From Hairdresser to DBA – How to start a career in IT

  • Thanks everyone for taking the time to read this article and responding. I'm glad I have inspired so many of you.

    @MysteryJimbo - it's nice to know others have a similar success story. Yeah the pay cut is the killer but I was lucky, my wife was (and still is) very supportive which meant we could afford to take the pay cut temporarily.

    @OldCursor - agreed. Definitely less stressful working for yourself - no office politics 🙂

    @aspiring_dba - I think @OldCursor may already have answered this but for me it is a mixture of recruitment agencies and contacts. My blog and LinkedIn profile are critical to this.

    @PravS - I'm glad my article has motivated you to start planning your own career change. We spend a large part of our lives in work so I think it's important that we are happy doing what we do. Sometimes you have to take that initial pay cut but play the long game. You don't want to be the richest man in the graveyard after the stresses of the job you hate drove you to an early grave.

    @Abrar Ahmad_ - thanks for responding but I am not quite sure what a more detailed breakdown of my career breakdown would add to this discussion. Perhaps you could elaborate? You can find more detail on my career on my LinkedIn profile if you are interested.

    @lbodine - From DBA to hairdresser would definitely be a complete reversal of my situation. Perhaps you could write a similar article about your experiences - seems like there might be an appetite for such a story.

    @steveNogradi - agreed that user group meetings are a really good idea. Wasn't an option when I started in 1999/2000. I did go to the very first UK SQL Server UG meeting in Cambridge - 2002/2 I think.

    @umairjavedsheikh - A more detailed career history is already publicly available on my LinkedIn profile if you are interested.

    @bwillsie-842793 - That you find this sufficiently inspiring as to pass my story on to others is a great compliment. Thank you.

    @amenjonathan - re: "not sure if having experience in a help centre will help land you an IT position" - that might have been lost in translation (I'm guessing you may not be from the UK) In the UK, we refer to a call centre when thinking about customer service by phone for banks, utilities companies etc (so nothing to do with IT helpdesks). I was suggesting that it is the people skills gained in such a call centre environment that are the transferrable skill. Dealing with irate people over the phone is the same regardless of what the service it is that they are complaining about. I wish your wife luck in her future career.

    @gcollier24 - The "big break" was a combination of luck and hard work - for me it was my second job. I applied for a position with a small software house and hosting provider. They had never hired any DBA expertise before so perhaps the interview questions were a little less challenging than they could have been. That combined with my MCDBA, MCSE and obvious keenness to do the job were what got me in. During that first year, there were times when my answer to a question might have been "Let me take that away and think about so that I can give you a proper answer" - which gave me enough time to so end an evening feverishly researching an unfamiliar topic. But on the whole, despite some initial trepidation, even in that first year, I found that I knew more than I gave myself credit for and was actually the person who knew most about SQL Server. You may not be able to jump straight into a full DBA role - maybe you need to aim for a Server Admin role that includes some database work or if your preferences is development, an application support role may be the way to go. Don't let other people's experiences put you off. I used to use the Microsoft certs as a way of guiding my learning but always studied material in and around those areas rather than just enough to pass the exams. If you're going to make the jump, you can control how much knowledge you have to back up what you say on your CV or at interview. You can control whether you are one of the people who gets "eaten up and spit out" or not.

    @cake235 - I loved your comment about having to "compete against bored hairdressers". It is a sad fact that some companies think that a bachelor’s degree should be the minimum entry requirement for a job in IT. Sure, for some people that might be an indicator of future performance but I've also worked with degree-educated who know lots but have little common sense - and I believe that nous is critical to getting the job done right. I think that my certifications helped in the earlier stages of my career but it's also about taking the time to craft a good CV and having the right attitude - especially at interview. Most of those can be taught (or at least coached). As @dioscoredes said in an earlier response, "Many of the finest colleagues I have ever worked with have been academically minimally or not qualified at all". That is understandably a difficult pill to swallow for someone who has spent 3-5 years studying for a BSc/MSc and probably has a mountain of student debt to show for it. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs on both sides of the Atlantic have built their success on merit and attitude in spite of not having any formal education beyond the age of 15/18. True, there are some equally successful people who do have degrees etc. but all this proves is that it is attitude not education that is the key to success.

    @OldHand - Well if I can do a complete 180 in my career at 38 you can definitely do it at 28. Good luck.

    Greg M Lucas
    "Your mind is like a parachute, it has to be open to work" - Frank Zappa

  • Thought I was late to the party lol. Glad to see that this discussion is fairly recent. Great article, very inspiring.

    Currently, I'm an 25yo office clerk for the local gov't. I plan on going back to school this winter (for DB Development/Administration) but in the meantime, I plan on buying SQL Server 2008 Test Edition, study materials and to prepare myself for 70-432. I know a degree is big for a good chunk of employers, but I want to see how far I can go going the self-study route.

    Is this where I start?

    Once again, this article was a good read. Like someone said earlier, a nice way to start my morning lol. Look forward to learning from experiences on here.

  • Great article. I served for 10 years in the RAF before leaving and then having no IT experience, I worked in shops stacking shelves and folding towels. But I vowed to be the best shelf stacker and towel folderer I could be and soon got promoted to store manager. I then transferred to another company where I became an area manager and wrote a stock control system on Works and then Access. I then got made redundant. Best thing that ever happened to me as it forced me to get into IT properly. I didn't get my first 'real' job in IT until I was 36. Recently I've shifted roles internally into hardcore SQL server which is a dream job for me. It can be done, you just need to do the very best you can do in all that you do, the rewards will come.

  • Some things never go out of style - pardon the roundabout pun.

    The entire section "Great Oaks From Little Acorns Grow" should be mandatory reading for anyone contemplating an IT career either as a switch from a previous one OR as a first career. I worked in non-profit human services as someone for whom computers were a hobby and began finding ways to improve services using nothing more than MS Access. A fair part of two decades later I'm doing full-time development and administration in a job I love. My "formal" IT career began installing monitors (pretty hard to screw that up) and I worked up from there.

    A couple of years ago my wife made the switch from full-time administrative assistant to being a beautician who may soon become an assistant manager in a salon. She proved herself by just being an incredibly hard worker.

    Never give up on a dream, but be prepared to work for it.

    Just my $0.02 from over here in the cheap seats of the peanut gallery - please adjust for inflation and/or your local currency.

  • I was a flight attendant for almost 27 years before changing to a Database Developer! Ten years later, I LOVE going to work every day and still sometimes laugh as I am walking into the office building.

  • Great article Greg.

    I studied to be and worked as a professional musician before entering IT. I just fell into it by doing temp jobs to supplement my income (I guess I wasn't that good a musician :-D). Before I knew it I was a SQL Business Intelligence developer by accident. For the first 5 years of doing it I didn't even own a home computer and I didn't do any Microsoft exams for 7 years.

    I'm a contractor now and I still get a few raised eyebrows from the more, shall we say, traditionally-minded tech folk when they see I didn't do a computer science (or similar) degree in favour of a music one. If this happens I tell them two things:

    First, I mention that music theory is, in essence, mathematics and logic and this grounding I have in logic is what I utilize in a number of problem solving scenarios in this industry.

    Secondly, I tell them about Stuart. Stuart worked in the same office as a client of mine. He was an "office administrator" but it real terms that meant that his responsibilities were sending people's mail and printing name cards for new employees. Stuart had a degree in computer science.

    I'm not saying everyone who has a technical degree is like that by the way!!

    My point is, one is not the sum of one's paper experiences - with enough desire, dedication and time you can do anything. Your article reminds us all of that so cheers 🙂

    I'm on LinkedIn

  • Neat story, thanks for sharing.

    select this!!

  • From Hairdresser to DBA? From my experiences, the title should be From DBA to Hairdresser!

    I only have an Associate's Degree, but also have experience with IBM 360/370, System 3/34/36, AS400, various flavours of DOS & Windows, Office, Exchange, SQL Server, MacOS, AIX, etc., etc., etc.

    Even with 30+ years of experience, I'm finding that employers are looking for individuals who have a minimum of a BSCS, preferably an MSCS, a slew of Cisco & Microsoft certifications, 5-10 years of experience, and have a list of specific skill requirements that would fill a 3-ring binder!

    DBA? I see job requirements for an "entry level" DBA's, that I seriously doubt that nobody, with the exception of individuals who've worked for SQL design teams at both Microsoft AND Oracle would possess!

  • Greg,

    Great article. Thank you. I have found that my previous jobs have helped me grow in my field. I have worked full time and gone to school simultaneously since I was nine; true story but a long one, so ...

    Being a janitor, a construction worker, a delivery boy, a dishwasher, a vehicle & motorcycle engine mechanic, a musician, an electrical estimator, an educator, and small business owner have provided me with a great and positive story to compliment my technical education classes and desire for self-growth and self-excellence in my life as a total package to potential employers.

    Thanks again for showing others how to tie previous field to the new field as well in a positive light.

  • Great Article... Inspired by your determination and perseverance...... 🙂

    😉 😎 :hehe:

  • Great motivational writing....

  • Yes, a great article.

    Something like this is indeed worthy of republishing. People do need to know that it is possible to 'go after' and 'make' a career. And to do that so near to the 40 'milestone'.

    My entry into IT was quixotic, also. It does seem that the 'people skills' were high on the list of things to have -- and then there was the accumulation of technical skills. I am 64 and near the 'end of things'. I do and did enjoy the technical aspects of IT. I will admit to having 'fun' with the people side, also.

    Again, glad to have seen this. Hopefully, this and other persons' stories help others with getting their IT career going and flourishing.

  • Excellent and fascinating post. More often than not, those who end up in a DBA role have usually come from another role in IT so this a new take on those posts.

    The post says a lot about the author too.

  • jreshea (8/17/2014)

    Yes, a great article.

    Something like this is indeed worthy of republishing. People do need to know that it is possible to 'go after' and 'make' a career. And to do that so near to the 40 'milestone'.

    My entry into IT was quixotic, also. It does seem that the 'people skills' were high on the list of things to have -- and then there was the accumulation of technical skills. I am 64 and near the 'end of things'. I do and did enjoy the technical aspects of IT. I will admit to having 'fun' with the people side, also.

    Again, glad to have seen this. Hopefully, this and other persons' stories help others with getting their IT career going and flourishing.

    +1 nicely put.


    [font="Tahoma"]Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. – Carl Jung.[/font]
  • Good story, also the comments of how it is never too late.

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