Advice for Upwardly Mobile Techies

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Information technology professionals who are preparing for the long climb up the slippery slope of corporate advancement should get a college degree, bolster their interpersonal skills and develop an understanding of various business processes, according to the head of an organization that matches some of the top IT talent in the country with high-level tech positions in Fortune 500 companies.


“We’re looking for a more well-rounded individual in technology these days, not someone who just knows technology and doesn’t understand their business user,” said Rona Davis, president and founder of R.W. Davis & Co. “It’s no longer enough to just be a technical specialist at the higher levels. You have to be very knowledgeable about the business applications and understand the business to which your software hardware skills are being put.”


Davis, who has more than 20 years of experience with finding IT professionals to meet the needs of business, established R.W. Davis & Co. to conduct personnel searches to fill management-level IT jobs or high-level unique technology positions at some of the largest firms in the United States. Her company recently rolled out the Interim CIO initiative, designed to help startup businesses or organizations undergoing major transitions in structure, budget or objectives find qualified individuals to assume the CIO role in the short term.


The advice Davis recently offered CertMag EXTRA readers demonstrates that this isn’t your daddy’s (or mother’s, as the case may be) IT industry. For example, she said the current emphasis on soft skills in IT represents a fundamental change in what businesses require of their IT staff. “When I came into this business in the early 1980s, people in the computer field were not the most polished. Many of the people who chose to go into the computer field were people who didn’t have social skills that other disciplines might have required. They did well in math and thought, ‘This is good. I get to sit behind a computer all day.’ That’s absolutely not the case anymore.”


Another difference between today’s IT job market and that of yesteryear is a new emphasis on getting a college degree, Davis said. “In the early ’80s, there were very few schools giving computer science degrees,” she said of the early IT environment. “Many of the people I dealt with in the ’80s started their careers when they were 18 and coming right out of high school. You’d also get math or music majors who might learn on the job or go to one of the special technical schools out there. These days, to really have a long-term career with tremendous growth potential, you have to have a college degree: specifically, a college degree that focuses on engineering, computer science or some kind of technical area. The companies that are more selective don’t even want to look at entry-level programmers without college degrees anymore.”


In addition to attaining a college degree and enhancing soft skills, the modern IT professional must be highly cognizant of business processes and how what they do aligns to overall company goals. “On a lower level, if a client is asking for a programmer, the basic requirements will focus much more heavily on having knowledge of a particular kind of software or technology,” Davis said. “The business application to which this technology might be put is not nearly as important in the programmer’s skill set. When you start to go above the $200,000-a-year (income) level, then it becomes absolutely crucial that (IT professionals) have not only the required technological skill sets, but also know the business applications that are involved.”


Therefore, savvy upwardly mobile techies will craft a career path that highlights their ability to take on responsibility, their capacity for decision-making and their exposure to various business functions over sheer technical expertise. “It used to be that you could dangle a job in front of somebody and if it taught them a new technology and only gave them an infinitesimal raise over their current salary, they were there,” Davis said. “They just wanted to learn the new technology. They’re no longer just looking for the next best technology. Today, it’s much more a question of what your career path will be and whether you’ll get to manage people and get involved with the business.”


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