Career change study: from waitress to IT support in eight months

Two weeks ago, I argued that you could switch into IT from any field and that your current work experience is relevant. Today, let’s take a look at what that would look like in practice for someone working as a waitress.

She’s taking orders today, but in a few short months she’ll be working in a brand new tech career! Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Jane looked at the door in anguish. She already had more tables than she could handle, and her customers were starting to get grumpy. She’d been doing her best, but the kitchen just couldn’t handle the volume of people. And they. Just. Kept. Coming. A few minutes ago, the host had brought out the spare tables to the empty spot in Jane’s section. In dread, she counted the number of seats: one, two, set down a plate in front of an irritated customer, six, seven, “yes, sir, I’m very sorry that took so long,” eleven, twelve! There was no way she could handle an added twelve people! And yet, here they were at the door, ready to be seated. In that moment, Jane decided that it was time for a career change.

Have you ever worked as a waiter or waitress? I have, and I can tell you it’s no picnic! It’s a job that’s a lot more stressful than people realize. Add to that the low pay, no benefits, and rude customers and it’s not a job you’ll want to do forever. And yet, there are lots of people out there who get stuck in high stress/low reward jobs like this one because they think they don’t have what it takes to make a switch to another career. As I argued two weeks ago, thinking that your experience is not relevant to IT is one of the main culprits of why people don’t leave a bad situation. So today, let’s look at the steps you would take if, like Jane, you wanted to leave the service industry for an exciting and lucrative career in IT.


Jane is twenty-five years old and has held a variety of waitressing gigs. She’s very interested in art and has been working on getting her Bachelor’s Degree in Art but hasn’t quite finished yet. In order to avoid student loans, Jane has paid for her classes as she takes them, so it’s been pretty slow going, but she sees the light at the end of the tunnel as she’s only got four classes remaining until graduation.

Jane’s been dissatisfied with her situation for a while now, but she felt she didn’t have any options. She’d taken too long to graduate and now had a seven year work history of waiting tables. And she regretted selecting art as a degree because it didn’t exactly open up a ton of career options once she graduated.

Oh well, mistakes were made. And seven years in, it was too late to change course. Better luck next time.

Then, out of the blue, Jane was idly surfing the Internet daydreaming about a career in IT when she came across the most amazing blog in the world: There, she read that you don’t have to let your past choices dictate your future and she was surprised to learn that it actually wasn’t all that hard to make a switch into IT if you just follow a few easy steps.

The game plan

Jane has decided to follow the plan I’ve highlighted previously on this post. At a high level, the steps as previously laid out are:

  1. Gain basic IT knowledge by reading the A+ certification prep guide. (This is an affiliate link. Thanks for supporting this blog!) I’m not going to rehash all the bits involved here like making notecards and what is important to memorize. If you haven’t read the article I linked above, I’d recommend going over it for more details.
  2. Make notecards of the top IT interview questions likely to be asked and study them.
  3. Use social network to get some good leads for where to apply.
  4. Ace the first interview due to outstanding preparation!

Again, these steps have been talked about in greater details in other posts, so if you’re new to this blog I’d at least recommend reading this one.

Now, these are some pretty solid general steps, but let’s tweak them a bit for Jane’s situation.

Jane has seven years in the service industry and the college coursework she has done is not geared towards IT. She’ll need to make a case for why she’s trying to switch into IT, otherwise her résumé has a good chance of getting discarded. The person screening it may think she’s not interested in IT and is just looking for a paycheck. No one wants to hire someone like that! So, Jane will need to include a cover letter in which she makes her case for why she’d be someone that a hiring manager wants to take a chance on. That’s just not going to come through in a résumé. Jane should also focus on highlighting the strengths that she brings to the job, such as the soft skills that she’s honed in her seven years in the service industry.

Jane hasn’t finished her college degree yet, so she should finish that up. Even though it’s not related to IT, just having a degree will open up many more job options for her. Many places require a degree, any degree, to work there. I’ve written on the pros and cons of getting a college degree here if you want to see how the math works out financially.

Finally, Jane is entering a field that is male-dominated. Women make up roughly 25% of tech workers even though they are 47% of the workforce so they are largely under-represented. And unfortunately, it’s a sad fact that women in some fields have to a higher bar to reach in order to prove themselves. IT is one of those fields. In the past, I’ve made the case that you don’t actually have to actually get the A+ certification since it’s only useful to get your first job and it’s generally not well regarded in the field. However, in Jane’s case I think she’ll benefit from actually getting the certificate to “prove” she has what it takes. This will also help her make the case that she’s motivated to switch careers and will offset her experience and degree. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is the reality that Jane is facing, so it’s best for her to be a realist and prepare for this.

So with those tweaks, here’s what Jane’s game plan looks like:

  1. Finish college classes and graduate.
  2. Gain basic IT knowledge by reading the A+ certification prep guide.
  3. Study for and pass the A+ test.
  4. Polish résumé up and write a cover letter.
  5. Make notecards of the top IT interview questions likely to be asked and study them.
  6. Use social network to get some good leads for where to apply.
  7. Ace the first interview due to outstanding preparation.
  8. Prosper!

Jane can work on several steps at once, so this should take roughly eight months. While this is a lot longer than the four months that the first set of steps would have taken her, it leaves Jane in a lot better situation once she’s done. Eight months of effort and she’ll have a college diploma, some solid IT knowledge, an A+ certification, and a new career!

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time visiting this blog, start here. And make sure to check out these top interview questions before you start interviewing!