When you were a kid, teachers probably told you that the job you’d have as an adult hadn’t even been invented yet. Their prediction turned out to be true for those who were born before ubiquitous internet, cellphones, and relatively inexpensive personal computers. As a result, some of today’s most in-demand, high-paying technical jobs are held by people who never in a million years imagined they’d go into tech.
Take, for example, the subject of today’s job profile. Chris, who asked that his last name and employer name be withheld for privacy reasons, is a Senior Application Support Analyst at a global company with approximately 15,000 employees. But, the path to his current career made plenty of zigs and zags before he rose to the role.
Here’s how he did it:
PayScale: What did you study in school?
Chris: My degree was a BS in Geology from UMass Amherst. So, completely and utterly irrelevant, but I did have to put in 10-plus years to be able to shift into IT effectively.
PayScale: What are the typical educational requirements for your job?
Chris: I’m not quite sure of that. A Web Development/Comp Sci degree would be good, as well as knowledge of various code bases and database architecture/language is pretty crucial. Systems administration experience is probably the most important aspect of this role.
PayScale: Did you always want to do what you do? If not, how did you figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up, so to speak?
Chris: I wasn’t in IT to start and served in more of an operations role. I always knew that I wanted ownership in the systems my job utilized, and early on in my working career, felt that it was important that I take control of any systems I was asked to use. Thankfully, as an employee of a start-up company at the time, I was able to take that ownership role and developed systems that suited my needs and the needs of our customers.
As time went on and more companies had an increasing presence online, I was able to leverage that experience into being able to design and implement both internal system tools, as well as web-based systems. It was around that time that I realized that I was far more interested in the application design and development than actually using the systems to support internal and external users.
PayScale: What’s the best part of your job?
Chris: I enjoy everything about what I do, frankly. I love being part of a team who can start with nothing and produce tools that others can use to make their lives/jobs/whatever a bit better. One of my responsibilities is to summarize all the work done by my team, and relate that to the part of the business we support. The feedback we get when we make people’s lives better or easier is extremely rewarding. It feels like we actually are making people happy, and who hates that feeling?
Another part of my job that I really enjoy is carving up complex problems and making steady progress to make things better. I’m the cat who didn’t want to play with the ball of yarn, but who’d rather unwind it and re-spool it nicely so it could be used later. I love finding the biggest nastiest ball of yarn and cleaning it up, unwinding it, and making it better for someone else to use.
PayScale: What’s the toughest part of your job?
Chris: Helping people (inside and outside of our organization) understand what they truly want and helping them understand the ramifications of their choices. People have truly wondrous ideas overall but lack pragmatic approaches to solving problems. Also helping people understand certain limitations can be a challenge, along with the business’s general lack of a sense of return-on-investment.
Sometimes it takes a long, long, (long) time to help people understand that what they are asking for, and the way they want things doesn’t make a lick of sense. It’s like a person asking for a mint because they are STARVING. No, sir, you need a burger.
Or if someone asks for an application to perform a task … say, send an email to someone. At a glance, it’s a simple request, but after the email message is developed in the way they wanted, they come back and say something like:
“Oh, I meant only after they do a task in a certain way – say, when buying something.”
“Oh, and only send it once.”
“Can the email be HTML-ready?”
“Can we revert that change so it’s text-only?”
“No, I think we need to have it include images and special characters.”
“Can we actually have this email sent not when the user performs a task, but when they are standing on their hands typing ‘LEMURS’ into a search engine while singing KISS songs?”
PayScale: What surprised you, when you started working in your career?
Chris: How much I didn’t actually know, but how it wasn’t that hard to figure it out on my own (to some extent, anyway). There are some truly incredible (and free) websites out there that will help expose people to baseline knowledge of certain areas in coding and architecture. Want to learn the basics of SQL? There are tons of places to go around the internet. Now, it’s not exactly in-depth training and some of the sites are basic in what they offer, but gaining limited exposure to a subject area can then make life easier. Then taking advantage of better/more comprehensive tools to learn or classes to do so, won’t feel so daunting.
PayScale: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow your career path?
Chris: Be interested in solving problems. If you aren’t in the field already, learn as much about application development as you can.
Be interested in working with people to support their needs and be interested in convincing people that their needs are absolutely insane.
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