Training for an IT Career, Not a Job

In response to a growing number of reader letters asking about ITeducation and training options, a recent IT Career Advisor (see "GoingBack to School? Train for a Career, Not a Job" here suggested that it'sbest to invest your educational dollars with an eye on the ROI (returnon investment). Look for programs that will help you meet yourlong-range career goals rather than those that promise to prepare youfor the latest and greatest IT job title.

If you think about where you see yourself five years from now, and mapout the steps it will take to get there (working backward from yourfuture goal to your present situation), a clear IT education andtraining to-do list will emerge.

For example, a PC support specialist recently wrote the IT CareerAdvisor that her interest has shifted from hardware to applicationsdevelopment. She was assessing the education options that would help hermeet her goal, and had correctly intuited that given the college degreesshe holds already, a certification program would be her best bet.

The would-be programmer (who we'll call Denise) earned a B.A. in Historyand later went for an Associates Degree in Computer Information Systemsafter she moved into IT. In her situation, going back for another degreewould probably be overkill, while a good certification program wouldprovide a hands-on environment for learning her programming language ofchoice (which happens to be Java).

Denise expressed some concerns that, given the current state of the ITjob market, perhaps enrolling in a certification program would bethrowing good money after bad. If she breaks the decision down based onher career goal and what it would take to achieve it, she can get aclearer picture of whether Java certification would be a viableinvestment.

To review:

* Where she wants to be three-to-five years from now: Java applications developer * Where she is today: PC support specialist * Education and Training Up to Now: B.A., History (liberal arts degree); A.D, Computer Information Systems (degree centered on a vocational goal)A Potential Career Path (starting with the goal and working backward tothe present, detailing what will be necessary to make each step alongthe way).

Goal: Java applications developer (will need to prove that she can come up with valid business solutions and implement them in the Java programming language; also needs to demonstrate that she is as comfortable on the software side as the hardware side; will need to develop solid interpersonal skills).

Help Desk: A position -- attainable given her current experience and educational background -- that also has some relationship to the skills she is hoping to develop; help desk would offer the opportunity to demonstrate her comfort level on the software side -- in an environment involving troubleshooting and problem resolution -- while she completes the training and education necessary to reach her goal; position also provides a chance to hone her communication/customer service skills).

Present Situation: PC Support Specialist (wants to move from hardware specialist to applications developer; has ample education but no software or business training).

Now, starting at the bottom and working back up, extracting just thedetails of what it will take to make each step along the way, therequisite training and education to meet her goal emerges:

* She shouldn't pursue training in isolation -- she should also look for a position (e.g., the help desk position) that will give her on-the-job training toward her goal; * She will need to learn Java in a hands-on environment (preferably through a vendor-approved Java certification program); * Since being an applications developer involves more than just writing code, she should also take a couple of business courses or seminars to broaden her perspective on the relationship between business problems and IT solutions; * She'll need to become an effective communicator (a skill she can develop on the job in a help desk position, and can augment with a seminar or two if needed).

These are all educational investments that translate into a careerinvestment -- not just a quick path to a cool-sounding IT job title.

For most readers, that path from present situation to future goal mayinvolve several more steps, but this example shows the kind of thinkingand analysis that should go into your IT career. When you literally sitdown and map out a career path from present situation to future goal(or, actually, the opposite), you'll easily identify the training andeducation you need to pursue. Even the nitty-gritty decisions likeonline training vs. classroom training, MCSE or masters degree willbecome clear.

Of course, visualizing where you want to be three to five years from nowis easier said than done. It's one thing to know "I want to make moremoney and enjoy my job more." But in the day-to-day reality of IT, whatwould that mean specifically for you, given your background andexperience? Over the next few weeks, the IT Career Advisor will continuelooking at how you can map out an IT career path related to definablegoals and identify the training and experience necessary to get youthere.

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