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Careers advice: Balancing tech and business skills

Careers advice: Balancing tech and business skills

Advice about balancing tech and soft skills, job satisfaction, résumés and youth vs. experience

Fruehwald is this month's guest Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about balancing tech and soft skills, job satisfaction, resumes and youth vs. experience.

Name: Scott Penberthy

Title: Vice president of engineering

Company: Photobucket

I'm looking at schools for studying computer science. My problem is finding one that has a good balance of technology and business education, since I think being grounded in both worlds is best. My question, then, is whether it would be wiser to choose a school with more emphasis on technology or one that integrates more business issues into its program. Focus on your passion. Are you excited by the thrill of the deal, figuring out business models that drive wealth and profit, motivating organisations to deliver value, and creating the next great institution? Or are you more excited about the latest gadgets and technology, transforming art and ideas into living, breathing, autonomous systems that do things man has never seen before? School is just four years. Use that time wisely to focus on one area that supports your passion. Go deep, learn all you can, soak up the learning opportunities that college has to offer. You have plenty of career time to become a jack of all trades. Become an expert at one.

So many companies that used to be all about serving customers are now fixated on cutting costs, the bottom line and shareholder return. Many workers feel that they are just cogs in a money machine. Though the work is still challenging, it's often more difficult in these environments to stay motivated and feel that the work really matters. In this situation, is there a way to change the corporate culture back to what it used to be? Failing that, is there a way to psych one's self up and get back in the game -- or is it time to move on? Life is short. If you're working in a democracy and not under contract, there's no reason you have to stay at your job. You can quit tomorrow. What holds most people back is fear of the unknown.

Don't live a life of quiet desperation and unhappiness. Figure out what you want to do, find what gets you charged up and excited to participate. At the same time, do everything you can to become indispensable to your current employer. Do everything asked (within reason) and toe the line while you figure out what you should be doing. Once you've decided, act. If you need to move on, politely terminate and give sufficient notice for your employer to refill your position. If you need to stay, meet your boss, show how you can make a difference, and ask how you can change your activities to better align with your passion. It's your life. Don't settle.

What are the most important skills for an IT professional to have to advance his career? Be someone people can trust to get a job done -- and done well. Trust is something that takes months and years to build, but seconds to destroy. Begin with the little things at work. If you say you're going to call, call. If you see someone in the hall and mention you'll send an e-mail, send it. When asked to get something done, ask what date they need it, then determine a day you can reasonably accomplish the task. If the date is unreasonable, say so, and offer an alternative. Then, deliver. Hit your date.

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