How to Start a Career in IT with No Experience
Transitioning to a career in information technology (IT) without previous experience can seem daunting:
- All technical careers require specialized knowledge and skills, and IT is no exception
- The term “IT” encompasses different technologies and domains—how do you know which one is right for you?
- There’s a multitude of learning paths, courses, and certifications to choose from
- How can you accomplish your goals and get hired within a reasonable time frame, and as inexpensively as possible?
- Changing industries at mid-career is like starting over, and requires confidence and personal connections
Despite these challenges, getting hired into an entry-level job in IT that’s right for you is very much achievable. After all, we’ve personally seen plenty of adults make that change.
With starting salaries for full-time entry-level IT support positions in the range of $55–62k, the financial incentive is clear. However, we advise a strategic approach when embarking on this journey.
In this article, we show you four ways to transition from where you are now to a rewarding IT career, as a complete newcomer and without prior knowledge and skills.
Climb Hire is a recognized non-profit organization dedicated to preparing low-income and overlooked working adults for a career in tech. We’re headquartered in San Jose, California, and we’re supported by reputable foundations such as Google.org, Foundation for California Community Colleges, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
First: Learn About the Industry Before You Leap
“IT” is a domain that’s both wide and deep, so it almost goes without saying that you should carefully research your options before investing the time, money, and effort to acquire the skills necessary to change into IT.
Begin by exploring the different areas within IT—like cybersecurity, software development, network administration, or data centers. Assess what appeals to you and aligns with your strengths; a good exercise for this is to write down your current skills and experience.
For example, are you fascinated by the challenge of staying ahead of evolving security threats and hackers? Or do you like the idea of creating and building new applications or software? Are you interested in the setup, management, and maintenance of networks and data communication systems? When you’ve found an IT field that appeals to you, it’s time to consider the different options available for acquiring the skills to get started.
4 Routes to Starting in IT with No Experience
When breaking into a highly technical field like IT, it’s important to show potential employers that:
- Your base level of technical knowledge is sufficient to get started right away, requiring minimal to no investment on their part to get you underway.
- You possess the knowledge and skills to solve problems that typically occur in the context of the field you want to work in.
So, how do you show employers that you possess both of these qualities, having never worked in the industry before? We advise you to:
- Gain officially recognized certification or accreditation. Some programs don’t offer certification but instead provide their own diploma or certificate. We recommend instead that you work towards a basic certification that’s widely recognized, such as the CompTIA A+ or the GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GISF), for instance.
- Complete one or more technical projects during the course. These projects will be a major part of your personal portfolio and show evidence of your ability to apply your knowledge and skills to a particular task or problem. Examples of projects include building a web or mobile application, putting together an Internet of Things (IoT) project, or setting up a network security system.
Whichever of the four routes you choose below, we highly recommend that you ensure it offers both of the possibilities just described.
It’s also tremendously helpful to choose a route that offers opportunities to professionally network with peers and future employers, since some jobs aren’t advertised publicly. Other benefits of networking are that it provides opportunities to exchange knowledge, learn soft skills, find a mentor, and generally find others who will be supportive of your journey.
Below are four options for gaining the knowledge and skills you’ll need to find entry-level work in IT:
1. Join a Mentored Learning Program or Bootcamp
Mentored learning programs (also sometimes referred to as “bootcamps”) are intensive adult training programs that focus on a specialization that’s in demand on the job market.
They’re designed to provide participants with practical, job-ready skills in a relatively short period of time. These programs typically include mentorship or guidance from experienced professionals in the field. Immersive learning programs generally offer:
- Immersive learning. They cover a lot of topics within the space of less than a year.
- A hands-on approach. Learning tends to be both practical (with exercises and projects) and guided or mentored.
- Student networking. Opportunities for networking with peers and mentors are prioritized.
- Career guidance. Schools have an interest in maintaining alumni hiring rates, and generally offer career coaching.
By the end of the program, graduates should have enough expertise and industry knowledge to find a job within six months of completing coursework.
- Practical and intensive training: These programs focus on giving you practical, job-ready skills through intensive learning.
- Certification opportunities: Many (but not all) programs offer certifications that are officially recognized in the IT industry.
- Guided learning: Mentors or experienced instructors guide you in understanding the most important IT concepts.
- Career support for alumni: Post-completion support includes assistance with job searches and career advice, which can significantly benefit graduates.
- Networking opportunities: Programs often operate in student cohorts, providing social capital and encouraging the growth of professional networks.
- Flexibility: Many programs are 100% remote with schedules that accommodate working professionals.
- The cost of such programs can be relatively high (although some programs offer financing options and discounts for certain groups or for economically disadvantaged applicants).
- The pace of learning can be intense: Bootcamps are known for their concentrated learning programs. Students with full-time jobs may feel pressure to coordinate personal and professional priorities to manage their time efficiently.
So, what does a learning program look like that not only offers intensive training and mentorship but also ensures affordability and accessibility for its participants?
The Climb Hire Program
Climb Hire is a six-month, mentored learning program that provides training on sought-after technical IT skills, along with certifications and comprehensive support for the development of soft skills.
It combines learning with a supportive community, helping Climbers to not only acquire new skills but also to network with peers and professionals for career advancement.
Climb Hire itself is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower low-income and overlooked working adults to build successful careers in the tech industry.
How Climb Hire Works
The program offers a six-month learning curriculum to become an IT Support Specialist, allowing you to:
- Get practical, hands-on experience via interactive and assisted labs.
- Cultivate professional connections through networking opportunities.
- Prepare for interviews and networking with dedicated training sessions.
The technical coursework prepares participants for CompTIA A+ certification, the preferred certification for technical support and IT operational roles. (The course syllabus explains the curriculum in more detail, including the range of topics covered.)
The IT skills and technical track is only one part of the learning package, and the course is split evenly between hard skill and soft skill training. The goal of the course is to help you build the social capital needed to break into the tech industry without prior experience.
Climbers join small learning “pods” that provide opportunities for building authentic connections and relationships with classmates. The course additionally teaches networking and communication skills, with emphasis on talking about your own story and increasing your confidence in the job market.
This aspect of the curriculum is what makes Climb Hire unique among mentored learning programs, and is among its most prized for participants. In fact, 77% of Climbers rate being part of a community-focused learning network as one of the program’s most important features to them.
You’ll also be matched with a Career Development Advisor who guides you in preparing your personal portfolio and in coaching you for interviews. Four months into the program, you’re encouraged to start your job search through our jobs platform and Climb Hire Alumni network.
“The soft skills I learned at Climb Hire really helped me to learn how to interact with interviewers when I was looking for a job,” says Climb Hire graduate Miguel. “There were a lot of things I wasn’t aware of, like follow-up emails, thanking your interviewer for the opportunity to have you there. And those little things that make a difference when you’re looking for a job.”
But the support doesn’t end after you’ve completed the program. You’ll get specialized one-on-one career support during the first six months after graduation, plus continued access to support forever. And the results speak for themselves: more than 80% of participants in the program successfully obtained new positions within six months of completing it.
At the end of the course, you build a real-world capstone project that highlights the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired over the previous months.
How Much Does Climb Hire Cost?
During your time in the course, you’ll pay no upfront costs whatsoever. You’ll only be expected to pay once you graduate, get a job, and your income attains a certain level.
Climb Hire offers a unique “pay-it-forward” model, in which Climbers start contributing financially only after they secure a job and reach an income threshold of $40k ($47k if they live in California). Only then, do they pay $150 per month. As it’s a four-year plan, the total payments add up to $7,200. Climbers effectively pay for the cohort that comes after them.
This payment model also ensures that financial barriers don’t prevent talented individuals from pursuing their career goals in the tech industry. Climbers can earn credit against future payments by joining the school as mentors or course instructors.
How to Apply to Become an IT Specialist
The application process to join the program is relatively quick:
- Apply. The process is simple, and if you meet the requirements, we’ll get in touch with you to arrange an interview.
- Interview. The online interview is 30 minutes long. We ask applicants about their aspirations and goals and explain how the program works. For some programs, we ask you to complete a short assessment.
- Join. If you’re a good fit, we’ll extend an invitation to join the program.
- Start. Course sessions begin in April and May, where you’ll meet your fellow classmates, teachers, and mentors.
Next in this post, we’ll take you through your alternative options for starting a career in IT.
2. Enroll in a Community College for a Two-Year IT Associate Degree
A community college is a higher education institution that offers two-year associate degree programs, as well as certificate and diploma programs. When it comes to career preparation in technical areas like IT, community colleges are generally well regarded by employers, so they can be a great way to prepare yourself for a career change.
And with over 1,000 community colleges all over the US, you definitely have your pick. But one thing to understand about them is their “local” nature. While some institutions offer a broad curriculum, others specialize in fields like health sciences, engineering, or fine arts. Some even focus more narrowly on vocational training.
It’s up to you to do the research on a particular institution that interests you. We recommend that you actually speak with alumni to inquire into their satisfaction with the curriculum, and even with professors to know if the curriculum is current and up-to-date.
This latter point is especially true for technical fields like IT that change rapidly. Also, the descriptions of some courses may seem relevant and useful up front, but may in fact be very theoretical and not sufficiently practical so as to be useful in a professional setting.
- Open access policies: Community colleges generally accept all-comers with a high school diploma and residency.
- Structured learning environment: You’ll be well guided through your particular learning path, from introductory to more advanced courses. Some courses will offer hands-on workshops and projects. You’ll earn credits for successfully completed coursework, which are often transferable to the universities.
- Networking: Chances are you’ll meet others on the same journey as you, which provides opportunities for sharing and learning.
- Some work-life flexibility: Many community colleges offer night classes or online classes, which allows students to continue working while obtaining a new degree.
- No community college has an identical offer: You must invest the time to research your options and determine which community college is right for you. For example, some community colleges may conveniently offer some online classes, but not for all coursework.
- Tuition: The average tuition for one year of community college is $4,110, according to the Education Data Initiative. That fee approximately doubles for out-of-state residents. While that’s generally lower than university tuition, it doesn’t compare with Climb Hire, which doesn’t demand any tuition.
- Time commitment: The time commitment is two years for full-time students; working professionals may require longer than two years to attain their associate degree.
- Career support: Although many institutions offer career counseling and similar support services, they’re not invested to see you find an entry-level position. This is in contrast to Climb Hire, which has a vested interest in seeing you succeed.
3. Volunteer or Intern in IT Roles
Assuming you’ve acquired the necessary knowledge and skills to do entry-level IT work, another viable option is working for free or for lower pay. This has the advantage of providing you with some real-world work experience.
Although there’s no immediate financial benefit, successful volunteer or internship work results in an extra bullet point you can add to your resume, and possibly also a referral to a regular corporate job.
Getting an internship at a company might be more challenging than finding volunteer work, however, because of:
- Higher competition: Internships are more sought after by both students and graduates who seek to gain practical experience in their area of study.
- Specific requirements: Internships often require certain qualifications like being enrolled in a degree program or having relevant coursework completed.
- Industry connections: Many intern positions aren’t advertised, and you only discover these through a professional network.
- Application processes: The typical application process for many internships is more complex and involved (e.g., requires more application steps like paperwork, interviews, etc.) than that of a volunteer position.
Your best bet will probably be to seek volunteer opportunities, which are fortunately (and unsurprisingly) more plentiful than internships. For instance, many non-profit organizations seek volunteers in IT roles, and you can discover these opportunities by networking, looking at job boards, discussion forums like Reddit, and in many other places.
When volunteering, we advise you to:
- Document your achievements and tasks. Doing so will make it easier to update your resume with new skills and experience.
- Set clear expectations with those whom you help. This will prevent misunderstandings and promote better collaboration overall.
- Gain practical experience: Both volunteering and interning provide real, hands-on experience that you can promote on your resume.
- Networking opportunities: Both may provide opportunities to meet others on the same journey as you, or even to meet working professionals who can provide advice for finding entry-level work.
- Skill development: Both give you opportunities to practice and hone your skills.
- Flexible commitment: Volunteering usually means you’re able to set your own schedule, allowing for easier balancing with other commitments.
- Contribution to a cause: Many IT volunteering opportunities are with non-profits, providing a sense of fulfillment by contributing to a good cause.
- Potential for employment: Many companies use internships as a pipeline for hiring, offering a direct path to full-time employment.
- No or minimal financial remuneration: Internships often provide less pay than full-time positions, and volunteer work, no pay at all. Some volunteer positions at non-profits may offer non-monetary incentives or benefits, however.
- Limited scope: Volunteer positions or internships may offer limited exposure to the breadth of IT, focusing more on basic tasks.
- Temporary nature: Internships have a limited time duration, and many don’t offer guarantees of full-time employment.
4. Self-Guided Learning
This approach champions autonomy, and involves taking personal initiative to learn and develop IT skills independently, leaning mostly on the internet for information (e.g., articles, discussion forums, YouTube videos, online learning platforms, such as Coursera, etc.).
Self-paced learning requires diligence in setting aside time each day (or each week) to research your prospective IT field and chart a learning path that provides you with the necessary knowledge and skills to eventually land your first entry-level job.
Certainly, the learning objectives would be the same whether or not you learned on your own or in a group setting like at Climb Hire or at an institution of higher learning. You should still pursue the same certifications—and most, if not all the materials, can be learned at your own pace.
However, a number of challenges arise with self-guided learning:
- It requires a high level of personal accountability and self-discipline. If no one is holding you accountable, you need a strong sense of intrinsic motivation. For many who work full-time jobs, this can be the most challenging aspect of self-paced learning, especially with the aim of transitioning to a new career.
- It requires you to navigate an overwhelming amount of information. You can have confidence in following the recommendations of experienced instructors or mentors with real-world experience, who can tell you what you need to study and practice. When you’re on your own, however, how do you most efficiently move through the materials, in the least amount of time?
- It provides limited to no feedback on your progress. Again, if you’re alone, it can be hard to judge whether you sufficiently understand concepts, and to identify where you need more focus or improvement.
- Flexibility and convenience: Choose your own learning schedule and pace, making it easier to balance with other commitments like work or family.
- Cost effective: Many resources are available for free or at a lower cost than formal education and training programs.
- Tailored learning experience: Customize your own curriculum and focus on specific areas of interest or skills that are directly relevant to your career goals, and at your own pace.
- Lack of structured guidance: Without a set curriculum or instructor, you may miss important foundational concepts or struggle to find a learning path that suits you.
- Limited networking opportunities: Unlike structured programs, self-guided learning offers fewer chances to build professional networks and connections in the IT field.
- Self-motivation required: It requires a high level of self-discipline and motivation to stay committed and make consistent progress.
- Difficulty in assessing skill level: Without external assessments or feedback, it can be challenging to accurately know your proficiency or identify areas needing improvement.
Get the Skills and Supportive Community You Need with Climb Hire
Breaking into the tech industry requires more than just knowledge. You need a supportive learning environment and a community that both has your back and propels you forward. Climb Hire is designed to meet these needs, and caters to those eager to make the transition into IT who lack the traditional background or resources.
Here’s what Climb Hire offers:
- A mentored IT program that covers the essentials: Climb Hire’s specialized courses are created for beginners with no previous work experience in IT, and provide you with the skills you need, while emphasizing the importance of real-world application.
- Community-based learning: One of the core strengths of Climb Hire is its focus on the power of connections. You’ll learn alongside a diverse group of peers who share similar goals and challenges.
- Career development support: Switching careers is about more than just learning new skills. It’s also about understanding the industry, honing your interviewing techniques, and building a professional network. Climb Hire’s career development support includes one-on-one guidance, resume workshops, and networking opportunities.
- Affordable education model: With a commitment to accessibility, Climb Hire operates on a pay-it-forward model. This means you can start your education without any upfront financial burden and contribute back once you secure a job in the industry, making IT education more accessible than ever.
- Proven success outcomes: The results speak for themselves—with a significant percentage of graduates finding employment in the IT sector within six months post-graduation and with a $26k average income boost. These successful transitions into the tech world are a testament to the efficacy of Climb Hire’s model.
- Ongoing alumni support: Your journey doesn’t end at graduation. Climb Hire’s alumni network provides a platform for continuous learning, job opportunities, and community engagement, ensuring you have continuing support throughout your IT career.
Learn more about our programs and apply today!