Narrowing the Chasm
Tying together technical knowledge and business know-how can reap rich rewards.
I feel that tying my business degree and my
technical skills together would be a great way
to make a career. I’ve worked as a systems engineer
for almost two years and have been in the networking
industry for about five years. I was wondering
if you could point me in the right direction.
It seems like people always want pure technical
people. What kinds of job titles should I be looking
for—or should I be in a different industry?
- By Greg Neilson
- October 01, 2001
—Preston Panza, MCSE, MCP+I, A+, Network+, i-Net+
Lake Forest, Calif.
Preston, when I first read your
question, I must confess it caused me to laugh a
little. Then, after thinking about it, I realized
how depressing it was that you needed to ask that
question at all! As Steve says, there’s a great
deal of overlap between technology and business
in IT; unfortunately, too many in IT end up being
stereotypical “propeller-heads” who can only speak
in techno-babble and can’t be put in front of a
client. For reasons I’ve never understood, there’s
a strange aura about the “black magic” in IT that
permits us to tolerate this kind of behavior when
this isn’t something we’d tolerate in other professions.
Unless you’re working in a basic R&D role (which
the majority of us aren’t), we all need to be
concerned with the business implications of our
work in IT. So to answer your question, I think
nearly every role in IT should be able to make
some use of your business skills. For example,
one lesson technical people need to learn as part
of their maturation process is that, often, a
sub-optimal technical solution may be the best
business option. I remember hearing a client’s
manager complain that he was always presented
with “Rolls Royce”-type solutions, when a bicycle
would have done the job. That is, we kept designing
overblown, complicated solutions using the best
of everything when a much simpler solution would
do. Managers don’t invest in technology because
they think the latest version of product X has
some really cool features—they do it because they’ve
determined that the investment will help the business
increase revenue and/or decrease costs. It’s all
too often that we in IT lose sight of this and
get bogged down in the technology for its own
Steve has some good ideas in suggesting roles
in management and/or sales. Along those same lines,
a career in consulting might be a good option
that can combine both of these. As you progress
in your consulting career, you would spend more
time working with clients on their business problems
and discussing ways IT can help. This draws on
both your technical and business skills. You’ll
also be involved in producing the client proposal
and then leading the implementation of the solution.
Here, you need your business skills to be able
to design a solution for the business as well
as manage your own internal business—the utilization
of staff, profit and revenue targets and the satisfaction
of your employees. People who can handle all of
these aspects well aren’t easy to find; if you
could master these, you may have a long, successful
and satisfying career ahead of you in consulting.
Also, you have the possibility of moving to a
strategic IT-consulting role later in your career.
This is much more business-focused, but your technical
skills will be useful in converting the strategic
plans into project deliverables and understanding
what technology can and can’t do.
You weren’t specific about what aspects of your
business degree you wanted to use. If these are
in specific areas such as marketing or finance,
there are probably specialist roles out there
that can combine your business and technical skills.
For example, hardware and software vendors need
marketing staff that understands what their customers
want and then sends them the appropriate information
about how their products solve customer needs.
This is very distinct from a sales role.
I hope this helps you envisage career options
that combine your technical skills with business
studies. As I see it, you have myriad choices;
it really depends on which ones seem most attractive.
Greg Neilson, MCSE+Internet, MCNE, PCLP, is a Contributing Editor for MCP Magazine and a Professional Development Manager for a large IT services firm in Australia. He’s the author of Lotus Domino Administration in a Nutshell (O’Reilly and Associates, ISBN 1565927176).