At a Career Crossroads

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A few days after you and your team finished a project under budget and before deadline, you received a phone call from your department’s vice president. Commending the leadership and teamwork skills you demonstrated, he offered you a promotion to a management position. The job entails more responsibility and less technical work, you are told, but it could provide increased visibility, greater challenges and a jumping-off point to climb the company ladder. While the offer sounds tempting, should you accept it?

If you’re like many IT professionals, at some point in your career you could arrive at a similar crossroads. Do you move into a management role or continue along a technical track? Considering your personality, skills, goals and work style can help you make the best choice for you.

The Determining Factors
When deciding which path to follow, first consider what you enjoy most in the workplace. Do you thrive on overcoming technical challenges or planning strategic goals? Would you rather learn new skills and technologies or figure out the best way to motivate each member of your team? Knowing what brings you the most job satisfaction will provide insight into which direction will ultimately make you the happiest.

The best IT managers combine technical savvy with excellent people skills, enabling them to provide direction and motivate people to produce their best results. Where do your strengths lie? Are you a good listener? Do you encourage and offer solutions? Are you enthusiastic? Overall, do you enjoy interacting with people in each of these ways? All these qualities are critical in your ability to encourage teamwork and gain respect as a manager.

Even if you possess strong interpersonal skills, you may not especially enjoy using them in a management role. Mastering the latest version of a critical software application or troubleshooting technical issues as they occur may be more appealing. Of course, sometimes the only way to know for sure is to accept a new role.

Remaining true to your personal aspirations should be your primary focus. Does executive management rank high among your long-term career goals? Is the career of World Wide Web architect Tim Berners-Lee more appealing than that of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison? You’ll need to decide on your ultimate goal before you begin taking the necessary steps to get there.

Different Roads—Different Destinations
To give you additional help in making your decision, here is a closer look at some of the characteristics and requirements of each career path.

IT Professional
Today, remaining on a purely technical track no longer means being buried in the back office with limited advancement potential. Technical personnel provide hands-on solutions, working in teams to resolve problems using the latest technologies. The technologies organizations rely on are becoming more sophisticated with each new release. Employers need well-trained, highly technical employees to maintain these systems. With this in mind, many organizations—particularly information technology companies—have established tracks for all of their IT employees to continue their career advancement.

IT professionals need to have excellent analytical abilities. They apply these in project-based work as they code, design, maintain and problem-solve—often under extreme time constraints. Understanding the big picture and collaborating effectively with others are also requirements, as multiple personnel oversee the hardware, software, network and other components of an organization’s IT system.

Staying up-to-date on the latest technologies is another critical requirement for a technical track. Attending seminars and conferences and reading trade journals will give you insight into new and emerging trends. Research the skills and certifications necessary for advancement in your area of expertise, and be proactive in acquiring training.

IT Manager
IT managers typically focus on the “how-to,” identifying what technical and human resources should be applied to solve systems problems and achieve corresponding business objectives. A management track has always been considered one with larger salary increases and greater visibility within the company, but it also involves increased accountability and risk. This is especially true in today’s competitive market, where managers at every level are under scrutiny to produce tangible results with fewer resources.

Additionally, the nature of an IT manager’s job removes her from the hands-on, day-to-day responsibilities, and some new managers find they miss applying their technical skills.

Still, these challenges can be stimulating for individuals with the capacity to inspire talented professionals to work together to achieve stronger results. The best managers achieve their greatest satisfaction using a variety of motivational styles to train and coach the different personalities that make up their team.

The ability to budget projects, manage time effectively and prioritize assignments is also a critical management skill.

Which Is Right for You?
When at a career crossroads as an IT professional, stop to seriously consider both personal and job qualifications. Comparing the skills and temperament required for becoming an IT manager with those needed for following a technical track is critical if you are to make the best career choice.

If you’re still unsure of what to do after thinking about the skills required for both tracks, you may want accept the management position. While change is daunting, it could be well worth the risk in this case. And you may regret it if you don’t go for it when given the opportunity. Good luck!

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, formerly RHI Consulting, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.

 

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