Finding training in the field of Information Technology is not very difficult. The real challenge is to narrow down your choices and concentrate on the IT specialty and goal most important to you. Identify these goals, and then identify the best sources for training targeted to meet your goals.
- Identify the specialty. Some IT positions require generalists, but you can't study everything at once, so pick the specialty where you have the greatest need to study. IT is a broad field. At minimum, a generalist supporting a company would need to know something about these subjects: systems (hardware), operating systems (OS), networking (communications, routers and switches), client-server interaction (file servers, database servers, etc.), security (intrusion detection, firewalls and authentication), anti-virus, failover and backup, communications (email and FTP), office automation (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, etc.), peripherals (printers, faxes, etc.) and telecommunications (phones).
- Identify your goal. How much do you need to know about the subject? Do you need to know enough to pass a certification test or are you adding to your existing knowledge to get ready for an upcoming project? If you need to pass a formal test, and the subject is difficult, you may want to consider formal classroom instruction. Otherwise, self-study is the way to go for most people.
- How hard is the subject for you? Can you get enough information by reading a book or a few articles on the Internet, or have you already tried studying on your own without success? Some subjects come easy to us, while other subjects just defy easy mastery. You need to gauge whether you can acquire the necessary knowledge on your own or if you will need formal classroom training.
- Find the appropriate type of training. Classroom instruction costs money, and you are likely going to be at the mercy of the institution's schedule. With self-study, you have maximum flexibility to study according to your own timetable. How do you find this training? Look online, look in the phone book, and scan the ads in technical publications and magazines that cover the subject areas of interest.
- Classroom study. There are normally three sources for classroom study for IT subjects: community colleges, technical institutes and the manufacturers and publishers of the technology you need to master. Get a copy of the class schedules for any community colleges close to you. A quick glance at the primary community college in my area shows that there are 17 distance learning classes and 38 classroom subjects available for the fall session. That is in a large city with lots of high tech, but even small community colleges usually offer at least some IT or Computer Information Systems (CIS) courses. If they don't, do a Web search or look in the phone book for technical institutes near you. Some of the very best training comes from the source. Are you trying to learn software? Go to the publisher's website. Most manufacturers and publishers offer on-site training or distance learning.
- Distance learning. This is the second-best type of training and the type offered by many technical institutes and most publishers and manufacturers. It is normally conducted over the Internet. The instructor's voice will normally be provided as streaming audio (or a conference call dial-in), and there is usually an accompanying visual presentation. The best distance learning offers live audio interaction, although sometimes this interaction is limited to email follow-ups. The best distance learning can be nearly as good as classroom instruction.
- Online courses and training. Internet training can be an excellent, low-cost way to master a subject. A Web search for the subject plus the word "training" will turn up several sites offering instruction. Do yourself a favor. Do another Web search for the institution name plus the words "reviews," "complaints" or "problems." Not all online institutions are as good as they claim.
- Correspondence courses. These still exist, although they have largely been replaced by online courses. The most common courses are those leading to some type of certification, such as A+ certification.
- Written courses and materials. Your local large brick & mortar bookstore or its online version can be a great source for training materials. From books on individual subjects to series leading to certification, training materials are available new and used. Price will be the only limiting factor for you.
- Hands-on experience. There is no substitute for actual practice. The best written or classroom training is still just "book learning." Get your hands on the software or hardware that you want to learn and really learn it. If you want to learn Unix shell scripting, download Cygwin and learn it. Find an online tutorial and practice some shell scripting or Perl scripting. Want to learn Linux? Download a distribution. Build or buy a cheap system and install Linux. Blow it up, tear it down, make mistakes and learn. Need to learn Oracle? The Oracle Corporation makes access easy. Their license allows you to download a perfectly usable version of Oracle, and dozens of tutorials are available to help you learn it.
IT is a vastly broad field. No one knows everything. Everyone needs to learn more. The difficulty of the subject and the desired outcome will determine whether you need formal instruction or can learn on your own. From classrooms to bookstores to the Internet to your own den at home, the training you need is available, and much of it is free. You just need to put in the time and effort and choose the method of training that will work best for you. Your increased knowledge will lead to improved job performance and ultimately to a better and higher-paying IT position.