Career Opportunities

The career development forums have been particularly busy the first few months of 2008. This is, perhaps, not surprising, because fresh New Year’s resolutions come with fresh resolve to achieve them.

Career development is traditionally defined as how individuals manage their career moves between organizations, usually within the same industry but not always. For IT career development, it can also mean switching specialties: A new job or position in the IT industry can mean acquiring a whole different skill set.

Our forum members offer valuable insight into this challenging transition, as they represent a wide range of academic and career backgrounds, from someone breaking into tech support to an MBA candidate exploring his IT job options.

CertMag forum member NvizibleMan described his situation: “I’m currently in school for my B.S. degree for technical management from DeVry University Online with a specialization in network and communications management. I currently have no certifications, nor do I have real world experience in the field, except the work I do as a tech support rep. What kind of work should I start looking into right now or in the future? What type of work can I expect to get when I graduate?”

Forum member Wagnerk replied: “If I were you, I’d start at level 1 or 2 support; especially if you want to go into technical management. The thing is that hardly anyone finishes a degree and goes straight into technical management, especially if there is no previous experience. And no disrespect intended, but there are too many ‘technical’ managers out there who do not know the first thing about how their department works (they only know in theory and 99 percent of the time it is not as simple as in the classroom). They make stuff up and then they blame the IT staff. You state that you work (or have worked) as a tech support rep, so I’m assuming that is level 1 (help desk). Once you’ve finished your degree, you can start looking for another level 1 post or try out a level 2 post (server admin, etc.).

“As for what type of work can you expect when you graduate, this can vary between areas,” he continued. “And remember no certificate or degree can guarantee you a job, they will only increase your chances of securing one. When my class graduated, only half of them were able to find jobs in IT. (I was one of the lucky ones as I already was working in IT.) So while you will see many Web sites and hear many people saying that once you get your degree you can sail into IT or IT management and earn thousands, the reality is a little different than that. I’m not trying to put you off from going up in IT; I just want to help paint a realistic picture of what is there.”

The “what should I do with this degree or this background” question is common throughout all the forums, including career development. More experienced IT professionals on the forums are always willing to offer their two cents on the topic. But more often than not, they don’t want to be the standard bearer because, like snowflakes, no two IT backgrounds are the same. Where NvizibleMan’s main concern was breaking into a help desk IT job as a recent college graduate, CertMag forum member KoolZero asks about how to move on from the help desk:

“I have a degree in telecommunications management from DeVry, an A+ and N+ and I will have my MBA on Jan. 15. I’ve been working help desk since I got my degree in 2002. I decided to get my MBA because I was getting tired of doing help desk work and I thought that it was my only way of getting into something that pays better. I think I am good at what I do so I don’t know what I will do now that I have an MBA. I would like to be in a management-type of role in the IT field at some point, maybe in charge of a help desk.

“I was reading in the new CertMag that someone was in a similar situation as I am and was told if they want to move into the business side to look into MCAS and MCAP, but if [he] wanted to stay in the technical side to get a master’s in computer science or networking. I hope my MBA will do me good. I would hate to have wasted two years. I was originally thinking about working on my CCNA, now but maybe the MCAS or MCAP would be a better choice. Does anyone have any experience with the MCAS or MCAP? I have never heard of these until I read about it in CertMag. Would working on certs help me in any way if I want to get into the business side?”

Wagnerk provided the answer KoolZero refers to above and offered further advice: “One thing I will point out; at the time when I wrote about the MCAS and the MCAP programs, both were supposed to come out last year. However, while the MCAS program is out now, the MCAP program has been pushed back until mid-year (approximately mid-2008). The MCAS and MCAP are entry certs into the business side and not equal to any sort of degree. The MBA or any degree (especially if it’s a business or computing related one) will only help you in your career. The higher up you go, the more you will see that business and IT meet. Not only will you have to know the technical side but you will also have to learn about finances, management, etc.”

Back to the Future
Someone once said everything old becomes new again. But while that seems to be the case with fashion, in the forever progressive IT community it seems far-fetched that people will suddenly search their attics to use their old Macintosh 128Ks. In the case of our forums however, old topics and questions posed often find new life through members who either recently joined or are unfamiliar with the subject.

In this next post, a three-year discussion recommences on whether or not the future is in open source. In the time since the topic was originally posted, not all software has gone open source, obviously, but adoption has certainly increased.

“I do think that the future lies in open source,” CertMag forum poster Twolsten said. “Contrary to a previous poster who stated that ‘Microsoft takes the best parts of open source into Windows,’ I have not seen that yet. In fact I think they are moving farther away from the structure of open source software.”

“I am a Linux and Unix admin with my RHCE and SCSA,” Twolsten added. “I also hold an MCSE for Windows 2000. I see more and more companies moving critical systems to Linux than ever before. I think this is driven in part by the economy, but also by Microsoft refusing to play well with others. Interoperability is hindered in a heterogeneous network by MS products and the divide is growing. We just swapped one of our customers onto Red Hat-based architecture and saved this company about 40 percent of its IT budget. Even in the desktop realm, Microsoft is taking a hit with Vista. Mac- and Linux-based systems are making headway there, though they have a long way to go on that market share. As big as Microsoft is, it needs to learn how to adapt better or one day it will wake up and realize it has lost a good portion of its customer base. That day is a way off, but it is much more likely now than it was seven years ago.”

It will be interesting to watch the adoption of open-source technology grow in coming years, especially in light of Twolsten’s observation on the trend of small businesses adapting to Linux as well as Mozilla’s FireFox and Thunderbird.

Equally interesting will be continuing evolution of IT career development in 2008. How will the job market treat NvizibleMan and KoolZero’s unique situations? Stay tuned to find out. Or better yet, ask them yourself.

If you’re interested in jumping into this or any other discussion, please visit our forums at www.certmag.com/forums.

– Ben Warden, bwarden@certmag.com

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