Fine Arts Majors in the Data Center: Do You Really Need an IT Degree?

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Click to learn more about author Leon Adato.

Computer science and information technology professions are (unsurprisingly) on the rise: according to the United States Department of Labor, employment opportunities for computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations, and will add about 557,100 new jobs. Information Technology is not just a viable career for college graduates with a computer science degree, but it’s also a great career choice for someone who is either dissatisfied with their current career trajectory or is simply looking for a change.

Most readers’ next thought is probably close to how the headline of this piece reads: “Don’t I need an IT degree?”

The answer is no. Almost anyone with an interest in IT can achieve a career in the field. However, there are some things to keep in mind on your way to the data center.  

No Degree? No Problem

Liberal arts majors will most certainly encounter a few hurdles as they pursue their first IT role. As you may expect, overcoming a business’s perceived need for their employees to have a relevant degree despite the fluid nature of IT jobs and technology itself is step one. Businesses do not like to treat IT as a trade, although fundamentally IT is more of a trade than the classic professions of doctor, lawyer, and engineer.

Overcoming the perception that you need a degree and knowing what to do about it is the first step to getting hired. Detailing other “soft skills” on a resume will be key to appealing to hiring managers. Being able to speak to these soft skills will be necessary in the interview process to show the ability to overcome that lack of a technical IT degree. It can be challenging to surface and communicate relevant experience when you feel it doesn’t count, but what you learned in liberal arts still applies—it’s just about presenting your education in the right light. As a job candidate, it’s also important to express your appetite for learning. Willingness to learn new technology, delve into new frameworks, and pivot a career into a new area can separate you from the rest of the applicants.

You should also be aware that throughout the interview process, people may try to pigeonhole you into a specific position due to your “arts” background. If you are hoping to start a career as a systems engineer and the interviewer suggests pursuing a role as a designer, it’s worth it to speak up. While your degree may not make you seem the obvious choice, this is absolutely a viable career.

Show What You Know

In truth, there may not be as many gaps in your resume as an interviewer might imagine. Just because you didn’t get a degree in IT doesn’t mean you are not knowledgeable. Hands-on, recent technology experience is the most important skill to bring to an IT job interview.

Imagine what was taught in information technology courses ten or 15 years ago. There is a good chance what was learned in those classrooms is irrelevant now. At the speed at which technology is changing, it’s extremely important to have recent hands-on experience. If you were a theater major and have a budding fascination with coding, your unrelated degree may not matter much when it comes down to interviewing. It’s all about being able to speak to what you know and what you’ve spent your time learning and putting to use, whether you did so on personal projects, pro-bono work, or even online exercises.

Painting a strong picture for the hiring manager is also critically important when you have an unrelated degree. This is especially true if you’ve devoted personal time to achieving a certification. These entry-level computer certifications for technicians are designed to certify the competency of entry-level PC computer service professionals in installing, maintaining, customizing, and operating computers. A Microsoft® certification, Cisco® certification, or an A+ certification can all show that you’ve committed time and resources after college to educate yourself and provide an immediate talking point upon which to base a conversation with a hiring manager.

If you haven’t completed a certification, consider other experiences you may have that could point to an aptitude in IT. Many candidates don’t even realize the wealth of IT knowledge that they have. In past internships or activities, consider any problem solving, electrical, or computer-driven tasks you may have successfully taken on. If you were in drama club and you programmed the computerized lighting board to automatically execute cues for every show—this is IT experience. If you troubleshooted technical problems for your dad’s office mates every time they had a computer issue—this experience could be more valuable than you might think.

A Unique Set of Skills

The stereotype of the IT geek is that of an introverted loner, a person behind a screen, most comfortable in a department of one. We know that not to be true—today’s technology professionals are highly collaborative and, thanks to IT convergence, highly team-oriented—but highlighting your unique skillset as a liberal arts major further bursts the bubble on this misperception.

For example, writing and speaking skills are relevant IT skills. Having the ability to write clearly and with the proper level of detail is key to success as an IT professional, and public speaking is also an important skill to highlight in interview stages. In IT, you will be collaborating and speaking with people throughout your entire career, and perhaps even presenting at a conference or two. Communication skills are vital to the success of an IT professional. Being able to gauge an audience and communicate with them in a way that is not patronizing nor overly technical is no easy feat.

Technology is enormously collaborative. There will be times that you will need to collaborate with peer groups, management, and users of the technology we create. Being able to write and speak in a way that is both clear and full of detail is a valuable trait. Adding a liberal arts major to any department may encourage others to pursue these skills further. Whether or not you feel comfortable, it’s important to start writing and speaking more. Speaking up in a quarterly kick-off meeting could lead to new opportunities, or at least great practice.

Getting the Offer Letter

So, do you need an IT degree to work in IT? Absolutely not. If a potential candidate does the research, understands the terrain that they are venturing into, and are ready to speak to their strengths, anyone can land an entry-level job in IT.

While pivoting your career path to one with an IT focus presents a lot of challenges, there are also a lot of opportunities to use the soft skills and reasoning that liberal arts degree-holders tend to have. It allows them to exercise their existing skillset in new ways and will allow for a satisfying and interesting career path. From strong communication and writing skills to a unique viewpoint, liberal arts majors can be a valuable asset in the IT workplace.

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