Finding Your Career Coordinates

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When we hear the word “investments,” our mind likely turns to thoughts of stocks, bonds, bonuses and 401(k) programs. But it is the investment we make in our professional time that delivers the greatest return and makes all these other things possible. This investment is called a career. Over your lifetime, your career is worth millions of dollars in salary, investments and, perhaps most importantly, your personal satisfaction. The good news for individuals looking for careers in technology is that the outlook for a rewarding career is more promising today than it’s been for several years. In fact, several types of tech jobs are in short supply of qualified workers.

Over the last 30 years an investment of $11 trillion has been made in information technology globally. Major achievements and advancements have been realized in productivity, manufacturing efficiencies and education applications.

From 2004 to 2005, the U.S. economy added 128,000 IT jobs, a gain of 3.9 percent. That’s a far cry from the double-digit growth of the late 1990s, but for an industry that is entering maturity, it is a healthy figure. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies IT as the fastest-growing sector in the nation’s economy, with a 68 percent increase in output growth rate projected between 2002 and 2012. These positions range from entry-level jobs in customer support and help desks to more advanced jobs in database administration, network security and project management.

Several factors contribute to this upswing, including heightened security considerations and increasing reliance on technology across industries and markets, as well as the resulting emergence of a number of tech growth fields.

Opportunities are growing in IT-reliant, high-growth industries such as health care, advanced manufacturing and financial services. These opportunities call for specialized IT expertise, often application-driven.

Higher education and training levels also are required for these positions — and so is on-the-job experience. The requirement for on-the-job experience, even for entry-level workers, strongly demonstrates the need for internship and apprentice programs. Also, IT workers must continually update and acquire new skills to remain employable in the dynamic IT job market.

Even with this looming shortfall of tech workers, employers are more demanding and selective in their search for technology workers. Individuals who are securing jobs in today’s tech workplace are equipped with greater versatility and a broader skill set than was required in the past — five years ago it was far easier to find a good-paying IT job. Now people who want to be in IT need an edge, a means to prove they can do the tasks assigned. Professional certifications are a step toward that proof.

The lion’s share of certifications available today to IT workers is vendor-driven, although the vendor-independent certifications are among the highest-paying and most popular.

A certification makes an individual more marketable. Unless employers are familiar with the schools the job candidates attended or the organizations for which they have worked, they have no independent means of knowing how rigorous the program or experience was. When a job candidate comes to an employer with a degree, as well as recognized and accepted professional certifications, it gives the employer more to go on.

For workers new to the employment market who do not have a great deal of experience, the combination of an academic degree and an industry-recognized certification puts them in a stronger position when looking for a job.

Today’s certification programs require candidates to have a broad range of skills. A relatively recent development in the industry is the banding together of vendors to create new “guru”-level accreditations. These new master-level certifications are vendor-independent and technology-neutral in focus, and they are available to anyone who can qualify.

One such certification, Master Certified IT Architect, was developed by the Open Group, a consortium consisting primarily of top engineers at HP and IBM. The focus of this group has been to create a credential based on its definitions of “global standards for measuring the skills and experience of IT architects and for the operation of IT architecture practices within enterprises.”

It is aimed at enterprise IT architects who must be able to perform independently and take responsibility for delivery of systems and solutions as lead architects, and who have at least three years’ recent experience developing IT architectures.

Microsoft Corp. recently has overhauled its certification programs, partly in response to employer attitudes about certification.

Even at the foundation level of IT certifications, the CompTIA A+ certification is being revised to reflect the evolution of skills required for individuals embarking on a career in technology. In 2006 and beyond, employers want a foundation-level certification that covers both technology essentials and the specialized skills required in different computer service and support environments. At the same time, the addition of soft skills to the certification is in line with the need for IT workers to be able to interact and communicate in a clear and professional manner with co-workers, customers, partners and others.

The role of the IT professional is more strategic for organizations, and technical skills alone are no longer enough for most IT jobs. More than ever, companies value employees who can think strategically and communicate effectively, as well as those who possess strong business fundamentals. IT workers who understand how to use technology to meet business goals, and who can articulate this understanding, are golden in the eyes of employers.

Just as IT itself has moved from the basement to the boardroom, the IT professional has the opportunity to evolve into something that is much more integral and valuable to the business as a whole. Businesses are looking for and are willing to pay for technology workers with skill sets that can be used to make the company more competitive and more productive.

That’s good news for the experienced IT professional with skills that are up to date, or for the student who will soon embark on a career in technology. But how does one stay current with the “next big thing?”

Anyone who has worked in IT, or plans to do so, realizes a successful and rewarding IT career doesn’t start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. every Monday through Friday — an IT career takes work and effort outside of the typical workday.

What is your goal? That seems obvious: A successful IT career. But what are you doing to achieve that goal? These decisions are the ones that often define career success or failure.

At the core, an IT career requires coordination of two strategic variables:


  • X = What can you do on the job within a unit of time? (Applied skilled and knowledge).
  • Y = What is this worth now? (Currency and relevance to the job, the employer and the economy).

    Coordinating these variables toward more value delivers career success.

    A 19th-century example is the ironsmith who, early in his career, could turn a $1 lump of iron into an anvil worth $10 in one hour. With additional experience, training and testing, the same ironsmith soon could process the same $1 iron lump in the same 60-minute time period and turn out a pile of horseshoes worth $100. Toward the end of his career, the ironsmith learned to transform the same lump of iron and, in one hour’s time, turn it into precision clock springs worth $1,000. Over the ironsmith’s lifetime, the X and Y variables clearly show growth toward ever-higher value and a successful career.

    In the 21st century, “Silicon-smiths” can use the same principal. Our working hours need to become increasingly valua


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