For the last 22 years I have worked in the field of Information Technology. I spent more than 5 years as Microsoft Certified Trainer and have taught classes in Network Engineering, Routing and Protocol Analysis. I can tell you that it has been a fun and financially rewarding career so far. I have had a lot of conversations with students, clients and employers over the years about certifications, education, career and salaries.
Here is some advice from a seasoned IT veteran, the advice is free and you can do what ever you want with it. Some of what follows is intended for people new to the field and some advice will be valuable to those in the middle of their careers.
When you get your Certification and or Degree expect to start at the bottom. I worked for a while on the IT consulting staff of a nationally known CPA firm. Every year the office hired 15 new accounting grads. To even make the interview list a grad had to have a 3.5 gpa and a letter of recommendation from his or her professor. These new accountants were by all measures the top students available. They all began their work for that firm at the bottom doing the lowest tasks and getting decent but low pay. Over the next two years as they gained experience their salary was adjusted. This is the reality of the working world. A salary survey may show that CPA's make $85,000 but when they get out of college they started at $35,000(at that time). You may start at the bottom but it is your responsibility to make sure you do not stay there.
Responsibility Number One: In your career in IT you should seek jobs that will give you solid marketable skills. I have met too many Net administrators that have been just babysitting a network for 5 years and complaining that they can?t get ahead. They have done nothing to improve themselves. It is your responsibility to improve yourself. You must decide to buy the book on routing and read it. You must decide to learn more about how and why active directory works. After all when you do get a job that pays really well it will be you who gets the check. A quick note about Certifications; I have never met a seasoned IT person with a certification that thought it was a waste of time or money. I have met a lot of people that had little or no experience and got certified and told me they couldn?t find work. I do not understand that at all. Were they asking for too much money for their experience? I don?t know. Let?s look at the CPA example again. A CPA firm will only hire people with a 4 year degree. The firm knows that these people have no experience but they also know that because they studied accounting in college they have the foundation skill set to learn how to become a CPA. This is the same in IT. I personally would not hire someone to fill most network administrator jobs that did not have a certification. I would hire a non certified person to repair PC?s if they interviewed well but the possible complexities of a network admin job would require a core set of skills. I know there are always a few network admin jobs out there where all you ever have to do is reset passwords and add an occasional user but that is not what I am talking about here.
Responsibility Number Two: You have to know when to move on at each point in your career. When you first start out you may take a lower paying job just to be in the IT field. If, after a while, you find that there is no room for advancement then it is your responsibility to move on. You will have added that jobs experience to your resume and now you can begin to look for a new position with more money.
Responsibility Number Three: You have to choose when to discuss salary. If you see an ad for a position that closely matches your skills and experience, apply regardless of what the ad says the salary range is. Generally, for some reason, the people that write the ads have little or no input in who gets hired or what they get paid. During the interview process if you are not talking with people that understand IT, for example Human resources, then do not discuss salary. If they bring it up, just move past the salary issue. Wait until you have met with some in charge of IT and wait until you have decided that you would like to work for that company then let the salary issue come up. If your skills and personality are a fit for the job there is a good chance that the money will work out in your favor. To negotiate an IT salary with anyone but someone in IT is a losing battle. What do you do if IT comes back with an offer that is unacceptably low? That takes us to your fourth responsibility.
Responsibility Number Four: It is your responsibility to walk away from job offers that are not in your best interests. If the combination of your experience, education and certifications makes you more valuable then do not sell yourself to the low bidder. You owe it to yourself to walk away. When you stop and think about it taking that job that is underpaying you will only make you resentful and unhappy. It is perfectly acceptable to tell the interviewer ?Thank you for the offer but I can not allow myself to accept it?. There will always be advertisements looking for the IT person that has 10 years experience, is an MCSE and CCNP and knows Visual Basic and is willing to work for $20 an hour. Those ads will never leave us but we have a responsibility not to accept those jobs at that pay rate.