By Katherine Spencer Lee | April 2007

Dice is pleased to introduce a new monthly IT career column, Ask the IT Career Doctor, with Katherine Spencer Lee, Executive Director of Robert Half Technology. Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Once per month, Katherine will respond to an IT career-related question from a Dice reader. This month, she responds to an IT professional who supports an ERP system that is being phased out.

I recently graduated with a major in computer systems, and then worked for three years in electronics. Now I want to make a move to IT, and I'm wondering what would be the best area of IT to enter. Is it programming, networking, database administration or something else entirely? Should I pursue a certification? I like to think I am versatile and can learn quickly.

Katherine Lee Spencer responds:
Whether you're a recent graduate or transitioning into technology from another field, you've chosen a great time to make the move. Business expansion and increasing investments in technology are fueling demand for skilled IT professionals across the United States. Your openness to different sectors of IT works in your favor.

If you're looking for the hottest IT jobs right now, the table below shows some of the positions experiencing the greatest demand - and above-average increases in base compensation - according to the Robert Half Technology 2007 Salary Guide.

Of course, you can't just sign up for one of these positions without prior related work experience. Whether you're looking for entry-level work or entering IT from another profession, one place to acquire that experience is on the job. If you talk to successful IT professionals, you'll find that many of them got their start in an unheralded but rewarding place: the help desk.

The support field is booming as companies invest in technology to fuel their growing operations. The steady stream of new systems and products guarantees a continuing need for specialists who can help users troubleshoot applications and hardware.

A Broad Base to Build On
Highly specialized technical positions can be satisfying (and lucrative) as long as you remain passionate about a particular technology. They can be constrictive, however, if your enthusiasm for that technology wanes, or if you're the type of person who constantly seeks new challenges. The result can be a career that jumps sideways among different specialties, rather than steadily building toward higher-paying roles with greater responsibility.

Because of this, don't be too eager to move into a highly specialized role or rack up the hottest certifications until you are certain which path interests you most. Early in your career, theres no substitute for broad-based, on-the-job experience, and you can gain such exposure on the help desk. A help-desk position also makes an ideal first IT job for the following reasons:

  • Technical skills development. In a help desk role, you can gain in-depth, real-world knowledge of nearly every system a company uses or sells, an essential commodity for those just starting out in IT. Once you've built this solid foundation, you're free to move in almost any career direction, including applications development, quality assurance or networking - whatever interests you most.
  • Soft skills development. As IT has become a more prominent, integrated part of business, IT roles have become more strategic. That's why interpersonal skills such as communication and problem-solving - core skills of help desk work - are in ever-increasing demand. Ever try to walk a frustrated non-technical user through a complex technical problem? Your knowledge of the application alone won't get the job done.
  • Advancement opportunities. The help desk isn't just a launchpad for other IT opportunities. Especially at larger companies, opportunities exist within the help desk itself. According to the 2007 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide, the national average starting salary range for help desk managers is $62,500 to $88,250.

Make Your First Step Count
Professionals looking to transition from one industry to another sometimes find that they are able to move laterally into a new industry, leveraging their experience into a better-paying position. In your case, you might find that this would enable you to work in an intermediate help desk or technical support position.

Remember that the best job for you isn't necessarily the one that pays the most or is in the highest demand right now. In the early stages of your career, the most important thing is to prepare yourself for the broadest possible range of options. The help desk can be a great place to start charting your course.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, Europe and Asia.