You are definitely going to need to develop some hands-on experience as quickly as possible. As you suggested, volunteer work can get you moving in the right direction. If you do try this route, be sure to seek opportunities that allow you to work on projects that will assist in your career advancement. By this, I mean you should work with technologies and platforms that leverage the knowledge you already possess. In addition to volunteer work, you might consider project work through an IT staffing firm. You?ll be placed on assignments that reflect your current skill level. It?s a great way to put to work the knowledge you?ve attained through your education. As your experience level grows, you?ll be able to work on increasingly larger projects ? and all at a much quicker pace than through full-time employment. With the flexibility allowed via project work, you should be able to mix in your volunteer efforts, as well as continue your educational pursuits.
This was first published in February 2001