IT as a Second (or Third) Career

A question I often hear is, "What are the IT career opportunities for older professionals from different fields?" We often think of the average IT workers someone right out of college. In addition, stories abound about the individuals who skipped college and went to work in the IT field straight from high school. But don't lose heart if you're over 40—as I've learned, there's a place for you in IT.

Many people pursuing training and certification are considering IT as a second or third career. Some are retiring from the military, fire-fighting, or other careers that they began in their late teens or early 20s. Others have found themselves caught in dead-end jobs or want new challenges.

I owned a small retail business for almost 20 years. In the mid-1990s, however, large "concept killer" chain stores were making things difficult for small establishments like mine. I was experiencing serious burnout anyway, so I began to pursue a combined MCSE and bachelor's degree program at a local university. I then lined up some interviews and landed my first IT job. I was nearly 50 years old.

One of the first interviews I had was with a large Microsoft Solution Provider in Southern California. The interviewer graciously took me on a tour of the facility and introduced me to many of the more than 100 employees, almost all of whom appeared to be under 30 years old. With the exception of one interviewer, I was clearly the oldest person in the building—by 20 years. Early in the interview, the people I met brought up my age and said that it wasn't a negative but in fact a positive. They said they were looking for someone to provide a stabilizing influence for the company's young systems administrators and that they had learned that people with life experience have more personal confidence, can build better client relationships, have a better work ethic, and are more careful than their younger colleagues. I went away from that interview realizing that something I had considered a weakness might actually be a strength in the eyes of potential employers. Shortly after that interview, I received a job offer from a different company, and that eventually led to other opportunities. But that early experience gave me a new confidence.

Some employers might continue to prefer youthful employees, but many appreciate what more mature candidates with more life experience can bring to the table. Don't let your age discourage you. Opportunities abound. Get the training and experience you need and learn to view your maturity as a plus. I'll see you out there.

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