Dear Career Adviser

FRAMINGHAM (07/03/2000) - I'm a nondegreed information technology professional with 10 years of experience in the industry, five of them with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT. I make very good money but lack the required sheepskin that most companies look for. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to land an interview. Most rejection letters I get statethat I'm either not qualified enough, have no degree or make too much money. My wife keeps pestering me to get my degree and my MCSE, and I'm working on both. Is this the right course?

- Henpecked Howard

Dear Howard:

You're wife gets an "A" for her "honey-do" list, because she's right! In this job market, your toughest competitors have degrees and credentials that you lack. You'll be left behind if you don't remedy that soon.

While your experience on the front lines may be the best teacher, it simply won't generate maximum opportunity or pay. Randy Rudolph, director of IT at San Francisco International Airport, says, "In my department, we require experience and a four-year degree for entry-level technicians."

In short, find an exciting company to work for thathas a tuition-reimbursement plan, says Rudolph, and keep on going until you finish.

"Dear Career Adviser:

With only a few more years until retiring from my firstcareer and a wide variety of skills and experiences, I am trying to home in on a second career.

I have a bachelor's degree with a minor in computer science and more than 17 years in IT, thanks to the U.S. military. I have mainframe operations, quality control, systems programming and database experience.

I have also transitioned to networking by managing a metropolitan-area network with more than 400 servers and worked as a project manager for a network help desk software application. Now I'm managing software development teams for supply-chain management applications. Outside of the military, where should I focus, and am I someone who will be hired at a decent rate of pay?

- Second Career

Dear Second:

You might be stuck in "dinosaur" technology that isn't easily transferable to today's IT environments, says Tom Knepell, a former commander in the U.S. Navy who had a successful career in software consulting and then founded Information Systems Group, a software firm in Oakland, California.

Knepell notes that government environments are frequently created by the lowest bidders and have equipment and systems not often found in commercial sites.

Second, there is a bias by many hiring managers against IT developers who haven't worked in profit-motivated organizations. Whether justified or not, Knepell says, the fear is that funding and costs aren't a concern for government employees.

Finally, people who areretiring from the militaryor government should never say in résumés or interviews that they retired. Those are just the facts.

"Target government contractors and large companies setting up Web servers on mainframes," says Knepell. These large mainframe Web server projects currently being implemented would be a great place for you to get that transition job.

Use it to learn new skills and, one bounce later, wind up where you really wantto be.

"Dear Career Adviser:

Is there a future for assembler programmers? I have delivered client-specific solutions using IBM/370assembler for more than 14 years and am wondering how much longer this skill set will be needed/desired in today's workplace. I am currently thinking about learning SAS. Is this a good career move?

- Assembler Antique

Dear Antique:

Although you've waited a long time to wake up, you actually have more choices than you think, because assembler emphasizes a structured methodology. If you're interested in statistical programming and analysis or in learning a system that has a fully articulated delivery infrastructure, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry or in an industry emphasizing statistics, SAS could be a good choice, says Hugh G. McCabe, director of health care analysis at Univera Healthcare in Baldwinsville, New York.

First, SAS is in the information-delivery business, and you can use it for data manipulation, data reduction, ad hoc reporting and delivering reports. But you have other choices as well.

Again, with your structured-language background, "if you have the discipline and smarts to learn assembler, you could move to SAP or go into network engineering," says John Margaronis, director of IT at Health Net Health Plan of Oregon Inc. in Clackamas, Oregon.

In other words, either learn how to support a networkoperating environment emphasizing Novell, Microsoft SQL Server and Cisco classes, or get into application programming, or both.

Fran Quittel is an expert in high-tech careers and recruitment. Send questions to her at www.computerworld.com/career_adviser.

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