I think it’s time I make some decisions to specialize in my career. However, there’s something I need to do for my career first.

The Why – What’s the Problem?

I’ve been a public sector IT Technician for about eight years now. Roughly six months ago I made a lateral move from a County agency to a State agency. The move came with a considerable raise, but I remain at the same tier in the IT unit, so to speak — primarily the help desk.

I’m 34 and looking towards my next career goal. The problem is, my overall career goal has never stayed the same. This has helped round out my technology skill set, but at some point I’m going to need to specialize in order to advance.

The choice – sysadmin or developer?

I obtained an Associate’s Degree in Computer Science back in 2006, learning C++, then switched my focus to IT and went to a for-profit, one-year technical school before those schools got such a bad rap. I learned network and system administration there, then used a school connection to land a public sector job at a County agency.

I’m good at what I do in IT. Even though I was Help Desk at the County, I was managing servers and in charge of the software that made library computer reservations for users. The Network Administrators put me in charge of transitioning the IT Unit from Norton Ghost to Windows Deployment Services (WDS) and deploying Surface Pro tablets to users. At the State, I’m the primary contact for several critical IT functions despite having only been there a few months.

However, I didn’t stop thinking about coding, either. At the County I managed their website when the agency temporarily had no website administrator. I also spent a year volunteering as a website admin for a nonprofit.

I like what I do in IT, but I have always had this itch to get back into development.

The Hesitation – Career shifts are hard

The fact that I’m a Help Desk / System Admin who understands both networking and programming concepts has both helped my employability and helped keep my options open.

However, “keeping my options open” is not a career plan. At some point I need to specialize in something. Making that choice means making one of several short-term career choices.

Luckily, there is at least some crossover between IT and programming skills; it’s not a career change so much as a shift of focus. Developers need to understand some IT-related skills, and IT staff will need scripting and programming experience.

The fork in the road, and the ROADblock

As I explored my options, I figured I had two short-term roads I could head down to further my career:

  1. The IT Track. Obtaining certifications (MCSAMCSECCNA) and leveraging my experience to get a System or Network Admin job.
  2. The “Portfolio” Developer Track. Training my coding skills and developing a portfolio of projects until I could land a developer job.

I have one big regret in my career though, and one that could act as a roadblock: my lack of a Bachelor’s Degree. I have an Associate’s in Computer Science, but that isn’t going to count for a whole lot.

Unfortunately, while it’s possible to advance in some fashion without that Bachelor’s, it will ultimately limit what I could accomplish and would in-fact block me from plenty of opportunities. In many companies, I won’t even make it past the HR filter, and if I ever want to get into management, the degree will be a huge help.

Whether or not that degree should matter, it does matter, and I’m trying to stay realistic.

Even if I decide to stay in IT, having the Bachelor’s would help my career, or at the very least wouldn’t hurt it.

I had actually started taking classes a few years ago to finish my degree, but then stopped when finances and time got tight. I reapplied not too long ago and waited for another academic evaluation.

Why I’m opting to finish my degree first

The verdict from Thomas Edison State College: I’m only 21 credits shy of my Bachelor’s, most of which are general education courses.

My wife offered a bit of obvious-in-hindsight wisdom: Those credits aren’t going to last forever, I’m only going to have less time to do this as I age, and it’s something I’ve always talked about doing. It’s time I do it.

If I had no degree and had to start over right now… man, that would be a tough choice considering the cost of a university education. With only 21 credits to go, however, I just need to finish it already.