Like many high school graduates, Ryan Schwartz wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life. After graduating from Hempfield Area High School in 1998, the Greensburg, Pa., native enrolled at the local branch campus of the University of Pittsburgh and began studying for a career in chiropractics. After two and a half years of study, he realized being a chiropractor wasn't all it was cracked up to be. So the music-recording hobbyist enrolled in Middle Tennessee State University's Music Industry Studies.
He earned his bachelor's in recording industry production and technology in December 2003, then moved back to southwest Pennsylvania to launch his career. But the nearly impenetrable recording industry and a new-found passion directed Ryan to new training and a new career path. In October 2005, he enrolled at Pittsburgh Technical Institute in the Information Technology course of study. He recently finished the course, landed his first job at 911 Nerds in Greensburg, Pa., and is completing his testing to become Microsoft Certified.
He has but one regret about his new career: “I wish I would have chosen computers right off the bat.”
Tell us about your computer/IT career. Where did your interest in computers start?
My interest in computers started in 2003 when my friend helped me assemble my first “good” pc. I had always owned a computer, but was never fully captivated by them until I was involved in putting one together.
What made you decide to change careers to computers?
I decided to change my career choice to computers, because I see everything in our world migrating to computer-based automated components. It seems like the computer industry has the greatest potential for growth and opportunity to learn. Plus, I never get tired of playing with computers.
How have your experiences in previous positions contributed to your success?
I had previously worked in the food service industry and had to deal with people on a day-to-day basis. I believe that my communication skills matured considerably during that time. That being the case, I feel that I am able to explain difficult concepts to computer end-users on a level that is easy for them to understand. This makes people feel comfortable with me, which is important.
Do you have any special certifications? How is such certification important to your career?
I am COMPTIA A+ certified and am also a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). Having these certifications gives potential employers confidence in your abilities, as one must pass difficult exams to obtain certification status. There are chances to become certified in many more areas as well. Having these certifications can bring more employment opportunities.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
I hope to get my MCSE — Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. I also would eventually like to become a network administrator for a larger company. The MCSE certification will lead me in the right direction.
Any funny anecdotes about life as an “IT guy”?
On a particular house call, I had to set up a home network for a woman who spoke mostly German. It was very hard to understand her with that thick accent. When her file-sharing program failed to work at first, due to the Windows firewall, she freaked out and started swearing (I think) up and down in German. It took all my strength not to bust out laughing!
Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about computers/IT in order to be successful in the field?
It is very important to be passionate about computers in order to work in the IT field. Heck, you'll be sitting in front of one for most of the day. If you don't love the ins and outs of computers and how they work together on a network, don't bother with an IT career.
Tell us about your computer/IT education. How did you initially decide to study computers/IT and how did you find a school?
I decided that a career in the music recording industry just wasn't feasible for me, and food service was not personally rewarding, so I decided to go with computers. I absolutely love computers and had used them extensively for recording music, so I then wanted to make a career using computers in some fashion.
I did some research on the internet about what types of computer job opportunities existed, then did more searching to find out exactly what training and education was required. I read about some local schools on the internet as well. I then visited a few of them to determine which one would suit me best.
In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your computer/IT education?
In retrospect, I wish I would have gone to school for computers initially, instead of switching majors in college, graduating, and then still having to attend a technical school. To put it simply – I wish I would have chosen computers right off the bat.
What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a computer/IT school?
I considered how a typical class would operate first and foremost. I didn't want to attend a “boot-camp” style school where you go to class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for two weeks for one topic, take the test, then move onto the next topic. That pace would have been brutal. I wanted something that would only be in the evening, or on weekends, for a few hours, not an entire day. I also considered class size. I wanted something that would be large enough to meet a wide variety of people, yet small enough to have individual instructor attention.
Are there any different considerations for those who know that they want to specialize in a certain area?
There are many software and hardware vendors that offer their own specialized certifications. If you want to concentrate on using one of those vendor's products, a vendor-specific certification is in order.
Does the school from which you graduate make a difference in landing a good job?
The reputation of the school you attend is important. A potential employer may have hired graduates from your school in the past and have had success with those employees. So if you attend a school with a good reputation for a solid program, you may be more likely to get hired.
What can students applying to computer/IT schools do to increase their chances of being accepted?
A college degree helps. Your entire academic career counts toward your future. Having a good high school transcript can help too. Furthermore, the better your academic record, the more likely you are to receive a scholarship.
What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in computers/IT?
I say, study hard. There are many abstract concepts to grasp in the world of computers. The more books you can read the better. Knowledge is power.
Describe a typical day of work for you. What exactly do you do?
On a typical day I start out by checking the help desk application for end-user trouble issues. Then I call each person who has an issue and gather more information about the problem. If I can solve it over the phone, great; if not, I schedule a time with the person to help with the problem. After this, I change the nightly backup tape. Then I check my e-mail for any other issues that may need my attention.
What are your key responsibilities?
My key responsibilities are resolving problems that end users are having with their computers. Basically, I am a help desk worker — I solve people's problems.
On a basic level, what skills does your job demand?
My job demands that I be good at communicating with people. Whether it is in person, over the phone, or through e-mail, I have to be kind, courteous, and attentive. I also have to have a lot of patience. Not everybody knows how to use a computer very well, so I have to be tolerant to people who make mistakes.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Everyday is different. I never know what I am getting into each day when I go to the office. Sometimes there are issues that I cannot immediately figure out. For these times, I get suggestions from the internet or call my help desk coworkers. It's all about teamwork.
What types of continuing education requirements should computer/IT students expect once they graduate and land a job?
Technology changes very quickly. You have to be mindful of these changes and learn about new products and services as they become available. Trade magazines and journals really help keep you informed.
How is the job market now in the computer/IT industry?
The job market varies depending on the geographical region in which you reside. In bigger cities there are more opportunities for advancement in the IT field.
How do you think it will be in five years?
In five years, I foresee the job market being full of even more opportunities. Small companies grow and need a network infrastructure to compensate for those changes. A lot of things can change in five years.
What are the best ways to get a job in the computer/IT field? How available are internships?
The best way to get a job in the IT field is to first complete your education and get certified. In the meantime, you can search the internet for job postings and see what you would like to do in the future. Once certified, have a good resume. Many schools even offer placement services to help you with your resume and to give you insight into where to seek employment. For the newly-certified, fresh-out-of-school-candidate, an internship might be a good way to get your feet wet. Internships seem to be readily available. You might even be able to do one while you are attending school.
How has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession?
A computer that cannot communicate with other computers is useless. With the internet growing in popularity everyday, there are more internet service providers. These ISPs can be a starting place to seek employment. Furthermore, with more and more people using the internet at home and at the office, problems arise. This is where help desk workers come in – another great start to an IT career.
Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the computer/IT world that would be interesting or helpful to students?
In addition to my computer certifications, I have a college degree. This makes me even more marketable to a prospective employer, as it shows that I can complete a well-rounded, rigorous course of study. It also demonstrates that I can complete a wide variety of tasks.
I also love high-end gaming computers and am very knowledgeable of the hardware required for such machines. This can be great information to know for certain entertainment-related computer jobs, or can be a great conversation starter. People like to talk with others who have similar interests.