How to land a job in one of the highest-paying industries without a college degree

Get a customer service job.
Photo: James Knowler/Getty Images

Considering that tech professionals are among the highest paid in the US — the average salary for people in this industry was $96,370 in 2015, according to the annual Dice Tech Salary Survey — it comes as little surprise that so many people would consider switching careers.

John Reed, senior executive director at
Robert Half Technology, points to a recent survey which found that 75% of non-IT professionals would find a career in technology appealing.

Apart from salary and job opportunities, people cite the ability to be innovative and constantly learn new things as one of the many reasons they find tech so exciting.

“Technology is such a huge part of our everyday lives, and we’re able to witness the rapid changes and advancements, so being part of something that is so relatable to everyone can certainly be attractive,” Reed says.

What may surprise you, however, is that you don’t necessarily need a college degree to get a job in this coveted industry.

As Redditor crazboy84 recently chronicled, you can go from high school dropout to managing an organisation’s servers and computer equipment as a network administrator making around $75,000 in a few years.

In a popular Reddit post detailing his career path, the writer lays out steps just about any aspiring network administrator can take without having to go to technical school or college.

Business Insider asked Reed to vet the career advice, and he says the path the writer took is extremely effective for a career in network administration.

“He was definitely well-researched for the path he wanted to go, which is why he was able to be quite successful in his endeavour,” Reed says.

Here are the steps you, too, could take:

1. Get a customer-service job.

After getting his GED, Redditor crazboy84 says he worked in sales for ten years and didn’t have the time or money to go to college. When he learned that it was possible to get an entry level job in IT with certifications, he began to lay out his career plan.

As it would turn out, sales and customer service experience is helpful in getting an IT job because of the phone etiquette and people skills you develop. ‘If you plan on getting a job in a help desk environment i highly suggest starting with a simple customer service job while you are starting work on your studies,’ crazboy84 writes.

Reed reinforces this emphasis on customer service and patience: ‘Not only are these essential skills for help desk professionals, but soft skills are so often sought after by employers.’

2. Earn your CompTIA A+ certification.

The next step crazboy84 suggests is earning your CompTIA A+ certification:

This certification is focused on basic knowledge on both PC hardware and software. This is your starting point for even those of you that can’t do much more than basic use. Even if you don’t want to work in IT, this is still a great way to learn the ins and outs of a PC just for personal use. It is broken up into two tests.

Once you’ve studied and are ready to take the test, you can go to Pearson VUE’s website to find a testing center in North America, schedule your test, and pay for it.

‘This is a great foundation for an entry level help desk role and a great foot in the door for anyone looking to get into the tech industry,’ Reed says.

3. Get an entry-level help desk job.”

‘After you have achieved your CompTIA A+ certification you should look for entry level help desk/tech support work,’ crazboy84 writes. ‘This is all about building experience for your resume.’

According to the BLS, the median for computer support specialists is $50,380 per year. While this may be a pay cut for some people switching careers, Reed says the experience is important to hiring managers.

‘While CIOs have admitted to valuing experience and skills over whether or not a candidate went to college, it varies greatly on the path of the individual. Roles for manager level and above may require a degree, but that will also depend on an individual’s experience,’ he says. ‘A highly-skilled professional, especially in a tight candidate market, will likely not be overlooked for a role based on education level.’

4. Continue learning.

While some people interested in moving on to network administration may next earn their CompTIA N+ certification, crazboy84 finds this certification to be unnecessary and suggests turning to Cisco
for the next entry certifications:

The first Cisco certification is the Cisco CCNA or CCENT. When taking the first Cisco certification you have two options: You can either take one test which covers all the material, or you can take two tests, which splits the material in half. I highly suggest taking the split test because there is a lot of information to cover. The split test still gives you a CCENT certificate for completing the first test. Just make sure if you go this route to not stop until you have your CCNA certificate, because recruiters will ask you about it if you have a CCENT certificate.

According to crazboy84, these exams are much more difficult to pass. But after achieving CCNA certification and with a few years of experience under the belt, you can begin applying to network administrator jobs.

Reed adds that pursuing ongoing learning opportunities is a vital part of being a thriving technology professional. ‘Regardless of your level of formal education, staying current with courses or certification training will be necessary for continued success.’

Finally, he says that hiring managers want to see what you can bring to their organisation. ‘Job seekers should think about how they can contribute and bring results quickly, with minimal ramp-up time. In every part of the job search — from resume to interview, references and online profiles — candidates should highlight the recent and relevant experience that can drive results.’