Career Adviser

Dear Career Adviser:

I'm 50 and manage a data center for a large government entity in Texas with over 5,000 employees. I have owned and managed several computer-related businesses and have a strong accounting background. I noticed on CNN recently that many start-ups are hiring "adult supervision" to manage young companies.

How would I explore such opportunities?

- Internet Wanna-be

Dear Wanna-be:

"An e-commerce company might need a data center manager at a director level to manage network operations," says Larry Phillips, a venture capitalist at Primedia Ventures in New York. However, your government and large-systems background and experience could make this transition pretty daunting.

Remember, "older" people come into younger companies generally as founders or backers, sales experts, deal makers or board members. Rarely do they jump from the government IT world to become hands-on managers within Internet start-ups.

"Like most Internet companies, our senior veterans come with business and technological backgrounds and contribute as investors or board members or on issues of product definition, finance and marketing rather than in the daily routine," says Oded Vardi, a founder of RUSure.com, a popular Internet comparison-shopping site.

While start-ups sometimes hire more experienced, ergo older, people for senior hands-on technical management roles, interviews for these jobs can be grueling.

Focus on showing your ability to report to a younger senior manager and to collaborate with young teams and how your technical skills can help avoid pitfalls and get a good product out the door faster. You will absolutely need this hands-on credibility before you interview, so start doing lots of homework now.

"Dear Career Adviser:

I'm a 40-year-old software/systems engineer with a computer science degree from Georgia Tech and initial work experience at a software company that specializes in Defense Department satellite command-and-control applications. In 1992, I joined a consulting company that specializes in intelligence systems.

I have written software for space-based, ground station and contract management applications and now provide engineering services in support of major program acquisitions. I currently earn over $100,000 a year. Can I compete in commercial IT at this salary in analysis, design and project management positions? What business areas and IT positions I should focus on?

- Business Bound

Dear Business:

"While your skills and experience are certainly transferable to the commercial world and the need for this skill set is great, you need to understand that you probably would not immediately receive a $100,000-plus salary in the commercial world," says Larry Keith, president of EDSL Networks, a company that specializes in high-speed Internet connectivity.

Here, then, are some transition steps that will get you there over time:

First, investigate consulting companies that have opportunities in your field but probably at lower starting salaries. Or consider branching out into the manufacturing world in a sales support or systems engineering role. Also think about taking on a tech support role. If you can persuade a high-profile company with good technology and possibly some upside stock option potential to hire you, and stay flexible on compensation for the moment, you'll be just fine.

"Dear Career Adviser:

I have more than seven years' experience in IT, five of those as a computer technician and two as a network administrator. I work for a 500-person manufacturing company that has just implemented SAP R/3.

I have six to eight months experience in Basis administration on an AS/400 platform and see myself soon becoming an SAP R/3 Basis administrator/consultant. Is there a class or other training that would help me reach my goal sooner? What about salaries?

- SAP Samantha

Dear SAP:

Of four different SAP skill sets - Advanced Business Application Programming (ABAP), functional consulting, New Dimension/e-commerce applications and Basis - "Basis is and has always been the skill set that was the least required," says Ralf Schundelmeier, SAP program director at CrossWorlds Software Inc. in Burlingame, Calif. "And the fact that this candidate is working on AS/400 is not as valuable as [Windows] NT or Unix."

Since the highest immediate demand is for functional consultants who know the new SAP e-commerce applications and for technical people who know the "Internet framework," your best bet would be to learn ABAP, C++ or Java, according to Schundelmeier.

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