It is amazing how any discussion of breaking into IT or advancing your career comes back to the overarching question of “What are you doing at home?” But this point can’t be overstated. This applies to nearly all fields (doctors, teachers, lawyers, police, firefighters, etc. are obvious exceptions) but none as obviously as IT – you can do nearly everything you would do at work at home, so if you want to really be at the top of your field, you need to be doing just that.
In IT we see this often because IT professionals very often love what they do, so if you are interviewing at a company there is a very good chance that at least one person that you are up against for that job is doing tons of IT at home, even if they are working full time somewhere else. In other fields like music or painting we see this too. But in others like chemistry, even though much could be done at home, it is rare to see this type of career dedication so someone who takes the time to do as much at home as they do at the office will likely skyrocket through their career. In IT, you need to do this just to keep up. IT is a very hard field.
In a previous article, I discussed building a home lab and doing many of the tasks that you would do at work, at home. And that is definitely the place to start. But we can do more. Once you have a real lab running at home, it is time to serious begin considering running your home like a business – at least from an IT perspective. This applies far more to desktop techs, server admins, network techs, etc. than to database admins or developers, for example. Your mileage will vary here but all experience is good experience.
There are many ways to run your home like a business. Let’s start with your desktop environments. Every IT pro has desktops or laptops at home. Probably several. Are these being run like a business? By that I mean, for example, are they pro versions (if you are running Windows), do you have domain authentication (like Active Directory or LDAP), do you run as normal users and only go to administrator for admin tasks, do you manage them with group policy objects, do you have automated maintenance tasks, etc. Sure, you probably only have a few machines like this and this is complete overkill. But it isn’t about efficiency, it is about experience and doing things “right”. Anytime that you can say “sure I know how to do that, that’s how I do it at home” you are in better shape than the person who has only done it at a previous job.
Backups are another great example. Do you have an awesome home backup strategy – one that you would be proud to say you ran in a business? If not, consider it. Not only because you want the ability to recover things that you have at home, but also because it makes for great experience. Doing it right at home makes it more likely that you will do it right at the office.
If your home is anything like mine, you need to track bills, paperwork, taxes and other documents. Perfect time to implement a document repository system a la SharePoint, LifeRay or Alfresco. Overkill for your home? Of course. But still handy and very cool.
The same goes for storage. You probably have loads of pictures, music, videos, install files, video games and other things that you need to store and save. Instead of putting them onto an external hard drive attached to your laptop, my not implement a real NAS – either a commercial appliance like a Netgear ReadyNAS or a server running a NAS appliance operating system like OpenFiler, FreeNAS or Nexenta. This will give great experience, be quite impressive and provide great home functionality to centralize files, share files between machines and, perhaps best of all, build a media server for your home allowing you to utilize those stored resources in more exciting ways. A streaming DLNA server can be a great home addition in addition to being a good tech project and a good way to demonstrate value of your projects to other family members.
Setting up a web server and running a family wiki to track household expenses, accounts, repairs, bills, events, etc. can be extremely handy. Useful in the same ways that it is useful in a normal company. Very good way in which to keep your family organized and to keep your documentation skills sharp.
Security is, of course, another great area that you can easily practice at home in real world use. The list is really quite endless. The bottom line is that at work we have IT because it makes our jobs more efficient allowing us to do more with fewer resources, to make better use of our time. Why should our homes be any different? Putting your IT skills to work to make your home run like an efficient business and you can reap the benefits both at home and at work.