i agree there is a lot you can learn from starting at the bottom. It gives you a better idea of where you want to end up (unless you know that already). You can see all the different departments and learn stuff you can't from tutorials or forums. I started as a runner when i was 26 and there is only one other thats older than me. I had done lots of other stuff, but decided to learn 3d and work in this industry.
I started learning maya last july and started as a runner at the end of january.
I'm still trying to get into 3D, but i'm getting closer!
originally I started on a 6 week contract, its only because i worked hard that they kept me on.
btw, i just applied for companies that had the biggest names.