Career expansion advice for a "jack of all trades"

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by Navy_BOFH, Jul 14, 2016.

  1. Navy_BOFH

    Navy_BOFH Member

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    I have loved this forum from the minute I discovered it, and learn something new every time I come here. To give a brief background, I was a Navy electronics technician for 6 years where I worked on weapons and targeting systems among other equipment. My "main job" was to troubleshoot, maintain, and repair a Unisys 2200-type mainframe system with a Solaris emulated peripheral suite, and a Red Hat based training simulator which was all connected through a fiber LAN and Cisco routing/switching equipment. On the side, I taught myself a good understanding of the current IT market - mostly on the Windows Server/Hyper-V end with a little time with pfSense and FreeNAS and ESXI.

    After leaving the Navy (with no college education so far), I wandered into the field of RF Engineering and Broadcast Engineering as a field engineer for my organization. I now deal with a LOT more electrical engineering work than before, mostly working with TV, FM, and amateur radio transmitters. With it, we own a 29-site microwave network which gives me some exposure to our "TowerNet" which is a DS3 circuit being ran through Marconi ATM switches to Cisco IP routing/switching for everything from IP services at each site to our main TV and FM feeds being multiplexed on the circuit. I deal with Linux, Windows, and networking in general.

    As I am itching to use my GI Bill, I am now conflicted at to where I want to go in terms of studies. I have always been an "electrical engineer" and had my hands in software - with a good understanding of networking, OSes, and some server implementations which keeps me valuable here. However, I don't know if I should steer myself towards an Information Technology degree, Electrical Engineering degree, Computer Science degree, or Computer Engineering degree (which is my first pick). The biggest thing is I want to eventually move my career over towards IT and Systems Administration rather than be a programmer or DB admin, and don't want to stay as a "electrical field engineer" forever just since it seems to be a dying breed, especially in the RF field.

    I would love to know how everyone got started and where they are now, and what you think is the most relevant education for this industry in its current form.
     
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  2. MiniKnight

    MiniKnight Well-Known Member

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    I would do Computer Engineering. I do think that there are always going to be difficult RF implementations. Maybe try getting a job at Motorola?
     
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  3. Layla

    Layla New Member

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    What state do you live in? We might have an IT job for you at my company, and we're near a lot of great universities (Boston area) :)
     
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  4. Netwerkz101

    Netwerkz101 Active Member

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    I wish you would have asked this before getting out the Navy...
    I would have recommended you stayed in and finished your undergrad education before leaving.

    Now that you are out...few things:
    I assume you have some sort of clearance -take a job that requires it and _never_ let it lapse.
    Think about National Guard if it will help you in your future endeavors.

    I would definitely go with your first pick if that is what you love or think you love.
    Software is king and will always be needed.

    When it comes to being a System Admin, it's mostly about automation which usually means
    scripting skills at least - but programming won't hurt the wallet at all.

    I started off in college as a Computer Science student right around the time that object oriented programming was becoming popular. I got lost quickly and quit.

    I joined the Air Force under the Electronics job area - another passion of mine along with computer technology.

    So I didn't finish college - not even while in the Air Force - mistake 1.
    When I got out...i was tempted to go the Guard route but didn't - mistake 2.
    I allowed my DoD clearance to lapse because I didn't know any better at the time - mistake 3

    It's been over 20 years since I left the Air Force.. I have been a computer operator, computer technician, network admin, system admin, tech support engineer....blah blah blah.

    I never took the time to figure out what I really love.. just kept doing what I knew how to do.
    If I could afford to do so, I'd drop out the IT Field and let it go back to being a hobby while I took up another trade.

    So TLDR .... if you love it...go for it
     
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  5. Navy_BOFH

    Navy_BOFH Member

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    Right now I work for South Carolina ETV which is the state affiliated PBS and NPR network. We actually run an almost 80 repeater (and adding more monthly) network for amateur radio that's all Motorola but the state contracted companies for public safety aren't hiring and they've essentially pushed out Harris and other manufacturers. Funny enough, I end up working on Harris broadcasting systems for a living instead.

    I wish it was the South Carolina area - Columbia area to be exact - I left Boston back in 2008 for warmer weather!

    Sadly I didn't get much of an option for leaving the Navy - I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease and given my honorable discharge 3 months early - which also puts me out of Reserve and Guard openings. I am living near Ft. Jackson and a bunch of government contractors though so I keep my eye open at times for openings. Other than that, nothing security clearance oriented has popped up though I have a contact with BAE that might have something come my way (hopefully before June 2017 when my clearance lapses).

    I love doing IT work as a passion - always interested in the newest tech, OSes, methods, etc. Being with this job has kept me satisfied so far in that sense because I work on everything from Alcatel microwave relays to the Marconi ATM switching and all the multiplexed data within until it goes to the switch or decoded into the FM digital or DTV digital streams.

    The other side of it I work as an RF engineer on Motorola repeaters, Harris DTV and FM transmitters, NOAA weather transmitters, and all the Emergency Broadcast equipment we need for legal purposes. (All stations are required to be able to transmit EAS messages).

    In the end, I would want to migrate towards IT and the networking/hardware end since it's where my passion is and I spend more of my time in the RF side working on HVAC and electrical since those are more common issues than the equipment itself. I keep a home lab at home and a pretty well set-up test and repair bench for electronics - and end up tinkering with my server setup more than my $40,000+ of repair equipment.
     
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  6. Airbozo

    Airbozo Member

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    I have been in a similar situation. After leaving the Navy, I bounced around several IT jobs and learned a lot of different things about mechanical plotters, laser plotters, geospatial plotters, tape drives and computers. I migrated towards System Administration, but had jobs that were more hands on (installing and troubleshooting card access, video systems and life safety systems (I pulled almost a 100 miles of cable and installed all the devices at the NUMI/Tesla plant)) When I finally decided to go back to school, my education benefits had expired so I got nothing (I got 2 lasting benefits from being in the Navy; background and my VA loan). I spent more time as a System Administrator and loved it because I am great at troubleshooting and fixing problems. At my last company I went from being a SysAdmin to manufacturing engineer to eventually running the entire manufacturing department, then designing complete computer solutions and solving customer problems (with computers).

    SysAdmins make good money, and if you are _really_ good, more than a lot of programmers and engineers (we have to fix the mess both create. lol).

    If I was in a different location, I would go back to working on simulators and large scale video stuff for the military and oil companies. Not much of that in Northern California though.

    I could not decide what you should pursue, but I would suggest going to college as soon as possible taking the common courses which would then help you decide on the path you want to take. There will always be a need for RF engineers which will keep you employed and allow you to follow IT as a hobby.

    If I could get a similar paycheck, I would ditch the IT world altogether and pursue woodworking or something similar and tinker with computers on the side.
     
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  7. PigLover

    PigLover Moderator

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    You do know that Motorola no longer exists, right? The Motorola cellular handset business is now nothing but a brand name under Alphabet (Google), their radio business has mostly been absorbed by Nokia and some semiconductor stuff is over at Lenovo. A few bits and pieces still exist under successors to the Motorola brand but generally you are asking him to aspire to work for a ghost.

    With that background I'd highly recommend pursuing Computer Engineering or Computer Science rather than EE. Lots of good work upcoming for rock-solid "network guys" who are at least passingly familiar with radio as 5G networks evolve.
     
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  8. RobertFontaine

    RobertFontaine Active Member

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    It's interesting in that I see the need for "rock-solid" network guys etc diminishing. More companies are becoming comfortable with outsourcing to the cloud. If you can manage the privacy concerns running your business off of amazon, google, microsoft is scalable and significantly easier than having your own data centre. It is also arguably a shit ton cheaper, certainly for small to medium size businesses. imo, Hardware as a Service is becoming a reality quite quickly.

    Computer Engineering will always be sexy but designing for ARM,Intel, NVidia etc seems like a long shot. Electrical Engineering on the other hand seems to offer huge opportunities with the coming internet of things. I see this as becoming ubiquitous quite quickly and with not a lot of fanfare. Being able to push/pull bits to devices via cell-phone, ethernet, wifi is going to create an entirely new field... Although maybe this is where talented "network guys" will migrate to.

    Then again I could be completely wrong... My crystal ball gazing has not been noted for anything but humor.
     
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  9. PigLover

    PigLover Moderator

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    Well, whether the enterprises do it or the cloud providers do it somebody's gonna hire those "rock solid network guys". I happen to live more on the provider side - and we outlook needing more than just a bunch of them,
     
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  10. gigatexal

    gigatexal I'm here to learn

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    Having current clearance status is almost the best thing you can do to ensure you will have a high paying job.
     
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  11. Drewy

    Drewy Member

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    Something that requires hands/feet on the ground I.e. Can't be handled out of a delivery center on the other side of the world.
     
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  12. BLinux

    BLinux cat lover server enthusiast

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    with the shift to cloud computing in many parts of the IT industry, I would avoid the traditional "system admin" or "dba" or any job description that includes the word "admin" in it. those jobs are being automated away in the form of cloud infrastructure, and i'm not talking just about AWS and the like, even cloud environments being setup by corporations for internal use. I'm seeing a lot of old friends who stuck to those type of jobs struggling now because they never really learned programming, and are either becoming less relevant or are struggling to learn new skills right now. I'm not saying these jobs will completely go away, but they seem to be less abundant than I recall a decade ago.

    among those friends i just mentioned, those who have picked up programming skills, many are landing in the "devops" world, which sounds like mostly former system/network/db admin types that automating what they use to do by programming (often with languages like shell scripts, ruby, perl, python, python, and more python).

    if you really are a "jack of all trades" type of person, you can potentially become really valuable to almost anyone. any meaningful project these days will involve a lot of different people with different skill sets; one of the most often lacking areas is someone who can work with everyone's skill set and get all the teams working together. the only problem is that marketing yourself as such a person is complicated, because corporate recruiters are often not the most tech savvy people, they search for talent with keywords and often can't see the forest for the trees. finding someone with 10 yrs python programming is a much easier position for them to fill. you almost have to by-pass the recruiters any make contacts with someone internal that understands your "special value".

    another area, where "jack of all trades" are valuable is in the information security space - security is inherently involved in almost all aspects of technology and business these days. although the number of people in this field has grown a lot in recent years, it's still hard to find really talented people who are available - so you are likely to find a lot of good job offers if you prove yourself to be worthy. it's also a very challenging space, if you're that type of person.

    there's a lot of good advice above too... just adding to it with my own experience.
     
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  13. Navy_BOFH

    Navy_BOFH Member

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    Thank you all for the generous advice.

    I mulled over all my options (especially coming in as a "new" college student) and have enrolled in the Computer Engineering degree with my local college with a bridge program to University of South Carolina for my BS in the same.
    I wanted something to keep with a good mix of hardware and software and it seems like this is a good track. In the meantime, I am using CodeAcademy and whatever else I can get my hands on to brush up on as many languages as possible to ease my transition.

    My biggest worry is what BLinux said above, which is the "becoming obsolete" comment. In the Broadcasting field, even on the side of IT and Engineering - we are becoming an "obsolete" bunch as many systems are being made to be "technician friendly" where an engineer isn't needed to keep it running - MBTF for major subsystems is becoming more reliable, and on the broadcasting end there's companies like MassTech and Avid who keep our IT end busy with their own issues but most of it becomes a "part swapper" job.

    My goal in the end is to work with the hardware but be someone who can work their way through a problem without screaming for help the minute I need to do some coding or programming. Information Security would be a dream of mine - but again I love working with hardware.
     
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  14. Scott Laird

    Scott Laird Active Member

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    One more bit of advice that I picked up somewhere along the way: if you have a choice between being on the "cost" side of a company and the "profit" side, always be on the profit side. You'll usually be better off developing products (profit) then you would be working on enterprise internal IT projects (cost).

    Pretty much every company values the people that are working to make them money, while a lot of places see internal operations as something that they're stuck doing, but would really rather not have to pay for it.
     
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  15. gigatexal

    gigatexal I'm here to learn

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    Yup x100 - you don't have to be an economist to know that's true.
     
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  16. T_Minus

    T_Minus Moderator

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    A LOT of internal enterprise IT projects are to save time and save from hiring additional personal. This in turns saves money, and money saved is easier and better than money you worked for, especially selling products. If you're not the one dealing with upper management you better hope you have someone who's good at explaining the benefits of these internal projects, and how the company actually benefits. Maybe it's just me but I've never worked with a company who couldn't use an audit and help re: IT systems & projects to make them more efficient and profitable.
     
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  17. Scott Laird

    Scott Laird Active Member

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    Oh, I'm not denying that they save money, or that they're worth doing. I've done enough of that sort of work at various points in my life. It's just been my experience that long-term, product-side work is valued more and is produces more stable employment.
     
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  18. gigatexal

    gigatexal I'm here to learn

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    Yeah but they're going to offshore or send to the cloud something like email (see ya email admins) a lot sooner than they will developers who write the software they sell (if your company is a software company for instance).
     
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  19. T_Minus

    T_Minus Moderator

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    I would agree that it's "easier" to be/stay employed on the product-side because of existing metrics in place to point at but to me they're both pretty easy to show businesses the value if you know what you're doing and can properly present and convey that to management. This is where not being only good at xyz is important, learn more about business, learn more about specific businesses, industries, etc...

    That's exactly why I made a point to say the person in charge of said projects need be able to convey to management the benefits because there's no reason from a business perspective to stop doing XYZ that saves $/day/month/year vs. XYZ that makes $/day/month/year.

    :)
     
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  20. Navy_BOFH

    Navy_BOFH Member

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    Well time to revive my zombie thread...

    Ended up enrolling in a bridge program Computer Engineering degree at my local college. Essentially finish my AAS there, with automatic enrollment into University of South Carolina's Computer Engineering program. In the end I am hoping between my work experience and degree I can get to where I want in the IT world but have a good mix of knowledge.

    As for current situation, I am hitting the books hard, and even the job boards. I am quickly learning I do not belong in the broadcasting field and finding it hard to provide for my family on the current salary.
     
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