I spent 4 years in the U.S. Air Force working in engineering, and now I want to go to college. I
have always enjoyed working with computers and love learning about the latest and greatest in
technology. Where is the best place to research online college programs and learn about IT topics
in general before I start taking classes?
You're wise to try to get a sense of what's involved in information technology before jumping directly into an academic program. My advice is to spend some time surfing on the Web, with two goals in mind (or perhaps "two search targets in mind" might be a better way of thinking about what you'll be doing).
First, there are hundreds of institutions that offer online education aimed at producing undergraduate degrees. The University of Phoenix Online is one that may be familiar to you, since it teaches classes at many bases for the Air Force. Capella University is another well-known online institution. A bit of searching for "online bachelor's," "online IT degrees" and other similar search strings will quickly give you an idea of what's available. Don't waste much time on institutions that aren't accredited. Be sure to inquire about accreditation early in the consideration process for any program that interests you (simply put, a degree from an accredited institution is worth a lot more than a degree from an institution that's not accredited).
Second, to learn more about what's involved in "doing IT," spend some time reading trade magazines that cover this field. At a minimum, I'd recommend investigating magazines online from outfits like CMP, publisher of over 30 trade magazines with most of them IT focused, PennWell, InfoWorld Media Group, which also offers numerous related publications, and others. You'll want to focus on several kinds of articles: personal profiles aboobut IT professionals, career advice stories and anything that deals with what's involved in "getting IT done" in the workplace. Best of all, this should also help you learn more about what kinds of jobs IT professionals fill, and may even give you some clues about specific areas of interest to you.
Between these two suggestions, you've got weeks to months of surfing to do, with lots to read and learn. After you go through this process, you should be ready to look for an undergraduate program and start working your way into the workplace. Good luck!
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This was first published in July 2003