Information technology is not the easiest thing to learn, but it can be gratifying, and many of us have an unbridled passion for the subject.
Formal education offers many options for studying information technology, but it is also possible to learn anything IT-related through self-study.
Information technology can be a lot of fun to learn, mainly because it’s such a practical subject.
Everything you learn can be applied practically almost immediately, which makes it even more fun and can often impress other people.
But you must first decide precisely what you want to learn and how you want to learn it.
Preparing To Learn Information Technology On Your Own
Saying that you want to learn Information Technology is like saying that you want to study science. It sounds excellent, and many people won’t even give it a second thought.
But when you get to the point of starting your studies, suddenly you must figure out where to begin. Science has so many fields that you have to be more specific. The same applies to information technology.
Many people don’t understand this, which is why the programmer in your family is the one that everyone calls to fix their printers.
Programming and printers are two completely different things, but they are both “information technology,” so the programmer must know how to fix it. And chances are that he will, but not because he’s a programmer.
That’s the challenge with learning IT, whether in a classroom or on your own. You must decide to start somewhere, and sooner or later, you must specialize in a particular area.
Another vital thing to note is that information technology is a life-long field of study. Technology progresses so rapidly that a course you completed a year ago may already be outdated.
Keep this fact in mind whenever you look for learning resources and always try to find the latest and most up-to-date information.
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1. Determine What You Want To Learn
There are many sub-industries in the IT industry, and each sub-industry has its own market leaders. These market leaders all tend to offer their own fields of study.
For example, Microsoft has the Microsoft Certified Professional, and Cisco has the Cisco Certified Professional. Python has the PCEP and PCAP. These are all specialized areas of study that focus on one sub-industry in particular.
But what if you don’t know what you want to focus on yet?
Regarding IT in general, an organization called CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association) sets specific standards of essential knowledge that span across all subcategories and are platform-independent.
So instead of getting a Microsoft networking course, you get a course on networking in general, with Microsoft’s networking technologies included.
CompTIA set standards for a course called IT Fundamentals (ITF+). This course is specifically created to be a starting point for anyone who’s interested in studying IT.
You will learn about various topics, including terminology, hardware, software, security, networking, software development, and databases. It will also help you to ascertain which fields you are most interested in.
CompTIA does not offer training. Instead, it specifies what you must know and publishes it as an Exam Objectives document, which you can download from the CompTIA website.
This is a comprehensive list of everything you should know as a foundation for further studies in the IT field.
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Information Technology’s Subcategories
Once you have the foundation provided by IT Fundamentals, you will have identified one or more fields that fascinate you more than others.
You can now start studying those specialist areas more intensively. The subcategories are increasing almost daily, but here are a few of the broader options:
If you found the hardware and software side the most interesting and enjoyed learning how hardware and software work, you may want to go more in-depth into that arena.
Even if you don’t want to make a career out of it, it could be beneficial even just to know how to build your own gaming PC.
To go further into this area, the perfect starting point is CompTIA’s A+ objectives. You can also download this document from CompTIA’s website to see what you will be expected to know.
A+ includes more in-depth information on hardware, software, and a little bit of networking. There’s no programming, though.
If you ever saw a computer pro typing away at a command line and wanted to know how to do that, A+ is for you. It’s considered the minimum requirement for anyone who wants to work as an IT support technician.
Programming / Software Development
If you liked the coding side of the ITF+, you might want to study software development. A+ looks at how to use and maintain existing software but not how to build new software from scratch. That’s what software development is all about.
There are various programming and coding languages that you can learn and even get formal qualifications in, but if you’re someone with little or no programming background, a language like Python might be the perfect starting point.
It’s easy to learn Python because its syntax is close to English grammar, yet it is one of the most potent and popular programming languages available.
If you want to go a more traditional route, Microsoft offers its developer certifications for a wide range of platforms, mainly focused on Microsoft 365 and Azure.
You can also earn a qualification from the Python Institute or get formal programming training from various providers.
Networking and the Internet are two even more specialized fields. Though you learn a bit about them in the ITF+ and A+ process, you can go much more in-depth.
A good starting point is CompTIA’s Network+. As with all CompTIA guidelines, the Network+ is platform-independent, choosing instead to give a broad-view study path for networking and the internet in general.
Once you are done with this, you may choose to go for Microsoft’s systems engineering courses or Cisco’s specialist training, to name a few.
Many consider cybersecurity to be part of networking, and you get some training on the topic in most other IT courses.
But advanced cybersecurity training is increasingly important due to the rising threat of cybercrime and cybercriminals getting more creative in their methods by the day.
Again, CompTIA offers some of the best broad-based cybersecurity training on the market, starting with the Security+ specifications.
From there, you can go more in-depth to truly become a cybersecurity specialist.
2. Decide How Formal You Want Your Learning To Be
As with anything, formal study is an option, but it doesn’t truly offer you much that you can’t get through self-study.
This is true of many industries, but especially so in the case of information technology.
There are three possible benefits you can get from formal training rather than self-study:
- The most up-to-date information. If you find a college and lecturer who prides themselves on being forward-thinking, you can get the most recent information without having to look for it. But to be honest, this is hardly ever the case. Most colleges are stuck teaching courses that are five years old or even older.
- A lecturer can answer your questions immediately. Since you have the lecturer and classmates with you, you can quickly get answers to your questions or have someone explain a concept in more detail. This is possible with self-study but can be more difficult and time-consuming.
- You can get a formal qualification. If it’s qualifications you are after, a college would seem like an obvious solution, and it is since most colleges offer exams and accredited certificates or diplomas. But organizations like CompTIA allow anyone to take an accredited exam, even if you learned through self-study or on-the-job training.
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3. Get The Right Guidelines Or Objectives
Once you’ve chosen a field you want to study, the easiest starting point is to get the exam objectives for that field. For example, if you’re just starting out on your information technology journey, CompTIA’s IT Fundamentals is the perfect place to begin.
You can find the exam objectives on CompTIA’s website; this will give you a complete list of topics you must learn.
You can find these exam objectives for any course or topic you want to study. If you’re in doubt, a quick web search will find it for you.
4. Find Study Material
There are several different types of study material you can use, some more effective than others. You must determine how you would like to learn, keeping the pros and cons of each method in mind, then find the right study material for you.
There are numerous study guides available for any IT course you can think of. Many of these study guides are complete a-to-z textbooks that most formal colleges use, but they are also open to the general public.
Some of the more popular ones are published by Sybex. Continuing with the IT Fundamentals example, Sybex has an excellent and high-rated IT Fundamentals Study Guide.
The remarkable thing about these guides is that they are compiled from start to finish based on the exam objectives, so you don’t have to look for content for each objective topic.
Online platforms like Udemy, StackSkills, and Coursera offer complete training programs for any IT-related field of study.
These courses are also compiled based on the formal exam objectives so that you will get comprehensive training in every facet of the topic.
It’s also convenient since the instructors are available to you, so you can ask them questions as you move along.
One crucial point is that not all courses are 100% aligned with the exam objectives. For example, searching for “IT fundamentals” on Udemy offers hundreds of results.
Still, not all of them are for the actual CompTIA IT Fundamentals objectives, so you might learn someone’s opinion of what constitutes the fundamentals of IT rather than industry standard training.
Before committing to any of these courses, check the descriptions, comments, and ratings carefully. It’s worth your effort to ensure your facts before buying an online course.
Any information you will ever need in the IT industry is already available for free on YouTube. People make top-notch content all the time and upload it to YouTube for you to watch.
Many of these videos could be better than any formal study guide or online training website.
The problem is that it’s hard to know where to begin. Searching for the topic on YouTube will offer many results, but where should you start?
The good news is that you already have the perfect guide if you did not skip Self-Study Step One. Getting the Exam Objectives document is crucial for self-study since it is literally a list of topics to learn in sequence.
For example, the IT Fundamentals exam objectives specify “common operating systems, their functions, and features” as the first part.
They start with mobile operating systems including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry. So simply search YouTube for that, then start watching. Watch a few videos on each topic to ensure you get a wide range of knowledge.
Blog Posts And Online Articles
Similar to YouTube videos, you can find a wealth of online information written by industry experts working in the IT field for decades.
These articles can be a great additional source of information to add to your impressively increasing wealth of knowledge. Sometimes you can find an article that explains a concept much more precisely than most videos do.
As mentioned, IT is a practical and hands-on field. Find ways to implement the knowledge that you’re getting practically.
Some of these things can be easier to do than others. For example, if you’re learning about hardware, you can practice on any desktop PC you have at home or buy an old PC for cheap if you’re afraid of breaking something.
However, when it comes to more complicated concepts like networking, you may have a much harder time practicing everything.
Find out if you can’t do some temp work for an IT company near you or volunteer to perform IT support for a charity nearby.
The experience you get is even more valuable than all the training videos you sit through.
6. Exam Prep
If you want a formal qualification for your studies, you have options. As mentioned before, organizations like CompTIA offer industry-standard exams, and companies like Microsoft and Cisco also offer their exams, all with certifications at the end.
Preparing for the exams can be difficult, though. The questions are often asked so that they can easily confuse you, so simply working through a study guide and writing your exam isn’t an option.
Thankfully, there are specific exam preparation options available.
There are detailed guides for exams that you can buy in book form (also published by the same companies that publish the study guides), YouTube videos, online training courses, and blogs or articles.
All of these take you through the things that you must know before writing the exams.
Some people have managed to simply walk into an exam with years of experience and pass.
CompTIA’s A+, for example, is said to be the equivalent of about one year of full-time IT support experience, but that doesn’t mean you can pass the exam after working for a year. With about five years’ experience, you might be able to do it.
Once you’ve done as much as possible in terms of exam prep, write some practice exams. Some study guides include a few of these, but you can also register for some online practice exams (most of them are not free, though).
The more practice exams you write, the better your chances of passing the exams the first time.
7. Write The Exams
When you’re happy with your preparation, simply book your exams. You can do so on the particular company or organization’s website.
For example, CompTIA’s website has a prominent “Write Your Exam” link right on the home page.
Many companies offer the option to write your exams online while they monitor you through your webcam. Others may require you to write them at a college or exam center near you.
Most exams consist of multiple-choice questions; this does not mean they are easy. Prepare yourself as well as you can.
8. Ongoing Training
Once you have your qualifications, keep in mind the advice shared before. The IT industry is ever-changing, and you will never be able to know everything that there is to know. It’s a lifetime process of learning.
Because of this, many providers will give you a certification that’s only valid for two years. You must re-write your exams every two years to remain certified.
CompTIA’s IT Fundamentals is a lifetime certification, but the A+ must be re-written after 24 months. Thankfully, they also allow you to bypass this if you provide evidence that you’ve been actively working in the industry.
This probably seems like a bad thing, but it makes sense since someone who completed the A+ ten years ago and left the industry will not have enough current knowledge to perform their job well.
That’s why it’s crucial to keep up to date with the latest in the IT industry in general, and even more so in your chosen field of specialization.
9. Choose Your Next Path
Now that you’ve got your qualification and you’ve been working in the industry in some capacity, you should start identifying certain areas that interest you more than others.
That’s usually a clear sign that you should study further in that direction.
As mentioned, this will never stop for as long as you are active in the Information Technology industry. You will always find something more to learn.
Once you’ve identified that field of study, it’s time to start all over again from step one to learn that new field.
This may seem daunting to some, but it’s one of the reasons why Information Technology is one industry that will never leave you bored.
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Information technology won’t be the easiest thing you ever learn. Like most things, it can be easy initially when you’re just getting the fundamentals in place.
But it is an enriching field of study for anyone who has an active interest in the technical side of technology.
You can learn information technology on your own and have a lot of fun while you’re at it.