The biggest difference between the military and the civilian world
Purpose. Whether you engaged in direct combat or served as a wounded soldier counselor, odds are that you felt like you were part of something bigger than yourself.
In the military we were not only fighting to protect this great nation, we were fighting to protect a significant part of the entire world.
Yes, we had to wake up early every morning, follow orders and be away from our families, but having such a responsibility on our shoulders made it easier to stay motivated.
When we transition to the civilian world, however, things are much different. They make us go through TAP, and even though they share some valuable information with us, there’s no way it can truly prepare us (also, I don’t know about you but I didn’t want to drive trucks for the rest of my life).
Finding purpose in the civilian world isn’t that different from doing so in the military. The difference is that in the military we are reminded of the bigger picture all the time whereas in the civilian world we have to do that for ourselves.
Finding your purpose as a civilian
I read a cool story the other day…
When President John F. Kennedy visited the NASA space center in 1962, he noticed a janitor holding a broom and immediately interrupted his tour, walked to the man and asked, “what are you doing?”
The janitor replied, “well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
Nice lesson, right?
To most, that janitor could have been simply cleaning a building—but he was aware of the bigger picture. He knew that regardless of how big or small his role was, he was contributing to something much bigger than himself.
The key to transitioning successfully, and succeeding in the civilian world for many years to come, is to find purpose in what you do—it is to remain aware of a bigger picture. You just have to find that bigger picture on your own.
Here’s a list of fulfilling careers packed with opportunities for future growth that don’t require a lot to get started:
People in this career field are and will be some of the most in-demand professionals in the world.
As technology advances and more data-generating devices are connected to networks, threats of cyber attacks have become a huge concern for businesses with an online presence.
Imagine a career where you become a security engineer for a bank, and your work requires you to protect other people’s money from cyber thieves.
Don’t you think that would be fulfilling?
Not only would you contribute towards people’s financial safety, but you’d make a lot of money and get great benefits as well.
Needless to say this is a beautiful profession (aside for some greedy and corrupt people out there in places like Wall Street). Financial advisors help people achieve stability in their lives.
When it comes to personal finance, most people need to be guided and protected. This makes this profession a very fulfilling and rewarding way to contribute to society.
Imagine starting your own financial advising business and helping other veterans transition to the civilian world and set off on a path to financial freedom.
The only downsize is that to become a financial advisor you’d likely need to spend a few years studying and probably become a CFP (certified financial planner). Other than that, you’d probably wake up every day happy to have the opportunity to help others.
I really like this commercial from Fidelity Investments. It shows how rewarding the financial advising profession can be.
This profession requires a thorough understanding of technology. The reason being that network engineers build and manage the highways through which a network’s information travels through.
Nowadays, since virtually all businesses have an online presence, all of them need a network engineer to ensure employees, customers, etc. can communicate efficiently and access applications with ease.
There are many positions that can be very meaningful and challenging, such as the coolest job at Cisco Systems—probably one of the most purposeful jobs in the technology industry.
If you were to become a network engineer, your skills would be in high-demand for many years to come, and you will probably have new challenges every day at your job—so you’d never be bored.
Supply Chain Manager
Very few companies know how to move stuff like the military does. If you have experience in logistics, it’s likely that your skills will transfer smoothly into the civilian world.
Companies from the transportation industry to the manufacturing industry need detailed-oriented and disciplined people to coordinate, analyze and oversee their supply chain.
As a veteran no one will question that you have all of those things. That can give you an edge on other people as you look to jumpstart your new career.
The purpose of this job, aside from each particular company’s mission, lies in the goal of supply chain and logistics, which is to make every process more efficient so that businesses can keep their costs low.
It is likely, however, that even if you have previous relevant experience from the military you’d be required to have a college degree in order to break into the role.
One key difference
All of the careers we just talked about would give you a very realistic possibility of breaking the six figure salary mark in the civilian world, and obviously depending on the company you end up working at, would also give you some of that precious privilege back.
However, you probably noticed that two of the four careers require a college education, which can be a pain in the neck for most vets.
Unfortunately, in order to become a supply chain manager or financial advisor, you’d need to go back to school for a few years.
The other two careers, both technical, don’t require a degree. Sure, many “experts” say they do, and colleges will do everything to convince you that they do (they have their own reasons)…
But the truth is that anyone with some hands-on experience, a technical certification or two, and a solid understanding of the big picture of the the information technology industry, could be very successful very fast.
And it gets better. Just by learning the fundamentals of networking and getting some real world practice, which can take as little as three months and can be done online, you’d be setting yourself up for multiple careers paths.
Since networking is the foundation of information technology, you could eventually become a cyber security engineer, systems engineer or data center engineer, etc.—whatever you like best.
Probably the best thing about the information technology career field is that if you play your cards correctly and follow the right steps, you could land a job paying you well over 6 figures in just 2-4 years—even if you don’t know anything about technology today.
How’s that for a challenge, fellow vet?
The bottom line
In the end, it’s just a matter of how you choose to look at things. You could either simply clean the building or help put a man on the moon. Whichever you choose will make a huge difference in your post-military life.
We were very privileged in the military—we got to work to protect this great nation of ours, and were reminded of it day in and day out. When we transition, this sense of purpose often goes away for many.
This is why it is really important to jump into a career full of meaning, that can set you up for future success and give you the flexibility to enjoy time with your loved ones.
In my opinion, a career in information technology gives you the best chances to succeed as a civilian. It would allow you to achieve major success quite fast, and you don’t need to go to college for four years to get started.
When I made my decision to transition out of the military I had one goal in mind: Getting into a career that would allow me to pay the bills and provide a good life for my family, and that had great opportunities for future growth.
I had been in the military ever since I graduated high school so I didn’t know much about making it in the civilian world. So I signed up for TAP expecting to learn about my options and get mentorship from people who had made it outside of the military.
I wasn’t even close!
All I did was sit in a classroom for an entire week listening to an old guy with a giant beer belly preach about how I could become a truck driver or a cop.
I mean, nothing wrong with being a truck driver—it’s a tough job. Same with cops—their job can even be more dangerous than real combat where at least you know who your enemy is. You know what I mean?
Anyhow, I thought that TAP was gonna instruct me on how to get started in the civilian world, and how to secure future success. But instead, I had to learn about careers that wouldn’t realistically allow me to meet my goals. You see, truck driving might not even exist in the near future because automation will probably wipe it out… And I didn’t want to be a cop. Those people have to risk their lives every day and, sadly, aren’t paid well enough nor respected by many civilians.
If you’re a transitioning vet, you have a particular set of skills that most civilians don’t—and you can use it to your advantage. Unfortunately, many vets don’t realize this.
You know why? Because when the people that are supposed to guide you don’t truly know what they’re talking about, how can you expect them to truly help you?
Look, as a military vet you obviously have a valuable skill set. You’re disciplined, coachable, results-oriented, etc. You can work in teams, thrive under pressure and don’t expect anything to be handed to you on a silver plate.
Does this sound like you?
Of course it does! You served for the strongest military on the planet. Now that’s a big differentiator! Most civilians tend to lean toward the opposite of that. But when you’re surrounded by people with the same level of work-ethic, it could be hard to realize it. Sometimes you need someone to point it out. To you it might seem normal—but your skill set is extraordinary in the civilian world, especially nowadays when people can’t go 10 minutes without looking at their social media feeds.
Your Best Option
When you transition out of the military you pretty much have 2 choices: you can go to college, or you can break into a field that doesn’t require a degree.
There’s one little issue with each one of these options. Going to college typically takes four years. Sure you may have your G.I. Bill money, but that’s still a long time. On the other hand, fields that don’t require a college degree usually don’t offer great pay and have very limited opportunities for growth. So what’s the best thing to do?
Well, that would be breaking into a field that allows you to pay all of your bills pretty much right out off the gate, that offers amazing opportunities for long-term growth, and doesn’t require a freaking degree!
That field is… Information Technology (IT)!
It’s perfect for vets—especially if you have a security clearance because many employers are in need of cleared IT workers.
Here are the basics of what you need to break into this field:
Get an experienced mentor, preferably a fellow veteran who has had major success in information technology (someone who has held a position paying 200k a year or something along those lines).
Someone who tells you otherwise probably only knows about the conventional way of breaking into IT, which supposedly requires a degree, but that’s just a bunch of B.S.
One option is to break into an entry-level role. These roles can be repetitive and boring at times, but this isn’t bad. Use the free time at work to keep learning new skills. This way you can learn while you get paid and build up your resume. Remember, it’s a stepping stone in your journey of leveling up your career and as long as you are hungry and always trying to learn more, you won’t be stuck in this position for long.
Another option is to find an apprenticeship program. In fact, we recently paired up with Booz Allen Hamilton and LeoRose Consulting to offer an apprenticeship program to support the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Information Technology (IT) Operations. This is an amazing opportunity for veteran IT students to have immersive experiential learning and a possible long-term employment opportunity. All apprenticeships are a little different, but this one in particular offers full-time W2 work (expecting about 40 hours a week) with possible full-time employment and over 2000 locations all across the US. This application is available now if you are ready to get started.
Once you have broken into an entry-level role, let your manager know that you’ve been learning new skills and that you want to volunteer to help with more challenging tasks (yes, even if you have to stay extra hours and not get paid for them).
Ask him if he has any suggestions, or if there’s any advice in regards to moving up in your career that can help you have a clearer north or give you a better sense that you’re on the right track. Trust me, your managers will appreciate dedication and hustle, just like in the military. This won’t be an issue for you since you already have a remarkable work ethic.
The thing about information technology is that if you have hands-on experience and 1 entry-level certification, you’d be able to break into a job paying you between 40-55k a year (depending of where you are).
From there you could become a network engineer, making between 65k and 90k, in less than a year. And, after that, if you play your cards correctly and your mentor knows his stuff, you’d be able to break 6 figures within 2-4 years.
Not bad for a few years of civilian life, right?
Well it gets even better because technology changes so fast that every year there are new technologies that people need to learn. This makes it a really engaging field to be in, but most importantly, it allows newbies to become rock stars in a short amount of time.
The bottom line
TAP isn’t going to provide you with the best advice nor present you with the best opportunities to succeed in the civilian world. They’re just going to talk to you about a few roles that, in my opinion, won’t set you up for success. You could either transition to one of those careers or you could go to college and earn a degree so that maybe after four years you break into an entry-level job.
You can seriously consider a career in information technology, which will provide you with everything you need to have major success. And, needless to say, with a career that will push you to learn new concepts and develop new skills all the time—trust me, you’ll never be bored unless you simply want to be.
Even if you get stuck with a boring job (and that would only happen if you don’t have quality mentorship) there are still tons of interesting things to learn and do.
The most important thing of all, as you probably already figured out, is having an experienced mentor who has had great success and is willing to coach you. If he/she is a veteran even better! Then they’ll have a pretty good idea of what vets go through when transitioning back to the civilian world.
If you’d like more information about how to break into the information technology industry and start moving up, I’d suggest you attend this free online masterclass. You’ll get detailed insights on what to do to break into the industry, how to get a mentor, the best ways to gain hands-on experience, and the latest tech trends you can take advantage of.
Remember, your skill set and experience as a military veteran are very valuable to the business world. Any company would benefit from having you on their team.
So there’s no reason for you to settle for a job that isn’t going to pay you what you’re truly worth, and push you to improve yourself every day—something that all vets would appreciate, don’t you think?
First off, general education coursework, which consists of 5 sections…
I know I know, this can seem like a waste of time. But, in order for a school to be accredited, these classes need to be offered.
During the first half of this program you’ll study English composition, public speaking, humanities, ethics, society and culture, economics, sociology, algebra, nutrition and health, among other things.
How exciting?! By the time you’re done with this half, you’d be truly prepared to start learning about tech.
Obviously it’s very important that you learn about nutrition, health, society, public speaking and sociology. Otherwise, how will you be able to configure and secure a network?
Anyhow, once you’re done with those highly-essential classes, you’re able to move on to the next section: core-degree coursework.
Even though this section’s name literally implies that the previous one had nothing to do with your degree, don’t dwell on it to much. After all, it should only take you about 18-24 months.
The core-degree classes are where you get your money’s worth. Here’s where Devry fulfills their promise of giving you the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in IT—where you learn how to “design, build, install and manage voice, video and other data communication systems.”
To begin with this section, as you can see, you must study the essentials of accounting, computer applications for business and management of technology resources.
Next up, after approximately 2 and a half years of schooling, computing basics. You’ll get an introduction to engineering technology and information sciences. You’ll also learn the principles of information systems security, and get an introduction to scripting and databases.
The end of the program consists of a variety of classes ranging in topics from VoIP administration and enterprise network design, and a couple senior projects.
After speaking on the phone with Devry, I wasn’t able to get good answers in regards to who teaches each one of the technical classes.
However, I inquired about their professors in San Jose (Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world, right?).
To my surprise, all they told me was that Professor Paul Giomi is the head of program, and that Abdelaziz Kaina is one of their very best professors.
I looked at their LinkedIn profiles to get a better feel of who the experts who teach this life-changing 4-year program are:
Paul Giomi has many years of experience—teaching. He graduated from Sonoma State University in 1986, and according to his profile, has been a professor for over 19 years at Devry university.
Abdelaziz Kaina, according to the admission rep I spoke with, is one of Devry’s most renown technical professors. As you can see from his profile he has over 17 years of experience—teaching.
It seems like none of these two world-class professors have any “real world” experience. They weren’t network engineers at IBM or solutions architects at Amazon…
I’m quite sure that they are more than qualified to get you job-ready… don’t you think?
Cost And Time To Complete
If you were to start from zero, the cost of tuition for the entire program (4 years in length) would be a mere $65,202 dollars. But if you, let’s suppose, had already completed general education requirements, the cost would be around $31,112 dollars and would take 1-1.5 years to complete.
I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lot of Benjamins to me!
NexGenT’s Zero to Engineer Career Blueprint Program
As you can see, the Basic Training program is made up of seven modules culminating with the Full Stack Network Associate (FSNA) certification.
During the first two modules, you’ll learn about enterprise networks, security, data center and virtualization, collaboration and current industry trends. This will give you an understanding of the big picture of IT and empower you to better understand your career goals and options.
In module 3 you’ll start learning about technical concepts such as ethernet frames, MAC, hubs, switches, routers, subnetting, IP addressing, the OSI model and more.
Even going through early modules you’ll be able to schedule one on one mentor sessions with Terry and Jacob. That said, once you finish module 6, you’d have unlocked a network of world-class mentor engineers.
Module 4 is about teaching you how to build your own labs. You’ll work on a bunch of Packet Tracer labs and learn how to install GNS3.
You won’t find the teachings of module 5 anywhere else. In that module, you’ll earn real world engineer skills, how to think like an engineer, which tools you need to get familiar with and the foundations of network management.
Modules 1-5 will prepare you to tackle Zero to Engineer’s monster final project, presented in module 6. You’ll learn how to plan design and carry out your very own full stack networking project from start to finish. By the end, you will understand HQ/Branch networks and the project build out process
By this point, you’d have finished the online portion of the training, and you’ll have the option of attending a 5-day in-person hands-on experience bootcamp in downtown San Jose, which is module 7, where you will spend 98% of the time working on real world equipment and leveling up your skill set.
On day 5, you will get a free shot at the “do it to prove it” Full Stack Network Associate (FSNA) Certification exam, which includes zero written testing. To pass, you must successfully set up and configure a branch network with routing, switching, wireless, voice over IP and security.
The Zero to Engineer career blueprint program was created by 2 former Air Force IT instructors, Terry Kim and Jacob Hess, who graduated hundreds of network engineers for the U.S. military, worked as systems engineers for major companies and ran their own IT consulting firm.
At one point, Terry Kim went from being broke and unemployed to becoming a senior network engineer in a short 23 months. He rose to systems engineer positions at Cisco, Arista and Dimension Data (the largest Cisco Gold Partner in the world)
Jacob, on the other hand, worked as a systems engineer at Teklinks, where he supported over 100 different networks, and designed, architected and deployed IT solutions for clients all over the USA.
Cost and Time
Terry and Jacob created Zero to Engineer with the goal of inspiring and empowering the next generation of IT engineers, and to provide affordable job-ready education for anyone.
When you enroll in the Zero to Engineer program you get lifetime access to the online portion of the training (including 3 one on one mentor sessions with world-class engineers) for just $12,000. And, if you also want to attend a 5-day hands-on experience boot camp and get FSNA certified, the cost would be a mere $15,000—a tiny fraction of what most college degrees cost!
And I haven’t even told you about all the free bonuses that you’ll get on top of this.
But that’s not all, Terry and Jacob are so committed to making a big impact, that they offer payment plans to fit all budgets and scenarios, and significant discounts to certain people.
In fact, many Zero to Engineer students end up paying for the program with money that they get from a promotion they receive shorty after completing the program.
It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?
The Bottom Line
You can keep pretending that the picture painted by the higher education industry—the one that tells you that you need years of study and general education requirements to be successful—isn’t a big fat lie.
You can break free from the system, take charge of your future and set off on a path to professional success, without the pain of tens of thousands of dollars of debt and years wasted going through unnecessary courses that don’t move you closer to your goals.
Regardless of whether you consider enrolling in Zero to Engineer or not, there’s one truth that no one seems to talk about:
In the IT world, there are 2 kinds of people—those who think that degrees and titles indicate the impact that a person can have in an organization…
And those who think that a person’s ability, knowledge and relevant hands-on experience are a much better representation of competence.
Which kind are you?
Apply to Zero to Engineer, get all the free bonuses and set off on your path to becoming a rockstar IT engineer.
How much would everything cost and what’s the expected ROI (return on investment)?
Those might sound basic. But I can assure you that they will—even in the case of prestigious schools—tell you most of what you need to know to make your decision.
So, since I’m all about no fluff and cutting to the chase, and I don’t want you to leave this article with just an opinion, I took the time to do some research for you to find key info about technical degrees offered by industry-recognized schools—what I found is fascinating!
But first, here’s what I did:
I got on the phone with admissions representatives and even a couple deans from Devry University, WGU and Georgia Tech and asked the questions listed above; I looked at the curriculums of technical degrees, checked out professors’ profiles, and calculated the ROI of successfully completing each program.
Here we go…
Program: Network and Communications Management
Cost: $65,000 USD
Duration: 4 years
Curriculum: The first two years are jam-packed with non-technical classes including but not limited to nutrition and health, sociology, humanities, public speaking and economics.
Here’s a screen shot:
The second two years include business classes, several introductory tech classes and a few basic-level labs. In the entire 4-year curriculum, there’s only one class with the word “advanced” in its title, as you can see here:
Professors: Would you rather learn from someone who has worked as a systems/solutions engineer for a top tech company or from someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to make it to the top of the industry?
After speaking with 2 Devry admissions representatives and a dean of students, I wasn’t able to get a clear answer regarding which professors teach technical classes.
That said, they gave me the name of the head of the program, Paul Giomi and, according to the admissions counselor, one of Devry University’s most renown professors, Abdelaziz Kaina. The admission representatives assured me that they had real world experience…
Check their LinkedIn profiles (that’s what the links are for). I know you’re smart so you’ll get the point.
ROI: As you can see from the curriculum (here’s the link again), Devry says that people who earn the Network and Communications Management degree will be able to land a wide variety of technical jobs.
But, they do say in the fine print, right after they list all the jobs that a graduate would be able to get, that “employment in some occupations may require years of relevant experience.” Obviously, unless someone has significant hands-on experience, he or she won’t be able to land any of the most attractive jobs on the list.
It’s likely that 6 months after earning this life-changing degree, a student will be able to land a helpdesk or specialist job. Depending on where you live, these types of entry-level jobs pay anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000 USD.
With that in mind, assuming a student is able to land a job, the ROI of Devry’s degree is not too good. Technically, a person has to work about a year and a half in order to recuperate his/her investment in this degree program (not taking into account taxes and expenses).
Note: Devry University had to agree to a 100 million dollar settlement because the U.S. Department of Education determined that they were deceiving prospective students into believing that 90% of Devry’s grads landed jobs in their fields of study.
They were forced to add this note to their homepage, as you can see on this screenshot:
Here’s their homepage with the note at the bottom:
Western Governors University (WGU)
Program: Information Technology—Network Administration
Cost: $3,035 USD per term (according to the curriculum, this program is 9 terms long). Total cost= $27,315 USD.
However, WGU gives you the flexibility to take as many classes per term as you please, so you could finish the program in less time and, as a result, pay less.
Curriculum(go to page 7): Unfortunately since WGU is an accredited university, they also require students to take general education classes including but not limited to geography, writing, algebra, natural science and humanities.
In the technical portion of the curriculum you’ll see introductory classes to communications, IT, IT applications, etc. Once you get into the upper-level classes, you’ll get a chance to pass assessment tests that could result in earning industry-recognized certifications.
Professors: Instead of professors, WGU has mentors. Students go through the content on their own and they get to meet with mentors for clarification. This is how WGU manages to keep their prices low.
After speaking with an enrollment counselor, I was told that they couldn’t provide me with any information on the mentors if I wasn’t enrolled in the school yet. However, they did tell me that all of the mentors have a Ph.D… (who cares?).
ROI: WGU requires you to have certain credentials and/or experience to be admitted into the program. Due to this, they are able to advertise that right after students finish their programs, they are able to find jobs.
A survey posted in WGU’s own website admitted that almost a fifth of their students are not able to find jobs in their fields of study 5 years after graduation. This isn’t a surprise to many. As you may know, although WGU allows you to earn certs and a degree at the same time, if you have no relevant hands-on experience you will have start at a lower tier job just like everybody else.
Curriculum: Half of the program, as you can expect from an accredited university, is made up of general education classes. At Georgia Tech, you will learn about economics, politics, chemistry, english writing and health, among other “job-essential” subjects.
The general education requirements should only take you about 2 years to complete. After that, you’d be able to start taking technical introductory classes that are related to your major. By the time you earn your degree, you would have close to zero hands-on experience and would have spent over $100,000.
Professors: here’s a link to the faculty directory of Georgia Tech’s school of Electrical and Computer Engineering. I encourage you to go to that link and look at 3 or 4 professors. You’ll see that the vast majority of them are very smart people with many years of experience doing research, but with little to no real world experience.
ROI: On their main website, Georgia Tech proudly advertises to be one of the top colleges in the nation in terms of ROI (check it out here). However, if you go to that link and read a few lines, you’ll see that the return on investment they talk about is calculated over 20 years and it’s just about $800,000!
20 years is more than enough for the return not to be related to the degree, of course. But obviously, they’re not going to advertise the ROI after 2-3 years because students are likely to be in an entry-level role, and wouldn’t be making much.
So, to put it in perspective, you would invest nearly $200,000 in your degree, and over 20 years, you would make $600,000 in profit (assuming no expenses or taxes). Now, I’m not Warren Buffet, but that sounds like a really bad deal to me.
The Bottom Line
Many people get talked into paying for a college degree because universities are “accredited.” For some reason, the word “accredited” makes people think that they will be taught some sort of secret formula or magic tricks that they will be able to use to land jobs.
But sadly, the truth is very different. Accredited only means that the school must teach general education classes which, even though many people still argue they are needed, turn out to be a waste of time.
Take this guy as an example. He went to WGU to get a technical degree and made a few videos to let people know how his experience was. He liked it. But, go to this link and fast forward to around minute 2:20. You’ll see that during term one he took 2 technical classes and a humanities class.
He was able to finish the technical classes in a matter of days. But, the humanities class took him 2 and a half months! Imagine how much better he could have gotten if he had invested that time and effort into getting new skills and knowledge!
Some “accredited schools” are better than others. But, all of them must teach a bunch of fluff that won’t move you any closer to your goals. Add to that the fact that degrees aren’t even required in IT and you have nothing short of a scam.
Do you think you can’t become a network engineer, or at least break into IT in less than a year? I think you can. In fact, I know for a fact that anyone with hustle and motivation can become a network engineer in less than a year or two because I’ve seen it happen many times.
But colleges and universities make such a big deal of their accreditation that people end up getting tricked into spending their time and money in them just to end up in an entry-level role. Wouldn’t you rather take an alternative route, save your money and time and achieve your goals faster?
Apply to Zero to Engineer. You’ll learn exactly what you need to know (no general education classes) to break the 6 figure salary mark in less time than what it takes to complete any degree.
If you want to become a network engineer, you’re really going to like what I’m about to tell you.
Do you know why?
Because you’re about to discover that becoming a network engineer takes way less time and money than you probably think.
But before we dive into it, let’s talk about a big fat lie we’ve all been told:
If you’ve been living on this planet for most of your life, and you want to become a network engineer, you’ve probably heard of the endless number of requirements that you need to break into the field, haven’t you?
If You Google It…
Here’s how it usually goes: First, they tell us that we need a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Information Systems or Computer Engineering.
Then, we need relevant IT experience of about 5-10 years or something along those lines to be able to become a network engineer.
I’m not making this up. As I write this, the number one Google result for the query “How to become a network engineer,” says exactly that… (go check for yourself if you don’t believe me).
Anyway, by that logic, and if my math isn’t too far off, getting a degree, a couple certs and enough experience to become a network engineer should take you somewhere around 10 years…
Well guess what?
I personally know a guy who graduated with a non-tech degree from a school in the east coast. He didn’t like his job when he started working so…
He decided to switch careers and become a network engineer because he was intrigued by the flexibility and benefits that we all know can come with it. But, he had one little issue: he knew nothing about tech.
Yet, 5 months after getting into this career blueprint program, he managed to become an associate network engineer. And, only a year after that he became a network engineer at Samsung, where he is part of the infrastructure team.
How crazy is that?!
I know another guy with a similar story—probably even crazier to be honest. He went from being unemployed to becoming a network technician and getting promoted 3 times (all the way to senior network engineer) in just 23 months!
And the most mind-blowing thing is that he had no degree nor a stack of certs to show off. All he did was add real value to the company he was working for at the time.
“Ok but let’s be real, dude! These people are probably one in a terabyte so this doesn’t change anything for me.”
Did something like that cross your mind while you were reading about these two guys?
It does sound a little fishy. But, the truth is that even if you have zero experience today, you can become a network engineer in less than a year if you have a career plan laid out.
Obviously, it’s not a walk around the park –I’d be the first one to tell you that. You’d still have to put in the work to level up your skills and knowledge of networking and the IT industry in general.
But, with that said, it’s possible to go from even nothing to a network engineering role paying you somewhere around 75K or more in around 12 months (or, if you will, much faster than what it would take you if you choose to follow mainstream advice).
And, moving forward, you could even become a systems or solutions engineer making way over 100k a year within just 2-4 years even if you have zero experience today.
Picture that for a second… making more than 10k every month, working from home half of the week, being able to buy what you want, etc., and doing it without racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt and wasting precious years of your life running in circles like a puppy chasing its own tail.
Wouldn’t that be awesome?!
If you truly want to become a network engineer and then go all the way to systems or solutions engineer, and want to get amazing results much faster than what most people think is even possible,
Here are 5 steps you need to take:
1. Get a rock-solid networking foundation (60-120 days)
Take some free training from companies like Cisco and get a certification such as the Network+ from CompTIA, which covers almost everything you need in this step.
Even though this is the first step, keep step 4 in your mind. This way, you can make sure you’re on the right track from the very start of your journey to getting an amazing job and breaking the 6 figure salary mark.
2. Get relevant hands-on experience
If you’ve ever tried to get a technical job, you probably know that the number one thing employers look for in a resume is hands-on experience.
Try to get some experience in a helpdesk role, and help out small businesses and friends for free. Or, if your situation allows it, land a 3-month internship even if it is non-paid.
The experience you gain in this step will give you the confidence to move to the next one. So, do everything you can to level up your skills. Try to get some used equipment and set up your own lab, build your own PC, or take advantage of free tools like this one.
Anyway, in step 3 you want to work on as many projects as you can. Try to learn new skills from working with vendors and partner engineers in several projects.
While you’re leveling up your skillset, go ahead and ask your employer to sponsor your certifications so that you can expand your knowledge and further help the company (frame it like that, it will increase your chances of getting a “yes” from your boss). You can use this template to ask your boss to pay for your training.
With that said, however, stay focused on gaining hands-on experience during this step –nothing matters more than that.
I’m going to repeat that in italics.
Nothing matters more than hands-on experience!
Once you have a couple of certs and a great deal of hands-on experience, you’ll be ready to become a network engineer (steps 1 through 3 can take as little as 6-12 months). As you know, LinkedIn is a very powerful tool to land your dream job so…
Do you want job security and, eventually, a truly amazing compensation package? Then make sure you’re not left behind…
In a world where networks have tons of technologies integrated, learning the full stack of networking technologies will make you an asset to pretty much any company.
The full stack includes everything including data center, virtualization, automation, routing and switching, VoIP, cloud, SDN, IoT and cybersecurity. If you want to learn more about why becoming a full stack network engineer is the future, you can do that here.
Becoming a full stack network engineer will set you up for the next step…
5. Become a Systems or Solutions Engineer at a manufacturer or VAR (value-added reseller)
This step might seem far away, but if you know what you’re doing and have an experienced mentor, you could be here in 2-4 years. This position can pay anywhere between 100k and 250k a year. Not bad huh?
In this step, your goal should be to become a pre-sales engineer, post-sales implementation engineer or technical account manager. There are thousands of value-added resellers (VAR’s), and manufacturers such as Cisco Systems and Arista Networks.
Keep in mind that the IT skills gap is expected to keep growing and growing. So, if you follow these steps, soon you’ll be in a prime position to literally get whatever you want as a salary because your skill set will be extremely valuable.
The Ugly Truth
We’ve been told that it takes basically a decade to land a high paying technical job. Some of us even go to college for anywhere between 2 to 6 years, we study for certs, break into an entry-level role…
But then what?
When I was getting started I would’ve loved to have a mentor to guide me. I would’ve avoided all the pitfalls and traps that are patiently waiting for anyone looking to move up in the IT world –we can’t learn this in college or by earning certs, or even in entry-level roles.
Most people are sold into thinking that becoming a network engineer takes as long as becoming a lawyer or a doctor. No wonder we’re are alright with staying in entry-level roles for so long!
It’s not our fault, though. Colleges and universities want to paint a picture that makes it seem impossible to level up our skills without paying them a lot of money and spending a bunch of years studying –it’s their way to stay in business, I guess…
Why not take the alternative route to becoming a network engineer –one that costs less money and time– when there are so many examples of people who have already done it and many more who are currently doing it?
Imagine what you could accomplish in the next 6-12 months if you believe in yourself and enroll in a career blueprint program like Zero to Engineer.
You’d learn the full stack, get mentored by world-class engineers, build a personalized career plan, and become part of a community of rockstar IT professionals that had the guts to choose the alternative route.
You will surely look back and think that it wasn’t that hard after all. But, do you think you have what it takes to become a network engineer in less than a year?
You wanna know what the coolest job at Cisco is? Take a guess…
It’s not the VP of sales, or the head of systems engineering, nor it is the CTO. Heck, it’s not even the CEO!
Side note: Chuck Robbins is definitely really cool. We met him the other day:
The coolest job at Cisco involves helping people in areas that have just been hit by a natural disaster.
Imagine if you had relatives living in New Orleans in 2005, when hurricane Katrina hit. How worried would you be if you couldn’t get a hold of them?
What would’ve been going through your mind as you sat in front of the TV looking at aerial images and listening to reporters talk about the number of missing people?
Whenever something happens, Cisco sends its tactical operations team –a team of badass first responders who have tons of hands on experience– to restore communications after a tornado, earthquake, hurricane or even tsunami hits.
The tactical operations team travels in a truck called the NERV (network emergency response vehicle), which is equipped with the necessary technology to get things up and running wherever it goes. It’s basically a network on wheels.
In an emergency situation, field communications must be mobile and easy to deploy. Hence, the NERV was built to be fully operational in under 20 minutes, be shut down in less than 15 minutes (in case it’s needed in a different location), and it can power its own systems by using an on-board generator.
But, even though the NERV is pretty damn cool, the real heros here are the highly-skilled members of the tactical operations team, and here’s a good illustration of why: when communications are needed in places where the NERV can’t travel to fast enough, the tactical operations team uses mobile kits to set up wired, wireless, data, voice and satellite communications.
Sometimes they even camp out at the disaster area for days just to make sure that hospitals, fire departments, police, etc. have proper connectivity to carry on with their operations and that people can communicate with their loved ones. This is hands down the coolest job at Cisco!
In this exclusive NexGenT interview, Chandler Johnson, a member of the tactical operations team who has helped restore communications all over the world, walks us through the NERV vehicle and gives us an insight into what his job is like, as well as valuable career advice:
If you watched the video, you should’ve noticed that Chandler gave some key career advice for people who want a successful tech career. Among what he recommends is getting familiar with the full stack of networking technologies and learning automation.
The reason for the first one is quite clear: networks are not just routers and switches anymore. They consist of a broad range of technologies that must be integrated together in a precise way for things to operate smoothly. If you still think that companies will keep hiring people to focus on each particular area of IT, you’re dead wrong! Companies are in need of full stack network engineers because it helps them save money and streamline operations.
The reason for Chandler’s second recommendation is quite obvious too: automation makes everything simpler. Anyone who wants to have a successful career in tech needs to learn how to at least automate routine and repetitive tasks. Why is it important? In the case of the NERV, as you saw in the video, automation enables volunteers to easily contribute to restoring communications without having to be highly-skilled experts. It has a similar effect in companies…
Here’s another question for you:
Do you think Chandler, or any other member of the tactical operations team, would have any problem landing a “normal” tech job? I don’t think so. These people have so much hands on experience that any company would be lucky to have them on their teams.
If you paid close attention to the video, you should’ve noticed that at one point Chandler said “I had to learn a lot on the job” and “I actually didn’t have any formal training before I came on the team.” The members of the tactical operations team have to manage a lot of the technologies in the full stack of networking. There is no way someone could actually learn all of these technologies through conventional education methods.
Sure, you’ll get to know about them and maybe even understand them. But, the only way you can be certain that you have truly learned them would be by building something real. By actually getting something done! This is why companies care so much about hands on experience! Even if you’re just getting it through these tactics.
If you understand that hands on experience is what truly matters in the IT world, and you think you have what it takes to succeed in IT, try to get into the Zero to Engineer career blueprint program. You’ll learn the full stack of networking technologies (everything from routing and switching to automation and VoIP), how to carry out your own full stack networking projects from scratch, and how to land your dream IT job in record time.
The sole goal of Zero to Engineer is to give you the exact skills you need to skyrocket through the industry using a method similar to military training (in fact, the creators of the program graduated over 1,000 engineers while they served as IT instructors at the Air Force), where the only purpose is to get you ready to perform in the field, not to give you a piece of paper with fancy words on it that, in reality, means nothing and could leave you wondering if you’re ready to add value to companies.
Chandler and his team don’t have to worry about getting hands on experience, they already have the coolest job at Cisco. But, most people are not that lucky. Especially for those starting out, getting hands on experience can be a major challenge. Yet, it seems that regardless of how many titles and certifications someone has, most companies expect people to have some.
You can choose to keep going in circles, chasing cert after cert like if they were some golden ticket to the top (they do help, true. But, they aren’t the answer). Or, you can pull your head out of your ass, follow Chandler’s and NexGenT’s advice, and get started on your path to becoming a full stack network engineer. Not by passing written exams. But, by getting your hands dirty with real world equipment, and getting mentored by some of the best engineers in the world.
Who knows? Maybe Chandler and others in the tactical operations team will become mentors in the NexGenT platform one day…