Claire Harris is an infrastructure engineer at managed service provider Fordway in Godalming. Here she explains how she’s built a successful career in IT based on practical skills rather than academic qualifications.

Career change, Building a career featuredI love the sense of achievement when something goes wrong and you fix it.

It’s a skill you only learn by actually going to a machine and working things out for yourself. This may seem daunting at first, but as long as you’re systematic, you’ll be fine – just make a note of the changes as you make them so you can always roll them back. It will also speed things up the next time you come across the same problem!

My career path may not have been the conventional one but I think it’s given me a much more solid base of knowledge than if I’d done things a different way.

My initial interest was encouraged by my Dad, who works in IT for a large telecoms company. Although he’s Cyber Security Design and Transition Manager so isn’t hands-on with the technical aspects, I could see that IT was an interesting area to work in. I wasn’t very academic, but after obtaining Level 3 qualifications in English and Maths I took a five-month course at the Zenos Academy in Basingstoke which really developed my love for IT. I found that I preferred software to hardware, as I enjoy the maintenance and configuration aspects. However, I can take computers apart if I need to.

My first IT role was at Fujitsu, working for the Ministry of Defence (MoD). I was the SPOC (Single Point of Contact) for users, which meant logging whatever problems they had and solving them. This gave me a brilliant foundation in understanding the day to day issues that arise and which prevent people doing their job. I then moved to the Atomic Weapons Establishment, where I progressed from the service desk to a technical engineer role, where I was managing other people. I really enjoyed working in a team and training colleagues. After similar roles at Bauer Media and at multi-channel home shopping retailer Ideal Shipping Direct, I joined Fordway last year as an infrastructure engineer in their service operations team.

Although the technical aspects of my role here are similar to what I’ve done before, in other ways it’s very different. Fordway is a managed service provider, so whereas in the past I’ve been solving problems for my colleagues, I’m now supporting our customers. My work is primarily proactive rather than reactive. On a typical day I could be handling anything from running regular disaster recovery tests to rolling out applications and carrying out server updates. I recently moved Fordway’s SMTP server from Windows to Linux as part of a major upgrade of our infrastructure. It’s a great place to work, as they provide plenty of training and you’re encouraged to gain certifications from the major vendors such as Microsoft and Citrix.

You don’t find many women in IT, but it’s a great career choice for anyone who likes problem-solving and has a logical approach. One of the big advantages of it being a largely male environment is that there’s no bitchiness! You still find people who look at you as though you don’t know as much as them, but it’s a nice environment to work in and there are lots of opportunities, so you can go far.

My tip is to always begin at the service desk, whether you are just starting out in IT or coming in at a third line level. Being on the service desk gives you valuable knowledge about the company’s unique systems and customers and a greater understanding of the business. I have found in the past that it is extremely helpful, especially if you work with a ticketing system, as you must understand the basics before you can delve deeper into the systems. I love the sense of achievement when something goes wrong and you’re able to fix it.

My family still call me if they have IT problems at home, such as a mouse not working. My mum even called me from work one day to ask me to sort out a problem there! I had to explain that I couldn’t just log onto her company’s IT system, but I ended up talking to their IT team to help them find a solution. I just can’t resist a challenge.

About the author

Claire Harris is an infrastructure engineer in the service operations team at managed service provider Fordway Solutions. She works with Fordway’s customers to ensure that their systems are kept up to date, from rolling out applications to carrying out disaster recovery tests. Claire took an IT course at the Zenos Academy and has used her technical and problem-solving skills to develop her career from first line support through roles as a technical field engineer and infrastructure analyst to her current post.