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I am interested in a career in IT, what are some ways I can get started before I get to college?

I've searched around online but I haven't found a direct answer.
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Bryan’s Answer

If you already know you are interested in that field, I'd recommend getting your hands on software, hardware, and operating systems any way you can. 


My start in computer work began by entering in lines of code written by other people on an old computer.  Don't be afraid to make a mistake and start right away.  You'll learn from the mistakes.


Start small and realize you don't need a lot of expensive fancy new hardware to build something useful. 


Try to volunteer at first.  Since you are still learning, it may be difficult to find a paying job to get started, but you'll learn a lot when you volunteer at a school or library, or by helping your family or friends. 


Systems and Networking: Find an old PC and download a free OS like CentOS or Ubuntu, install it and get it on the network by setting up another old PC and wiring the Ethernet cards together for a two-node network.


Software Development: Download a compiler or interpreter for a programming language you want to learn and then find a good free development environment that supports the language well.  Write very simple programs to start to build your confidence and learn to work with files and code.


Security: Learn about encryption using an open-source cryptography program like OpenSSL or GPG and try to understand past exploits by reading about them but not attempting to reproduce them!


General IT: See if you can take a summer course at a local college before you make the jump into a degree.  That's how I started on the path to getting a computer science degree--I was changing majors from Mechanical Engineering and took two summer courses at a local university.  They went well and I enjoyed them, and it helped me realize it was something I could do.

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Michael’s Answer

It's very important to figure out "what" you want to do professionally, and ask yourself some questions (or network with some in the field), regarding the various careers out there. It's great to have a direction, such as web design or software development, but even just those two can be significantly different, depending on drilling down more. Some web designers program off of schematics, diagrams, and functional specifications that are already produced by someone else, while others will also put together those schematics, diagrams, and functional specs. This can be thought of as the difference between application design / analysis vs. programming, or between an analyst / solutions architect and a programmer. Computer Science (Computer Science) majors tend to get a lot deeper into the technical disciplines of programming, deep program / application performance (such as technical costs, efficiencies, etc.), putting together or constructing software / components, and advanced topics such as AI, etc. Basically focusing on the technical functions of putting together a program, application, software, etc – engineering minded. A career in Computer Science will likely start to become specialized in a focused direction - i.e. forensics, etc. Degrees in Information Technology (Computer Technology) tend to be more general in nature, focusing on general areas such as infrastructure, databases, applications, security, general programming (concepts) and newer concepts such as the cloud, Internet of Things, etc. There are plenty of IT professionals out there that program, but it’s usually not the only thing they’re doing – for many, it’s a small part of their total skill set. And here's the rub - universities, industries, and organizations tend to bend a lot of these concepts, create their own terms, etc. So keep in mind that you're entering a fluid and changing industry. A career path in one industry may require that you carry both design and technical programming skills, where in another industry, or even within an area in that industry, those two functions are typically managed by separate individuals. For example, it's common for both functions to be done by a single person in smaller enterprise application programming and web design roles, yet these may be two separate roles / individuals for larger system roll outs for large enterprise systems (and web applications) in lagging technology industries such as Fashion / Retail.

Generally speaking, Computer Science and/or purely programmatic or a heavy focus on the technical aspects of constructing software, systems, etc., is a career path that can require focus in a specialty in order to break through salary and role ceilings. And it’s also one that typically has less human interaction than other tech careers. General IT can swing many directions - all the way from isolated work (dedicated programmer, forensics, data analytics programmer, etc.) with little human interaction to inter-personally intensive - interacting all the time, all day long (Solutions architect / Support / Help Desk / Management). General IT also has fewer salary / role ceilings when looking at them from a management perspective, and those ceilings may cross over somewhat in similarity to Comp Sci if the role is technically / programmatically intensive.
Once you can start to drill down on what seems interesting to you more, you can start looking at majors and minors. Your major is a moderately big deal in breaking into a career, and a minor might help a little or not - depends on the major, the industry, and the organization looking at you as a candidate. They will both over time be superseded by your experience. Using other technical, engineering, math minors is probably a good idea if going into a strict, deep, technical Comp Sci focus, as specialization is a likely path to develop that career most effectively. For a general Info Tech degree/focus, you have many paths you can take, or you can bounce around in different assignments / industries as well, all without diluting your career too much. For this more generalized IT focus, you can look at many different minors: If you're going into work for businesses, a minor in finance or marketing can be helpful. If you're going into the Health field, then a minor in sciences or social sciences can help. Some schools might even offer minors in Public Admin, or Health Admin to compliment the industry direction you're going towards. Also just as in the case of a Comp Sci major, focusing on a business sector major in Info Tech, with minors in more technical specific fields like mathematics, are still strong combinations, as it will give you an advantage in the technical aspects over your competition. But of course, so will being able to understand the underlying Financial theory when putting together a P&L enterprise dashboard. So the choice is yours, and the best move is a subjective assessment you need to make for yourself. The good news is that you can still traverse into and out of careers offered by both areas (Comp Sci and Info Tech), although moving from Comp Sci to Info Tech is going to be easier than the other way around. But spending time in Comp Sci, when you really want to go into careers that are more cut out for Info Tech, can cause some wasted years learning the deeper language, programming, and construction disciplines when you may not need them. These are not rules by any means – they are just some general observations my firms (IT consulting) have seen over the last 20 yrs in the industry.
In choosing a career, and I can't emphasize this enough, network, network, network -- all in the areas you're interested in. You can join networking groups, or hit LinkedIn hard (many IT professionals there). Offer a lunch or coffee, etc., to pick some brains in the fields you're interested in. Nothing like hearing it from someone who is in the field you're interested in. Remember – if you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life.
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Alwyn’s Answer

Hi Hayden,

Have you tried reaching out to companies to see if you can shadow an IT employee? Recently at work, a high school student spent several weeks working with our Cyber Security expert as the student is thinking of going to WPI. It may take some work reaching out to companies but worth your while to intern, gain the exposure you want and maybe a letter of recommendation to boot. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Good luck.
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Jun’s Answer

Bryan's answer is perfect.

You don't need formal internships, or even volunteer positions with companies/organizations.

Start labbing! One of the most asked questions in interviews is going to be if you have your own lab and how it's setup (at least beyond the entry level positions).

Learning stuff for yourself and fixing things when you break them is going to be the most invaluable skill you will learn. What separates the wheat from the chaff in IT is the ability to learn on the fly and handle high severity incidents whilst under pressure.

If I could have my time again - I would focus on playing with Windows Server and Linux. IMO, sysadmin is a great place to start.

You're going to want to learn about Cloud Computing too.

Oh and if you have the time, do some basic level certs like CompTIA or similar.
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Steve’s Answer

What things in IT do you like to do? There are many good places to learn online. For example, pluralsight.com and Safari books online are 2 good resources. Doing a few side projects while in high school can better prepare you for college admission. Try to get a good foundation in a programming language. For example, Java, JavaScript, Swift, etc.
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Satyajeet’s Answer

You may take courses in high school such as AP Computer Science, AP Statistics, Java Programming. You may learn Introductory IT courses from free web sites such as Udacity. Also you can learn some web development through local community college. Good luck.
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