Although neither expensive training nor industry certifications will guarantee you a fantastic IT job, there are fairly cheap ways to determine whether you might enjoy and succeed in a technology career.
Brent Johnson, with the Spencer Reed Group IT staffing firm, says that he's wary of IT training companies that charge tens of thousands of dollars and promise great jobs with huge salaries. He advises doing some research to find out what you might enjoy doing, then buying a book or taking a class to learn more.
"You can take a class or certification course," he says, "but it never should be under the assumption that you will get a job afterwards."
If you do decide to spend money on a particular program, he advises, "You would want to choose a company that has a high track record of placing their students in jobs that are in the fields they studied."
A school's own statistics might not tell the whole story. Attorneys general in some states have sued for-profit colleges and training programs for allegedly inflating their job placement numbers.
However, research on the Internet should allow you to find former and current students of any training program to see how things turned out for them.
As for getting some technology experience, Johnson suggests checking out startup and small companies such as those housed at North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus. "They often times don't have the financial resources to pay for someone full time," he notes.
If you decide to pursue programming, you could gain some experience by volunteering to work on Web sites for animal shelters, homeowners associations, schools and other organizations with small budgets.
To find out which types of IT skills have the most openings, you can check Web sites such as Dice.com and SimplyHired.com. For education, community colleges offer far cheaper alternatives to the for-profit programs and often have evening, weekend and online class options. You can even get started with some very basic computer classes online for free through sites such as GCFLearnFree.org.
At Lynda.com, you can enroll in any of over 1600 online classes. The site charges $25 per month for unlimited access to their training, much of which involves various IT subjects such as mobile app creation and ASP.NET programming.
Technology jobs aren't for everyone, though, and many other fields offer relatively high earnings potential and positive job outlook without the need for a college degree. Angie's List recently published an article proclaiming that some of the skilled trades can't find enough employees.
The article includes information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that pegs 2010 median annual earnings for electricians at $48,250, HVAC technicians at $42,530 and plumbers at $44,660, with expected job growth rate over the next few years of over 20 percent for each of these trades. Local community colleges offer vocational training in skilled trades and can help with job placement.