While postgraduate studies hold the promise of career consolidation, the first choice is which path do you want to follow: technology or business - perhaps with the title chief technical officer (CTO) or equivalent or do you want to be a CIO (chief information officer)? How do you choose?
Postgraduate studies also require a strong and ongoing commitment in both time and money, so the choice is not made lightly. Add to this the decision of which course, with which institution and the prospective postgraduate student faces a lot of research before the decision can be made. Lauren Thomsen-Moore looks at the alternatives: who the prospective postgraduate student can turn to for advice and where the advisers can be found, and how such study is funded.
Whether used directly or indirectly, IT&T skills are now a common requirement of most organisations, and according to the IT Skills Hub's Market for Australian IT&T Skills 2000-2002 Executive Summary, good business and personal skills for IT&T employees remain a high priority for employers.
And when it comes to post-graduate studies and long-term career paths, according to Wayne Knack, director, Professional Development Board, Australian Computer Society (ACS), most professionals do not actually choose between technical and business studies because any senior management role requires a level of competence in both.
"Certainly, there are lots of Masters programs in business IT and even in a CIO role people need an up-to-date understanding of IT. In many large organisations, the focus is on a high level of management capability rather than just technical expertise at both the CTO and CIO level. Companies want competent managers who know the business and who understand the role of technology within the business environment," Knack said.
Jacquie Goulas, manager, permanent and executive resourcing Australia, VTR Consulting, said the IT industry, due to its complex technical nature, needs tertiary qualifications at entry level.
"Right from the commencement of an IT career, strong academic results will differentiate those candidates who will most likely fast track through the industry into management paths within substantial organisations. These are the candidates typically selected for graduate programs by the multinationals, large companies, and consulting firms," Goulas said.
The first years of an IT career reveal whether an IT professional has a business or commercial orientation or more of a technical passion or focus, Goulas said, adding: "And on rare occasions we come across a combination of both."
Goulas said not all IT professionals are suited to CIO or CTO paths, and there is a noticeable lack of professional advisers for IT professionals who can assess an individual's competency profile along with aspirations and determine best strategies for career and development.
In order to climb the corporate ladder, Knack said it is a necessity for IT professionals to undertake postgraduate study.
"You need to be up to date not only with the technology, but with development and integration methodologies, management processes and more. In the dynamic, fast-moving IT industry a professional development strategy is mandatory for those who want to move up the corporate ladder," he said.
Undertaking postgraduate studies gives IT professionals up-to-date knowledge and skills, increasing their value to the business and making them more adaptable to different environments and situations, Knack said.
"Australia has a large contractor profile developing and contractors must be focused on maintaining their saleable skills set."
Knack said a lot of organisations are finding that employees who undertake Masters and Certification programs - like that offered by the ACS - have numerous opportunities to relate their studies directly to the workplace.
"There is often substantial overlap between the learning environment and its outcomes with the workplace environment, particularly since most Masters level studies have a strong focus on work-aligned projects and case studies," Knack said.
Heather Gray, manager Government Information Technology Conditions (GITC) business development and infrastructure, The Department of Innovation and Information Economy (IIE), and The Department of Sport and Recreation, Qld, says she is following a CIO path and has undertaken post-graduate study.
Gray has completed a Graduate Certificate in Information Systems (IS), Graduate Diploma in Business Computing and IS, and is six weeks from completing her Masters in information systems.
Gray said postgraduate study is definitely worthwhile.
"I've undertaken postgraduate study to formalise my work experience and skills while also achieving educational recognition for them," she said.
Gray said her postgraduate study has helped "put my focus on the broader global issues as well as my individual work environment issues, opening up opportunities that may not have been possible had I not pursued my educational career as well as my work career".
Dr Matt Warren, Associate Professor, School of Computing and Mathematics, Deakin University, said postgraduate study allows for specialisation with IT and adds to the basic skills and abilities that undergraduate degrees offer.
Meanwhile, Stephanie Cook, Web, content and communications manager, Ambition Careers & Recruitment, says undertaking postgraduate education within technology also helps IT professionals better identify any trends in the market, "as well as bringing you up to speed on some of the newer technological developments, theories and trends that are emerging globally".
"Postgrad education also provides your brain with a bit of stimuli - we advocate lifelong learning here, and feel it is beneficial regardless of where you are in your career. It doesn't hurt to push yourself to your limits and put yourself outside your comfort zone every once in a while. Though be wary of burning the candle at both ends!"
Andrew Licata, Australian operations officer, GraduateSchool.com said postgraduate study is extremely worthwhile on a number of levels - personally, professionally and academically.
"Postgraduate studies gives the student extra knowledge and skills that will advance their prospects and employability and equips them with skills that they cannot learn solely through their work. The delivery of online postgraduate programs also allows people to study while continuing work," Licata said.
Valda Berzins, CIO, Australia Post, said she followed neither plan to become a CIO but looked for organisations she is proud to work for.
"I am not wedded to the IT profession. I am wedded to the company I work for," she said.
Berzins has completed a Bachelor of Commerce and after working for one year without study, went back part-time whilst working full-time and did a full Bachelor of Science.
"My view was that you learn a lot more doing another full undergraduate degree than a shorter crammed postgraduate study," Berzins said.
Berzins said postgraduate study is very useful but needs to be balanced against real-life learning at work.
"There also comes a time in one's career where the postgraduate study offered needs to be exceptional to make it worthwhile. It also needs a top institution attached to it. When you are a CIO you are not after basic postgrad training," she said.
Valda added; "had I not done my science degree, I would have been an accountant trying to run IT."
Michael Robinson, national manager IT, Mission Australia, has completed a Graduate Certificate in Business (leadership) externally and is currently studying the Graduate Diploma in Management via the Internet and is working towards a Masters.
Robinson said although he was reluctant to undertake postgraduate study, it is definitely worthwhile.
"Experience will only get you so far before you need to support that experience with formal guidance. My postgraduate study is assisting me by providing formal guidance in management best practices to complement my technical and on-the-job experience. The IT industry is not known for good leadership or management mentoring internally," he said.
Who to turn to for advice?
Goulas from VTR Consulting said career advisory services within universities tend to provide advice within the framework of the academic world, without enough consideration of the realities of the job market and employer requirements.
"Some IT organisations' senior executives have been working with institutions such as Monash University to ensure the offered curriculums meet the commercial business world's requirements," Goulas said.
According to Knack from the ACS, outside that, people have access to their professional network, such as their colleagues within the ACS, which can also provide informal mentoring.
Many contractors obtain advice through special interest groups such as those operated by the ACS (Contractors and Consultants SIG), or through recruitment agencies.
Meanwhile, Gray said most universities have advisory services for post-graduate students and cites Griffith University's postgraduate services association (GUPSA) as an example.
David Little, general manager, Directions-Career Guidance, said Directions is an IT specific career guidance service which focuses on profiling the individual in both technical skills and soft skills and then comparing them objectively to industry benchmarks.
"We have recently seen a client who tinkered around in IT and was unaware of his capabilities. He completed some technical assessments and was surprised at his level of competence in this area. This, coupled with a profiling of his soft skills, a career path was determined for him where the end result was a network engineer, and studying a MCSE was the first starting point. He now has confidence and assurance on his career path," Little said.
Which method of training?
So you've decided you are going to take up the post-graduate challenge, but then another choice to be made is which method of training is for you - instructor-led or online?
Brian Donovan, CEO of the IT Skills Hub, said IT professionals need to be well tuned to the rapidly changing IT market.
"The pace of change in industry will require a commitment to ongoing professional development, including postgraduate studies. Busy IT professionals will become attracted to online learning as the medium of preference. The IT Skills Hub is endeavouring to provide both intelligence about industry demand for skills and access to innovative training programs."
Knack from the ACS said people will adopt their own preference depending on their learning style, work environment, time availability, and the ability of the learning program to service their needs in a reasonable timeframe.
"In terms of online delivery, there is an increasing demand within the corporate environment for online delivery of professional development with some of Australia's biggest corporate giants delivering over 40 per cent of their personal development material online," Knack said.
Ashley Carr, project officer, GraduateSchool.com (www.gradschool.com.au) said the combination of both instructor-led and online has proven to be the most effective way to study.
"GraduateSchool.com offers postgraduate IT coursework programs online. Instructors still facilitate the learning process; however, in this mode of delivery, the [student] is more central. In online learning it is not so much what the instructor can bring to the virtual classroom, but what the students can bring," Carr said.
Which course and which institution?
Now you've decided which method of training is for you, the final decision is which course will best suit your needs?
Gray from the Department of IIE and Sport And Recreation suggests IT professionals first ask themselves a few questions before making decisions.
"First ask who you are? Then, whether you like what you do? Then, what do you really want to do with your life?
Once you've honestly answered these questions then determine the course, visit the institutions and choose one that fits you.
"Just because one may seem to have a 'better' reputation than another doesn't mean it's going to suit your learning style.
"If you choose one that suits your learning style, you'll have cut half the pressure right there. Make learning fun and easy for yourself and you'll be walking across that graduation stage sooner than you thought possible," Gray said.
Alan Valvasori, a spokesperson from the Australian Graduate School of Management, said AGSM is a business school that offers postgraduate and executive short courses in the IT management area.
The Australian Computer Society offers the ACS Certification Program, a part-time Masters-level, distance education course.
The program takes between one and two years to complete and articulates into a graduate Diploma or Masters with Open Learning Australia and APESMA (Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers).
To complete the program, participants must pass the two core subjects: IT Trends and Business Legal and Ethical Issues and two other subjects.
Dr Matt Warren, associate professor, School of Computing and Mathematics, Deakin University, said Deakin offers postgraduate diploma, certificate and Masters in IT, as well as a specialist Ph.D (Doctor of Technology) for industry-based research.
Meanwhile, an IT manager who has not undertaken postgraduate studies and requested anonymity, said he doubts there is much on offer that provides what is needed. He said many courses do give a great grounding, "and these would be the ones I recommend. A deep and true understanding of the basic principles is vital to success as an IT professional". While he will participate in industry-based training courses, it is unlikely that he will pursue any postgraduate tertiary based studies, he said.
He also said he avoids workplaces that require postgraduate studies.
"There are some places that insist on a tertiary degree, but I tend to almost completely ignore such a thing. Eighteen months exposure in the workforce to a particular technology tends to produce much better understanding than anything that comes out of a university even after five years of study," he saidHis ultimate career goal is to be a CTO of a medium to large firm, he said.
Paul Hawking, director of SAP academic programs, School of Information Systems, Faculty of Business and Law, Victoria University, said the trend in postgraduate studies is towards niche courses or even MBA programs with specialisations.
"We offer a Graduate Diploma and Masters of Business in enterprise resource planning systems in partnership with SAP, and have found that many of the IT professionals are working in or on the periphery of the ERP systems area. They are very aware of the skills needed to strengthen their resume and usually enrol in our courses to consolidate and expand their knowledge while at the same time gaining a recognised higher degree," Hawking said.
Knack from the ACS said to ensure a good outcome, IT professionals must be able to deliver in the joint environment of business and IT management and should focus on postgraduate studies that demonstrate qualifications in this area, as well as be seeking out jobs that enable them to gain those experiences.
Finding the funding
Heather Gray, manager Government Information Technology Conditions (GITC) business development and infrastructure, The Department of Innovation and Information Economy (IIE), and The Department of Sport and Recreation, Queensland, says she is following a CIO path and has undertaken postgraduate study and until this year funding was difficult to find.
"There are scholarships available but you'd have to check with the university of your choice; now there is the postgraduate loans scheme for funding for postgraduates, a student loan scheme similar to HECS.
"In my case, it was an initial scholarship to get me started and then the rest was from my hip pocket. Sort of like fishing, a taste to get me hooked then reel me in. I got hooked, and loved it. Just remember to budget well."
Postgraduate Education Loans Scheme (PELS) is an interest-free loan facility for eligible students who are enrolled in fee-paying, postgraduate non-research courses. It is similar to the deferred payment arrangements available under the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS). PELS enables eligible students to obtain a loan from the Commonwealth Government to pay all or part of their tuition fees incurred from 2002 onwards. It is available for both commencing and continuing students. The Commonwealth pays the amount of the loan directly to the student's institution. Students repay their loan through the taxation system once their income reaches the minimum threshold for compulsory repayment.
The availability of PELS will assist in removing barriers to investment in education, training and skills development. http://www.hecs.gov.au/pels.htm.
A snapshot of postgraduate courses as provided by suppliers by deadline.
The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia runs distance-method postgraduate management studies program with conferring partner LaTrobe University. APESMA postgraduate awards include an MBA, Graduate Diploma, Graduate Certificate and DBA (with Charles Sturt University) and all have been designed for people working in technology related industries. There is also a specialist stream for IT professionals, developed with the Australian Computer Society. Enrolments for study period two close on May 24.
Pricing: $950 per unit ($1900 per unit for the DBA).
Ph 1300 853 377.
Drake Training is offering IT certification with its boot camp program. Boot camp is designed for experienced IT professionals wishing to gain recognised industry qualifications such as the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). Certification is guaranteed and includes mentoring, e-mail and telephone support, online workshops, test preparation sessions and hands-on labs. The boot camp reduces time out of the office and the cost is substantially less than instructor led training.
Pricing: on application.
Ph 1300 362 262.
Macquarie Graduate School of Management
MGSM is a business school with an international reputation built on the ability to provide programs that are flexible and contemporary. Programs include the Master of Business Administration, Master of Management, Postgraduate Diploma in Management and Postgraduate Certificate in Management. Programs are taught at MBA level with all award programs ultimately contributing towards the MGSM MBA. The MGSM offers a broad range of electives in a variety of specialisations including; General Management, Financial Management, Human Resource Management, Information Technology Management, Logistics, Operations and Technology Management, Marketing Management, Strategic Management, and Research.
Pricing:$1995 per unit (for Australian residents) $2250 per unit (for temporary residents).
Ph (02) 9850 9017.
While most people look at increasing their technical skills with a vendor certification, it is important to consider balancing your technical skills with leadership and management 'soft' skills. To help you meet this skills balance in your career, NetG offers a Managerial Leadership suite of courses with subjects such as motivating employees and leading through change. NetG courses are ideal for busy professionals as they are designed in short, easy-to-learn modules that can be tailored to suit learner needs.
Pricing: on application.
Ph (02) 9460 2016.
Queensland University of Technology
The Faculty of IT at QUT, Brisbane has earned a reputation for producing highly employable IT graduates throughout Australia and internationally. We offer an undergraduate program and a wide range of postgraduate courses for both IT and non-IT professionals including; Graduate Certificates, Diplomas, Masters (by research or coursework), and Ph.Ds.
Pricing: Students can apply for HECS and/or PELS.
Ph (07) 3864 2782.
University of NSW
The Master of Business and Technology (MBT) Program at the University of New South Wales offers a diverse portfolio of courses with a technology orientation. The aim is to build practical management skills needed to take companies forward in a changing and often unpredictable business environment. The courses include; Information Technology for Managers, Information System Management, E-Business Strategy and Management, Risk Management, and Strategic Management of Business and Technology. Students have the choice of face-to-face or Web-supported distance education classes.
Ph (02) 9385 6660.
University of South Australia
The suite of programs offered by the University of South Australia within the realm of Information Technology provides an introductory postgraduate education to graduates of a non-computing discipline. It also provides flexibility for students with some expertise in computing to undertake a more advanced program of study. By course work, the University offers Graduate Certificates and Graduate Diplomas in Information Technology, Engineering and Transport Systems Engineering. For more advanced IT students, Masters programs can be undertaken in Electronic Engineering, Computer Systems Engineering, Computer Science and Mathematics. Most of these programs are also offered at a Ph.D level.
Pricing:From $7100 for a Graduate Certificate to $17,800 for a Ph.D.
Ph (08) 8302 3201.
University of Technology Sydney
The Faculty of Information Technology, UTS has five postgraduate programs. The e-Business Technology program is conducted in collaboration with PwC Consulting and is designed to equip students with e-business skills. Internetworking enables advancement of networking skills and prepares you for CCNA and CCNP certification. IT Management equips IT managers the necessary skills to manage and understand how IT fits into a business strategy. The Master and Graduate Diploma in IT programs are designed for those with a degree in another area who now want to move into IT. A MSc in Computing is a technical course that enables professionals to acquire advanced skills in specialist areas.
Pricing: Masters range from $18,000 to $21,600, Graduate Diplomas from $12,000 to $14,400 and Graduate Certificates from $6000 to $7200.
Ph (02) 9514 1803.
University of Queensland
The School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering offers a Master of Information Technology and Master of Information Environments for non-IT graduates. The Master of Information Technology Studies is available to IT graduates. All ITEE masters can be articulated via a graduate certificate and a graduate diploma.
Ph (07) 3365 3984.
University of Western Sydney
The School of Communication, Design & Media, offers three programs - Master of Design, Graduate Diploma in Design and Graduate Certificate in Design - in Digital Media. The program provides in-depth skills in the design and production of interactive multimedia. Candidates require an undergraduate qualification in a related field.
Pricing: $1200 per 10slf subject and $2400 per 20slf subject.
Ph (02) 9852 5438.
RMIT University offers postgraduate computer and information systems programs from graduate diplomas to Ph.Ds with a real-world focus and professional relevance. Flexible and tailored coursework and research opportunities exist with the faculties of Applied Science, Art, Design and Communciation, Business and Engineering.
Pricing: on application
Ph (03) 9925 2260
Postgraduate programs in information security are also offered at RMIT University. The programs provide a strategic and practical overview of the issues involved in this field. Graduates will have the ability to evaluate IS risks in a practical context and to apply the principles of IS in Information Technology (IT). Along with the ability to critically appraise IS solutions, they will have a sound understanding of the relationship between IS and IT disciplines.
Pricing: $1100 per course (12 courses in Masters, eight in Graduate Diploma, and four in a Graduate Certificate).
Ph (03) 9925 1843.
Swinburne University of Technology
The Master of Engineering in Microelectronic Engineering is delivered jointly by Swinburne University of Technology, RMIT University, Victoria University and La Trobe University. The course provides students with the skills industry requires, including integrated circuit design expertise, system-on-chip design and verification, research skills necessary to obtain specialist knowledge relevant to integrated circuit design as well as logical and lateral thinking needed to find solutions to engineering problems. The 18-month program is located in Melbourne.
Pricing: $18,000 ($1500 per unit).
Ph (03) 9925 2590.