Certification Road Maps: Managing Your Career Path

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Here’s a startling statistic: According to the META Group, fewer than 15 percent of Global 2000 firms have formal leadership development programs, and less than 2 percent have organizational development processes for developing the business skills of their technical staff. That means no formal training paths, no certification paths and no formalized mentoring programs for IT professionals looking to climb the IT career ladder. Yet the expectations haven’t changed. If you want to make it to the top, you still must possess business acumen, be savvy on how to improve business processes and be able to lead a multimillion-dollar organization.

The good news? Despite these alarming statistics, the smartest of today’s top chief information officers (CIOs) realize that having capable leaders within IT is necessary for the organization to be prepared to meet their firms’ ever-increasing technological needs. Those who are doing it right have created career paths within the IT organization. They’ve identified the competencies required for each position, and they’ve put performance management systems in place to ensure each employee is given the opportunity to aspire, set career goals and receive the training, certification and mentoring they need to succeed.

We all know that developing IT leaders takes more than giving someone a bigger office and changing their job title. It also takes more than a few management courses. The best technologist can make the worst manager without proper development. That development begins early in any IT professional’s career, and it often begins with certification.

The Role of Certification
There’s no greater influence in an IT professional’s career than certification, especially as one is just starting out. It’s a foot in the door, a differentiator and a validation for promotion. As you move up the IT career ladder, from individual contributor to manager to leader, certification will take on different roles.

As an individual contributor, the more certifications you have, the more valuable you are to an employer. They are a validation of your skill set. They also demonstrate an investment in your own development. As you move through management positions (including project management), the role of certification shifts. Different certifications become important. In this feature article, we’ll walk you down the many IT career paths. We’ll identify different options available to you, and we’ll explore how certification can enhance your career at each stage.

Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
For some this is an easy question. In a heartbeat they can rattle off all the positions they expect to have, starting with their next expected promotion, when they’ll jump organizations and what title they expect to retire with. These IT professionals use certification to accelerate the rate at which they climb the IT career ladder.

When you ask others this question, the answer is not so easy. They have a general idea of what functional area within IT they want to work in for the next one to two years, but after that things become a bit fuzzy. Some are willing to admit that they aspire to being CIO or chief technology officer (CTO) someday, but for now they are happy simply developing or managing projects. Certification for these IT professionals is a form of recognition for their expertise.

Regardless of the pace you set for yourself, if you decide to stay in IT, the ultimate end positions to aspire to are the roles of CIO and CTO. Both of these offices are expected to understand both the company’s business and the business of IT. They must continue to service today’s systems while planning for the next generation. They must be able to influence other executives at the board table, and at the same time, they must motivate, direct and build their own teams. And, of course, they have to stay on top of the latest technology. That’s a tough order for anyone within an organization!

For an IT professional, finding an organization that’s got it all figured out is not an easy task. To succeed in this economy, you must be willing to assume responsibility for your own career. You must be ready to map out your own goals and use your own internal compass to get you there. Regardless of where you are in your career, as an IT professional you have access to both of these career paths, and it’s never too early to start preparing for the future.


The CIO and the CTO
Not all organizations differentiate between the office of the CIO and that of the CTO, in which case the role of the CTO is often encompassed within the role of the CIO. The biggest factor influencing the existence of the CTO role is the organization’s line of business. The CTO role is more prominent within organizations where technology solutions are core to the customer services delivered. Within these organizations, the CIO is responsible for leading the IT business, while the CTO is responsible for leading the corporate technology direction. CTOs are common within organizations like software giants Microsoft, Oracle and PeopleSoft, but you can also find them in smaller software and hardware firms. By separating the two functions, it’s possible to allow each CXO to focus on either strategy or operations, without having to constantly switch their perspective.


Setting Your Career Goals
Articulating your career goals is the first step to achieving them. Career planning doesn’t have to be an arduous process. To help you through the process, we’ve provided a very simple chart that you can adapt for the purpose. (See Table 1.) You start off by listing the position you currently hold, how long you forecast staying in that position, whether it’s with your current employer or a new one (you may want to indicate the industry as well), the certifications that will help you excel in this position and any on-the-job experience that will be necessary (you may want to jot down experience gained as a result of your current position). Obviously, keep this high-level, especially if the experience required is technology-specific.

Table 1: Setting Career Goals



Career Plan for ________________

Last revised _____________


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