28 February, 2018

Industry insight from Aaron – student alumni

Aaron was good enough to sit down with the team at our Career Support Centre to share his insights from the early days of his IT career up to today. We think you’ll find Aaron’s thoughts invaluable as you plan your next steps in your IT career.

What was it like when you started your first IT role?

Starting out was daunting at first. I had never been in a professional setting. I’d come from a kitchen, where the environment was very different.

Stepping into an environment where everyone was so far beyond my skillset was new too, and I put so much pressure on myself to be 100% straightaway. I think with level 1 or entry-level jobs in IT, they can vary from just taking calls/emails and logging tickets, to having to be across multiple teams and departments, which was my case. It took me a good six months before I knew what team did what. Then over the next six months I was adapting the role, and by the 12-month stage the team saw that I had adapted the role to a team of two that was doing everything from password resets to simple server issue resolution (basic L2 things).

Starting out was scary; even starting my new role in a new company last year was daunting. Any new environment that you don’t know is always scary. Just ride it out, ask as many questions as you need, and don’t fear making mistakes, it’s how we learn. Just try not to repeat mistakes; learn from them.

What was your ballpark starting salary?

I looked at jobs beginning $40-45K/year, and I was lucky enough to snag my first at $50K/year with yearly bonus and raise. I was blindsided a few times by my salaries. Ask advice before walking into an interview, and make sure you’re 100% happy with the salary before you accept any offer.

What challenges, particularly from a communication (interpersonal skills) perspective, did you face?

The personal development lessons and interview prep sessions from the Career Support Centre were some of the most valuable lessons in the whole course. It’s one of the main things that separates you from the courses any other uni would offer. Learning ways people communicate and talk to each other is important if you want to effectively work with your new team, and you will develop a method for dealing with each person. For example, one of my team members wanted the polite ‘hi, how are you doing?’ conversation before I asked something work related, while another team member didn’t care for that talk as it wasted his time. He wanted me to get straight to the point, and often required the promise of shouting him a beer for escalations that I needed.

Although I never did this, I learnt that owning up to mistakes straightaway makes people a lot happier with you. If you muck something up, instead of them spending hours looking into the issue to resolve it, telling them straight out what you did that may have helped cause the issue makes them a lot more appreciative.

What importance do you place on communication skills to help you from a technical aspect?

If you can build and maintain strong relationships with your staff members, you’ll find they work better with you. They won’t be so annoyed to restart their machine for the third time if you explain to them why you’re doing this. Helping them understand the issue and what they can do to avoid or resolve certain things helps your job in the future.

In times of crisis, clear, concise information helps the team deal with the issue quicker, as well as using the correct terms for things. And knowing how to talk and communicate with your team helps a lot; you need to understand your team dynamic to work well with them.

Patience is a must! Most people you deal with outside of your team are not technically minded; they feel ‘dumb’ a lot of the time and helping them feel more comfortable is important. Having the patience to sit with them and go through the issue, as well as how to avoid or resolve it is also needed. I’ve had to walk someone step-by-step through how to open a new Word document, and you will get this. Don’t belittle them, help them. I’m sure there are things they know how to do that they think are simple, that they’d need to walk you through. Be patient, polite and helpful and they’ll be a lot more pleasant to deal with.

3.5 years on, what is your role and ballpark salary?

My role currently is an ‘infrastructure analyst’, a developing sysadmin/network engineer. They want to raise me to that level over the next 12 months. And salary is knocking on $80K/year.

I went from L1 to L2 in 12 months, spent two years in L2 support, and am now in an infrastructure analyst role, which is basically an L1-L3/sysadmin role, which I am growing into.

What have been your key learnings/takeaways?

Be honest, in conversation, when helping someone and most definitely in interviews. They will see straight through your lies very quickly. Tell them straight up your abilities and skill level. If they’re not happy with that then you wouldn’t do well in the job anyway. If you don’t know an answer to something, especially in an interview, tell them straight up, but tell them you are sure you know a way to find an answer, you know where to look, what to ask and how you will get that answer.

Trial and error is a great learning method. You will never forget the lesson learnt from bringing down a whole floor’s network or causing a broadcast storm – it stays with you!

Talk to people wiser than you. ‘Never will you know as little as you do now’ is a great mantra. Always keep learning.

Learn how your new team works together and try your best to work with that. Coming in as a square peg in a round hole doesn’t work – do your best to be round.

How have you grown personally and professionally?

Personal: In high school, I only loved IT because I could play games on the computer all lesson. I never thought I’d be doing this job. I didn’t know what I’d be doing (definitely not this). I’ve become more resourceful and see no challenge as too hard now. I generally have a crack at most things. Even if I fail, it’s a learning experience. But you need to make sure your work environment is supportive of this approach, and obviously, don’t do trial/error on production systems.

Professional: When I started the L1 job, it was basically answer calls/emails and log tickets. I changed that to a proper L1 role where we fixed basic issues and gathered evidence for the L2 teams to help them. I adapted it to include technical aspects and things that were within my scope, although not 100% necessary (see story below), but the course gave me the backbone for my job. I knew WHY things weren’t working, not just how to fix them. It gave me reasons behind my investigation methods, not just because that’s what I’ve been told/taught to do. Jumping to L2 was easy because at the last stage of my L1 job I was basically doing that anyway, but this job has been a huge leap. I’m learning new systems very quickly, new tech and different ways of doing things. Also having to learn Linux and other strange software and processes is a huge learning curve for me.

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