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Career advice for IT newbies

Mar 29, 20066 mins
Data Center

* Where should IT students start off in the industry today?

There are a couple of items that I want to tell you about today. Beginning next week, this newsletter will be called IT Careers and Training. The new title will better reflect the issues that we’ve been talking about of late, such as training to improve your career prospects, salary surveys, and job searches. If you filter your e-mails, please ensure you change your filters to accept mail from to ensure uninterrupted delivery. Thank you.

The other item I wanted to talk about is that Network World this month is celebrating its 20th anniversary. A few months ago, I asked you to share your advice for the next generation of IT execs and let us know what areas of IT today’s students should get into to be well positioned for the next 20 years. You can read some of the responses that I compiled and put into an article in this week’s 20th anniversary issue.

While you’re at the site, check out the other articles from the 20th anniversary package, including: “With new pay, new responsibilities” – Net executives’ salaries rocket upward as stature grows; “20 people who changed the industry”; “20 network-changing products in 20 years”; and “In networking, your money goes a lot further these days” – Then and now, what $20 buys you ….

A common theme that ran through many of the responses I received was that no matter what choice the student makes, all roads lead to gaining business knowledge and leveraging IT to help the business meet its objectives. Some say that focusing on one technology may make you a subject matter expert, but competition for jobs will increase as demand falls in favor of execs who can apply all-round technical knowledge to business challenges. We’ve been discussing the growing demand of execs with such knowledge now.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their comments. I couldn’t include them all in the article, but I did promise that I would publish the others in a follow-up newsletter, so here they are:

* From John Bruggerman, director of Information Systems, Hebrew Union College:

“I think IT students should study IT fundamentals (at least as undergrads) – so they know what programs should do, or can do, or can’t do. What routers can and can’t do, what networks can and can’t do, etc. Once they have the fundamentals, then they can specialize into an area – like security, or programming, or IT architecture, or nano computing (that’s an area I think will be really key in the next 10-20 years).

“If I had a child of say, 12-14 years (or younger) I would encourage them to study math and science (two areas woefully under-represented by students these days) so they would have a strong basis in logic (key to all computer science) and the sciences where IT skills will be more tightly integrated in the next two decades. I’m thinking along the lines of the genome project and other bio-science areas. Can you imagine nano computers and grid computing going away anytime soon? How about the engineering arena – will we need more IT programmers and technology savvy workers to help maintain hybrid cars, high efficiency houses, generators, etc.”

* From Geoffrey L. Moore, network engineer, Fusion Telecommunications International:

“Because of the emergence and convergence of VoIP in the enterprise, students should continue to study traditional networking as IP will continue to be the backbone of [the] communications infrastructure of the modern world. Also, I think that as more traditional plant equipment from industries such as property management to hospital management have embedded processors with wireless data transmitters placed into standard industrial equipment such as pressure gauges, boilers and power monitoring equipment, there is going to be a growing demand for operations people with IT/systems analyst skills to capture these new sources of data, build new operations management processes and build customized applications to support these industries that have [not] benefited from IT extracting the maximum degree of efficiencies out of them.”

* From Malcolm Yeatts, IT project manager, Network Engineering Division, Communications Technology Management, City of Austin:

“You got the question backwards. Current IT professionals should be asking students where IT technology is heading. Current IT professionals are immersed in current commercial technology. The technologies that will be commercial in 20 years are the subject of PhD thesis papers now. Who knew what a search engine was 20 years ago?”

* From Jim Rogers, Windows systems engineer, Solucient:

“Prior to reading your articles I had been encouraging anyone who asked about a career in IT to consider where there interest might really lie:

“If they seemed oriented to the business world they should get a finance degree, maybe marketing, and take some IT courses, probably as a minor. These two majors leave you the option to move up to the top of the company IF THAT is what they want. They can still get an entry-level job in IT and use that as a tool for their ‘diverse’ experience.

“If they are really a hands-on person, and possibly reluctant to work in a cube farm, then I have mentioned looking at an engineering degree (civil, mechanical, electrical, etc). Again, they will have some computer skills that they can develop/utilize/leverage, but *not* rely on for a long term vocation.

“Why have I steered some parents or young people who asked away from IT as a career? Even before reading your articles, it seemed that the skill sets that used to draw livable salaries can be purchased cheaper elsewhere. It seems that creativity and initiative/innovation are no longer the hallmarks of the IT industry.”

*From Matthew Morrisey, senior systems engineer:

“From least important to most important:

– Get an Engineering degree.

– Get another degree (MBA, MD, law, nursing).

– Get some vendor-neutral certification (HAM license, CISSP, etc).

– Start building a network of contacts though everyone you know (parents, relatives, friends, neighbors) of people and keep track of them and what they are doing.

– Marry somebody rich or at least has a good (government sector) pension plan.”

Again, thanks for all your comments and apologies if I’ve left anyone out.