First, welcome. You're probably going to get a lot of comments telling you you're too old, but I don't think that's true. I'm in my late 30s and have often worried about what happens when I have to (or want to) completely retrain for something new down the road. And believe it or not, the 25 year olds will eventually run into this problem too. I love IT work, but if I ever win the lottery, I'm going to go back for my PhD in chemistry and be a scientist when I grow up. :-)
I can think of a few things in your favor switching into IT, although youth-obsessed workplaces may not agree with me:
- You probably have a better handle on troubleshooting, which is my #1 complaint with newbies in our field. 70% of this job, especially on the IT side, is figuring out what's broken in a methodical, logical way.
- You also probably have more discipline than someone straight out of school to design a system or application in such a way that it doesn't need to be babysat 24/7.
- You can probably document what you do clearer than younger people (although that's subjective -- I know a lot of older people who refuse to document their work, and 20-somethings who write perfect docs.)
- It also sounds like you're lucky that you're not going to be the guy constantly begging for raises in a job where salaries are contracting overall.
The problem. as I'm sure you're aware, is that not every employer sees your age and experience as strengths. I'm very lucky to be working as a systems engineer for an IT company that services a very mature industry. Most of the guys on our team are around my age or older, and experience is highly valued. Some of the stuff we do is proprietary, but the vast majority of it is implementing off-the-shelf IT stuff for our customers. This means we're constantly learning new things, or at least enough of those new things to get things done. The flip side of this would be a place like Google, Facebook, Zynga, or any Silicon Valley startup. Those places are all about youth and time-to-market, and are much less likely to take someone older regardless of skill set.
So, given the age problem, you can either selectively cut things out of your resume, OR, you can fall back on your network of people if you have one. I learned a few years ago that the best chance of getting a non-crap IT job is to call someone you worked with and ask them for help finding something. Even if they don't work in IT, they'll be able to find someone who does and get you past the cold call resume HR filter. My experience with this was good - a company I was working with for a while decided to move their IT department to Florida, and I was told to move or be laid off. I hate the heat and sun, so I called up one of my former managers and asked if anything interesting was brewing. 6 weeks later, I had a job and never had to be unemployed. And I don't have to deal with 100% humidity and 95 degree temperatures for 8 months of the year. So yeah, networking is a good thing.
The other problem you face is this - entry level IT is shrinking as well. I started out doing help desk work. These jobs can still be had, but with so many companies contracting out basic IT services like helpdesk, network and systems management, they're more consolidated than they were and the pay is lower. This means that you may have fewer choices about where you work, and you're going to have to deal with very low pay until you have that magical experience under your belt.
So what would I recommend doing?
- If you're really interested in IT, get yourself hands on experience. Pick a specialty (software development, sysadmin, etc.) and learn on your own. Amazon EC2 is giving away compute power for new customers to get started. You can download VMWare ESXi for free and build a whole lab on spare hardware at home. It's easy to train yourself now, much more so than it was.
- Stick to more predictable, established companies that don't have a culture that prizes youth over experience. Since pay is less of an issue, and the hiring process is much more open, I'd even recommend state or federal government work.
- DON'T pay for training classes, certifications, etc. outside of taking the exams if you want to. I've seen so many people who come out of these training schools and spend tons of money without learning much. DO get some basic vendor certifications in your specialty of choice. They're not cure-alls, but they get your resume a second look especially if you don't have a degree.
- Accept the fact that your first job or two is going to be pretty miserable, low paid work even if you do have a ton of work experience.
- This is just my opinion, but SW development might not be a good fit. There are just too many places that expect all-nighters and constant firefighting, and have zero work/life balance. Systems stuff is much better, IF the place you're working isn't totally chaotic. Chaotic places are the home of 24/7 on call duty and 2:30 AM phone calls.
Good luck! Hope I haven't scared you away. :-)