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Guide on How to Land Computer Jobs

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Author: Russ Walter

To become a lawyer, you must graduate from law school and pass the Bar Exam. But to become a computer expert, there's no particular exam to pass, and no particular piece of paper that "proves" you're an expert or even competent.

You can get a job in the computer industry even if you've never had any training. Your job will be sweeping the floor.

To become a top computer expert, you must study hard, day and night. Read lots of computer manuals, textbooks, guidebooks, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters. Practice using many kinds of computers, operating systems, languages, word-processing programs, spreadsheets, database systems, graphics packages, and telecommunications programs. Also explore the many educational programs for kids. Use many kinds of printers, disk drives, and modems. Study the human problems of dealing with computers. No matter how much you already know, learn more!

When I surveyed computer experts, I found that the average expert still spends two hours per day reading about computers, to fill holes in the expert's background and learn what happened in the computer industry that day! In addition to those two hours, the expert spends many more hours practicing what was read and swapping ideas by chatting with other computerists.

As a computer expert, you can choose your own hours, but they must be numerous: if your interest in computers lasts just from 9 AM to 5 PM, you'll never become a computer expert.

To break into the computer field, you can use six tools: college, home consulting, home programming, salesmanship, job expansion, and on-the-job training.


The most traditional way to get a computer job is to go to college and get a Ph.D. or M.A. in computer science. Unfortunately, that takes a lot of time

Home Consulting

The fastest way to break into the field is to keep your current job but spend your weekends and evenings helping your neighbors, friends, and colleagues learn about computers. Help them buy hardware and software. Then customize the software to meet their own personal needs. Then train them in how to use it all.

At first, do it all for free. After you've become an experienced expert and developed a list of happy clients who will vouch for your brilliance, start requesting money from new clients. Start cheaply, at about $10 per hour, then gradually raise your rates over the next few years.

Home Programming

You can write computer programs at home to sell to friends and software publishers, but make sure your programs serve a real need and don't duplicate what's already on the market. Be creative.


For a quicker career path, learn enough about microcomputers to get a job selling them in a store. As a salesperson, you'll be helping people decide which hardware and software to buy; you'll be acting as a consultant.

The store will probably give you permission to take hardware, software, and literature home with you, so you can study and practice new computer techniques every evening and become brilliant. If you wish, you can even moonlight by helping your customers use the software they bought and designing your own customized programs for them.

After working in the store several months, you'll have the knowledge, experience, contacts, and reputation to establish yourself as an independent consultant. You can call your former customers and become their advisor, trainer, and programmer - or even set up your own store.

Job expansion

Another way to break into the field is to take a non-computer job and gradually enlarge its responsibilities, so that it involves computers.

For example, if you're a typist, urge your boss to let you use a word processor. If you're a clerk, ask permission to use spreadsheet and data-management programs to manage your work more efficiently. If you're a math teacher, ask the principal to let you teach a computer course or help run the school's computer club.

On-the-job training

The final way to break into the field is to get a job in a computer company, as a janitor or clerk, and gradually move up by using the company's policy of free training for employees.

Set your rates

If somebody's interested in hiring you to be a programmer or consultant, you must decide what rate to charge.

If this is your first such job, be humble and charge very little because your first job's main goal should not be money. Instead, your goal should be to gain experience, enhance your reputation, and find somebody you can use as a reference and who'll give you a good recommendation. Convince your first employer that you're the best bargain he ever got, so that he'll be wildly enthusiastic about you and give you a totally glowing recommendation when you go seek your second job.

Asking for a raise

After several months on the job, when you've thoroughly proved that you're much more than you're being paid, and your employer is thoroughly thrilled with your performance, gently ask your employer for a slight raise. If he declines, continue working at that job, but also keep your eyes open for a better alternative.

Negotiating a contract

The fundamental rule of contract negotiation is: never make a large commitment.

For example, suppose somebody offers to pay you $10,000 if you write a fancy program. Don't accept the offer; the commitment is too large. Instead, request $1,000 for writing a stripped-down version of the program.

After writing the stripped-down version, wait and see whether you get the $1,000; if you get it without any hassles, then agree to make the version slightly fancier, for a few thousand dollars more. That way, if you have an argument you're your employer (which is common), you've lost only $1,000 of effort instead of $10,000.

About the author

This article is excerpted from the 25th edition of The Secret Guide to Computers, copyright 1998 by Russ Walter and reprinted with permission. Get free literature about the complete Guide by phoning Russ at 603-666-6644, 24 hours. Free reprintable articles on home based business and Internet marketing are available at

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