How IT pros can prosper despite economic woes

IT professionals should view the downturn as an opportunity to spotlight their skills and add a few more to their resumes, experts say

As the country collectively holds its breath to see if efforts to shore up the faltering economy succeed, IT professionals should be updating skills, taking on new responsibilities and working to become indispensable to their employers, experts say.

Companies at the center of the Wall Street's turmoil such as Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch are expected to cut IT head count, but more IT organizations are opting for a wait-and-see approach by restricting spending and putting off new hires. In the interim, existing IT staff could be called upon to fill gaps and address needs not normally within their job description.

"As any company looks to control costs, they look to IT people to become a jack of all trades in some respects. No one in IT can truly be that, but more companies are looking to staff to have broader, more diverse skill sets," says John Estes, a vice president with IT staffing and consulting firm Robert Half Technology.

Industry watchers say the economic downturn presents a chance for IT to show its value to the business. The Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) reports that it has seen an uptake in certifications training, which indicates that IT professionals see the need to update their skills to remain competitive. It could also be indicative of employers sending existing IT staff to training so they can take on additional responsibilities, CompTIA says.

"Historically, we see that certification volumes rise when the economy is somewhat sluggish, and that is indicative of less jobs and more competition in the market," says Kyle Gingrich, director of products and services, skills development at CompTIA. "Employees getting additional certifications are proving they are willing to learn more to support the company."

Robert Half Technology's Estes says IT workers who fear they are in danger of losing their jobs should update existing skills. For instance, SQL experts should get up to speed on SQL 2008 and anticipate the skills management might be seeking in the coming months. A .Net developer could learn Ajax, for instance, and network engineers could bone up on mobility and present the company chief with practical applications of the technology to help drive productivity, Estes says.

"IT workers can make themselves outsourcing-proof by demonstrating examples in which they could lead projects with a real ROI for the company," Estes says. "They should be really thinking about how this economic turmoil could impact their company and how IT could offset that."

IT professionals also argue that pitching in when business is bad could help IT professionals retain current positions and become more attractive to hiring managers.

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