One reason I wrote Minority Tech was to create a resource for minorities (Blacks, Latinos, women, the disabled, older technologists, or any other under-represented group) to use when discussing the reality of entering or working in the technology sector. Careers in technology are hard to get into for everyone due to the requirement to take hard classes like algorithms, information architecture, networking, operating systems, programming, software engineering, calculus, statistics, etc. However, it is especially hard for minorities because we don't often match the "pattern" of technologists, and, therefore, usually don't receive the attention and preparation that others are given.
So, I was happy to receive this email from Andre Copeland, an African-American man who reached out to me via the Minority Tech website:
Your Name: Andre Copeland
Subject: Back in School
Message: Hello I am a 44 year old black male and starting in the IT field. I am taking my first Programming
Classes(Kennesaw State University) and it has been very difficult. My question would be how do you know if I T is for you and do you have any study recommendations?
Here are my answers to Andre's message:
Thanks for writing, Andre. I applaud your decision that go into the IT field. You've made a decision to join a growing sector of the world economy. Getting into IT can be challenging, but I think the rewards are worth it.
To determine if IT is for you, I think there are three questions you should ask yourself:
Am I Building an Area of Expertise?
You mentioned that your first programming classes have been very difficult. I can relate to that because I also initially struggled with my first programming courses when I was an electrical engineering undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. Are you struggling with everything, or have you found one or two areas that you are good at? For example, maybe you have trouble understanding algorithms, but you're really good at writing unit tests. If you can find one valuable aspect of programming that you excel at, then focus on that instead of the areas that cause you to struggle. Don't ignore your weak areas (because you'll have to improve them), but try to find at least one thing you do better than most people.
Do I Love this Stuff?
People who have built long careers in tech often possess a love for tech. They read articles and journals about tech in their spare time. They create personal projects to sharpen their skills or just to have fun. If you find yourself wondering how to get more throughput in your home WiFi, figuring out useful IFTTT recipes, testing different Linux distros, etc., then you probably have enough love for tech to build a long career and ride out your current challenges with programming.
Do I Have Mentors?
A mentor is just someone who has something you want and is willing to help you get it. It can be a skill, position, relationship, etc. If you have found people who are doing the things you want after you finish your degree at Kennesaw State University, then you have a potential support system to help you reach your goals. Mentors can give you advice, relate to your struggles, and provide resources and relationships to help you. Technologists often focus on the hard skills necessary for success, but it's also important to work on your soft skills (i.e., people skills). Finding and cultivating relationships with mentors is a key soft skill.
If you can find one technical area in which to excel, have a love for tech, and can cultivate a network of mentors, then I think that you can be successful in information technology.
My one study recommendation is to join a study group. Computer science is a discipline in which very few people can succeed alone. Find those students who seem to have a strong grasp of topics you struggle with, and meet with them outside of class to study and work on assignments. Make sure you have at least one area of expertise (see Question #1) to bring to the table because there will probably be people in the group who will need your help in that area.
I hope that helps!