Advice Wanted: Two Roads Diverged... Or Was It Three?

I'll try to keep this brief, however summing up one's station in life is normally not such a task that lends itself to brevity. If you want to skip all the background and go to the reason for this thread, start at the paragraph that begins with an asterisk.

I'm almost thirty, doing the whole wife and kid’s routine, and I find myself truly perplexed on what course to take in my life. I've always loved tech, I can remember my first real fascination with something was when I was in my early teenage years and my Dad bought a computer. It was Hewlett Packard, with only dial-up, AOL at that, and I wanted to know how it worked. My very first book I ever purchased with my own money was "DOS For Dummies". I was enthralled; I went through all the commands learning what each one did. I can't count how many times I had to format that computer and start over, and the frustration it caused my Dad as each time I broke it he thought for sure, that was the end. Yet every time, no matter how bad it got, you could format it and start over. I always liked that, most people dread a system format, but for me it was so liberating, I was never afraid to break anything because I knew I could just wipe it all and start over. Things like installing drivers and resetting system configurations totally engaged me, and still do. Either way with this DOS book, I was hooked, I loved being able to manipulate the computer from the command line, show off the "cool" things I could do. I should have known right then that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

However as I got older, I didn't stay in computer land; I ventured out and found girls! Sex, drugs, and... well techno actually. I spent a lot of time partying, and only went to college as a last resort like a lot of kid’s do, to get their parents off their back. When I graduated, computers still being a hobby, I was obsessed with being a millionaire. I saw quickly money could get you things that made you happy, and I remember distinctly looking at the tech industry and thinking "there's no money in that". I floated around aimlessly, even managing to start my own company, which was short lived and closed after a year. I'd worked a lot of jobs, but nothing that made me really happy. I had found becoming a millionaire quickly was no easy task, and with the wife and the baby was not something I could afford to gamble on anymore. I needed to find work that fulfilled me, that I enjoyed.

So two years ago I decided to go back into something tech oriented. I had a small background with HTML and tried to masquerade as a web designer. I got a job through a friend of the family, only to find I was severely out of my depth. With no formal training and close to 10 years passed, web development had changed a lot! It wasn't just HTML; it was CSS, and PHP, a lot of other acronyms and two or three big software programs you needed to understand. Not feeling too thwarted because I knew my heart wasn't in web design, I answered an ad for a "Junior Developer", "no experience needed, will train". I thought this is it! Programming was like my DOS books I started with so long ago. I could actually learn to TALK to computers and make them do what I wanted.

While the company that hired me had the best of intentions, they had never taken on this task before, of hiring a programmer with no experience and teaching them. The owner was swamped with his own projects, and within a month had paired me with another Access Database Developer. She herself only had a few years’ experience, and was NOT the teaching type. She was cold and impatient. She also gave off this threatened vibe, like the owner had hired me to replace her. As you can imagine it didn't last long either, after three months of that I was brought into a conference room and told "we just don't see you progressing to the level we'd need you to be at for this to make sense." Imagine that, a guy with no programming experience, was paired up with an employee who'd never taught anyone, and herself had a full workload of clients to satisfy, who needed to teach me not only programming but database design concept and implementation with ACCESS! Looking back on it now, I see how unreasonable it was for them to think I could be a competent programmer in three months’ time. However at the time I really beat myself up about it. After all this is what I wanted to do, the owner was such a smart guy, and I studied every night. Maybe it was me that just wasn't cut out for programming. It actually still bothers me now.

Thankfully, they saw a passion in my heart for tech. It just so happened their hosting manager was a one man band, and was having a tough time getting his job done with all these lower level phone calls and emails he had to deal with. So they created a Help Desk position for me, which I've thrived in. I have almost a decade of customer service experience working for call centers, and I love solving problems, so the position was a natural fit for me. This was about eight months ago. Since then the hosting manager also introduced me to the networking side of things, how to work with servers and hardware etc. I found all that equally as fascinating, he was nothing like the girl who had "tried" to train me before. He was knowledgeable, smart, and patient; he had a great sense of humor, but was ex-military and had a way of dropping the hammer when he had to. Right as he was beginning to open this whole new world to me, last month I found he's leaving the company. He's a giant whale of a fish in a tiny pond and he's got to move on. Before he did, he got me on a path to work on my CompTIA A+ Certification. I feel very prepared and I'm sure I'll pass it.

* Here's where my problem comes in. Ever since starting the Help Desk job I've loved it. For the first time in my life I'm not watching the clock. I'm not waiting for lunch time to come, and quite often I'm even staying hours past my punch out time because I'm so into my work. However I've handicapped myself. While others have had fifteen years to be doing this work, I'm just now getting started at thirty. My two greatest traits are my knack for dealing with people and my tenacious problem solving skills. When I don't understand something, or can't figure it out, I'm not a pass the buck kinda guy, I'll spend hours on it until I can figure it out. I enjoy the satisfaction of giving the client a great product, and the "eureka" moment when I figure out the issue is like a drug for me! I LOVE the sensation that comes with understanding.

The thing is after my A+ I want to move on to my next cert and start tackling it. Not just to say I have the cert, but to gain the knowledge that comes with it. Problem is I don't know what my next move should be. The "tech industry" is so wide open. In my heart, I think I want to go back into programming. I like the idea of speaking with computers, making them do what I want. However I have the bad taste of the failed Access Programming job fresh in my mind, I wasn't "getting it". Was it that I needed to give it more time or was three months long enough to understand the foundations? What's worse, where I was comfortable with the command line, now I'm intimidated by it. I seem suited for networking, talking with people and tracking down problems. Or do I just feel that way because I had a better teacher in that field and had a more positive response?

I guess that's why I wrote this beast of a thread, to give you a little background. I'm hoping there are some more seasoned professionals out there who can say "you sound like you'd be a great _____ " or "your mindset sounds geared toward _____ ". Again there are so many specialties, maybe there's some other field I haven't even considered. I don't know many experienced tech professionals, so I don't have anyone to talk with about this. All I know is I LOVE technology, I love problem solving, I'm about to have my A+ and 1 years’ experience as a Help Desk Analyst... where do I go from here?

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