
  4. Establish plan for resolution
  5. Verify functionality
  6. Document

You do it all the time in your everyday life, so why wouldn’t you apply this to your job?

Read-only Fridays

Anyone within IT can’t stress this enough; Do. Not. Apply. Changes. on a Friday. If you can, wait until Monday. I shouldn’t really have to say much more about this point, but if you must know, ask a colleague or family member in IT and hold onto your seat for hours of facepalming stories.

There is obviously more that can be said about starting out in IT, but for now, start with these and give yourself a solid foundation. If you already know some of this stuff, use it as a benchmark and test yourself — you might learn something new!

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