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Career Counsel Offers Advice

Career Counsel Offers Advice

Q: I am a former CIO who is serving as a year 2000 project office manager. I am interested in your vision of job prospects for the large number of project managers who will have completed their assignments during the first quarter of 2000. What paths would you suggest for next year?

A: I have long held the view that the large number of talented people engaged in Y2K work were siphoned off from many other areas of IT that have gone underserved in the recent past. These include e-commerce, extranet and intranet initiatives, and web-enabled applications of all kinds, as well as projects in ERP, knowledge management, customer care, decision support and sales automation, among others. Your best bet: Get close to the net!

SCALING UP Q: I made the decision more than five years ago to become CIO at a small organisation ($60 million) for the opportunity to wear many different hats. Since then, the company has acquired three other companies and has been recognized as a national leader in our industry. I led the technology transition of those other sites quite successfully. I prepared myself by earning an MBA and becoming a CPA and a certified quality trainer. Now that it's time to move on, I can't get a midsize firm to give me a look. The move I made to a small company years ago appears to have limited my options today. Have I locked myself into a small company career path, or should I look to my rsum or other areas that may be a weakness?

A: There does not seem to be anything in what you have said that would preclude you from being considered for CIO opportunities at larger companies. Your strategy of getting CIO experience in a small environment--and then moving laterally but up the food chain of company size--is a very sound one, especially when giving it five years to solidify. Still, $60 million is pretty small, and perhaps you are aiming too high. I suggest that you give consideration to companies ranging in size from $100 million to $500 million (or larger, if one happens to present itself), but focus more on what any potential opportunity can do for you and your career from the perspectives of learning, growing and gaining new experiences and skills.

HAD ENOUGH OF I.T. Q: I have become disenchanted with the tactical approach IT typically takes to solving business problems. I have decided to take my IT skills and move into corporate marketing. How can I make this transition smoothly?

A: Before you walk away from your career in information technology and head for greener grass on the other side, find out if your disenchantment with "the tactical approach IT typically takes to solving business problems" is really disenchantment with your current employer. I am confident that your generalization is only partly true--and recommend that you do some research first. Read case histories in trade publications (especially CIO), talk with your peers at other organisations and take a couple of strategically chosen interviews to find out how the rest of the world solves business problems by leveraging technology. I am certain that you will find a positive answer to your dilemma.

MOVIN' ON UP--BUT WHERE TO? Q: I've been in IT for six years. I've moved up the ranks from Unix administrator to vice president of IT. I have been in charge of all IT and telephony issues for one large company and eight subsidiaries. I've helped a small company with only eight people in 1994 become a large conglomerate with many remote offices, all the while rolling out IT issues and making all purchasing and systems decisions.

My biggest problems are that I'm still doing help desk duties, and my role still includes general system administration. Essentially, I'm it. We had an IT staff at one time but just couldn't pay for quality IS positions. My future is clearly in executive-level management--but I don't think I can ever get the system administration and help desk issues off my desk at my current company. How long should I remain in my current position?

A: You are to be congratulated for your success in moving up in responsibility within IT and for loving what you do. But it seems that you have become the entire IT department for your current employer. The company you work for is either too small or too constrained, financially or philosophically, to expand the role of IT. The result is that you have developed technical experience and accountability but have not had an opportunity to hire, manage and develop people, and to plan and execute large-scale projects.

It's time to leverage your current vice president role to a lateral level of responsibility in a larger and more complex environment.

I.T. MIGRATION Q: I am a 58-year-old IT manager of a Fortune 100 corporation in the Northeast, managing a staff of 40 people engaged in systems development and support. I have been in the IT field for 34 years. I would like to remain with my current employer for another four years, until age 62. At that point, I would like to retire from my company but continue working for at least another five years. Ideally, I would like to find another position in a warmer climate at a similar level in IT management or IT consulting (nontechnical). Is this a realistic objective or will my age preclude such a possibility?

A: You ask a very thorny question indeed. When you retire from your current employer, you will be 62 years old. It would be possible, but very challenging, to land a job in another major corporation anywhere, warmer or not, at that time. Consideration of your potential tenure--how long you will stay--will be an issue for many employers; you'll find simple age discrimination at others. At that time, I would recommend looking at smaller and privately held companies, or turn-around situations, all of which tend to be much more accepting of "imperfect" candidate profiles. Lastly, your inclination toward consulting is also a very viable option. Lots of companies with IT challenges will welcome your experience and wisdom without requiring you to make a permanent commitment.

FROM A DISTANCE Q: How good are distance learning courses? I realise they are accredited, but do recruiters discount courses that aren't from a top business school? My concern is that it will look like I went to a degree factory.

A: The issue of which institution one attends is, of course, a legitimate question at all levels of education, for distance education as well as for traditional on-campus degrees. The quality of one's education is broadly perceived to be directly related to the reputation and academic standing of the school at which it was acquired. If you are concerned about the inferred value of "degree factories"--which I will assume to mean nontraditional schools such as Jones International--consider the many accredited brick-and-mortar colleges and universities from which you can obtain an advanced degree via distance education. Start your research at www.petersons.com, the online site of educational publisher Peterson's (of college guide fame) and click on "Distance Learning Courses and Programs."

EXECUTIVE DIRECTION Q: What career path does one have to take in order to become an executive? And at what point does one reach executive status? Is it at the director level? The CIO level? The vice president level? I am a network engineer who is currently pursuing my MBA in international business. After I graduate, I would like to stay in the telecom/networking field but transition from engineer to business executive. How do I do that?

A: It seems that you are using the term executive to refer to an official level of corporate stature. The most common manifestation of the executive role is a position on a company's executive management team. These are the individuals who have input to the corporate business plan, attend the CEO's periodic business strategy and performance review meetings and are the most senior officers of the company. Today the number of CIOs who hold a seat at the executive management round table is increasing slowly, but regrettably most CIOs still do not hold a seat--especially those at smaller companies or in organisations where they are reporting to the CFO or someone other than the CEO or president.

I think there is another very important facet of your question that may be far more significant to you and your career--the evolution from a technical to a business or managerial career path. I think you are on the right track by getting your MBA. You have lots of options to leverage your networking experience: move up the management ladder on the corporate side, transition into product development or product management, shift into marketing and sales or possibly new business development. Explore your options and try something new.

AT THE CROSSROADS Q: I started my career in the accounting area of a Big Five company after earning an MBA and a CPA. I have focused the past five years on implementing SAP financials for a diverse group of top-tier companies in the high-tech area. My responsibilities have grown over the past years, and my role has typically been that of a team leader.

I have done well in the past, but I seem to be at a crossroads. I can rely on my consulting firm to provide direction for the near term, but I would like to switch to the technology industry over the next year or two. What options should I consider? Also, should I invest in and get a technology-related master's?

A: From the context you have described, I will assume that your role as both a participant and a leader of SAP implementation projects has been business and functionally oriented and management driven rather than technically based. In that case, I wouldn't see a technical master's degree as a logical choice, unless you are looking to change that profile and become a more technically oriented IT manager or CIO.

Instead, I would recommend pursuing the excellent head start made possible by the marriage of business and technology. Be sure to look for a corporate IT environment that values that combination rather than one that is very tech-oriented. Maintain a sound understanding and working knowledge of state-of-the-art technology, and always have a trusted technical expert on your staff at every rung of the ladder--the ultimate being the CIO/CTO relationship.

HIGHER GROUND Q: I am leaving an IT director position at a $450 million company (reporting to the CFO) to become the CIO for a $125 million company with a chance to report directly to the CEO. Is this a good career move?

A: All things being equal--both good companies with strong growth potential--I would say that it is a decent move, as long as your new employer really wants you to function as a CIO and not just as an IT director with a better title and reporting to the CEO because it's a smaller organisation. In the future, you can leverage the CIO title and experience up the food chain to a larger and more complex (and better paying) company if so desired.

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