Climbing the IT Ladder: Career Advice from Experts

By Deborah Rothberg Print this article Print

We've compiled advice from industry experts about what IT workers in today's market need to make it up the ladder. The best news: You don't need to be Tiger Woods.

Do you have what it takes to move upward in your IT career? Or enough juice in the skills department to weather an outbreak of outsourcing?

Several longtime watchers of the IT jobs market say they believe tech workers' impressions of what's needed to succeed may be out of date, and offered eWEEK some tips on how to have the right stuff.

The IT landscape has changed dramatically since the period of the dot-com boom and bust. According to hiring professionals, the skill set expected of IT workers barely resembles that of 10 or even five years ago.

Technical certifications have been de-emphasized, and there has been an increased focus on skills not traditionally associated with IT—such as business and project management skills—leaving many IT professionals bewildered about what they need to do to advance their careers.

According to job watchers, two concurring trends, the imminent retirements of the baby boomer work force and a decline in the number of college students focusing their studies on computers and technology, have the potential to drain the IT work force during the next decade.

Meanwhile, unemployment in the tech sector is at an all-time low.

"Trend No. 1 today is that the technology labor market is very tight," said Scot Melland, president and CEO of Dice.com, based in Urbandale, Iowa.

"With 2.5 percent unemployment among IT professionals, which is virtually zero, there's more technology employment than there was at the peak of the Internet boom. The reason is continued demand from private and public companies," he told eWEEK.

A report issued April 19 by business advisory firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu said that a majority of CEOs are finding it increasingly difficult to locate the right technology hires. As a result, companies are offering additional perks such as stock options, additional vacation days, training and development, and flexible work hours.

The tightness of the IT labor market has led many companies to shift their focus from hiring to retaining their employees, through offers of perks such as flex time and telecommuting and opportunities such as training.

In order to retain the best IT talent, 63 percent of CIOs provided their IT workers with professional training and development, and 47 percent said they offered flexible schedules, according to a survey released March 29 by Robert Half Technology.

Despite the current positive market picture, workers in today's market will need certain skills to make it up the IT ladder, some employment experts said, giving tips on certification, necessary skill sets for the future and which skills can weather outsourcing. The best news for many IT geeks: A flawless chip shot on the greens is optional.

Move beyond the letters after your name

"You have to look beyond certifications," said David Foote, co-founder and president of Foote Partners, a New Canaan, Conn., analyst firm that publishes quarterly IT salary and job market data. "Put it this way: Vendors created this certification industry to sell products. It's very important to them that it remains viable. But if you let vendors decide what constitutes talent, you're absolving yourself of responsibility."

"We hear about certified workers whose certifications have allowed them to keep their jobs, but we also hear about uncertified workers who have managed their careers well. It's the former who are on the ropes right now. They spent too much time getting certified and less time managing their careers," Foote said.

According to Foote Partners' Q1 2006 Hot Technical Skills and Certifications Pay Index, released April 25, pay premiums for non-certified IT skills grew three times faster than for certified ones in a six-month period spanning 2005-2006.

Foote argued that the IT industry has moved far beyond many certifications, which held value through the recession because they could be used to help justify the cost of keeping an employee on board to the person controlling the budgets.

"But, it doesn't necessarily attest to their technical acumen," Foote said. "…If I can find someone with the industry skills and the confidence that they understand our customers and what we want to do in the future, not having a certification is not an issue."

Pick up "outsource-proof" core skills

Melland said the greatest job opportunities will be in five core technology skill areas: software development or programming, database administration, project management, systems administration and network development.

"They are all in demand today and will continue to be. If you have one of these core skills, you're in good shape," he said.

Next Page: How to make yourself indispensable.

This article was originally published on 2012-05-04
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