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Do I need programming experience to succeed in Web development?

TechRepublic's career guru, Kevin Rosenberg, provides job advice to a Web development project manager. He also discusses the value of certifications in this edition of Career Compass.


Let headhunter Kevin Rosenberg help you set your career compass. Kevin is managing director and partner of BridgeGate LLC, a California-based search firm. Kevin specializes in IT management searches and shares career tips in this monthly Q & A column.

Q: My job has evolved into being a Web development project manager working with a small technical team. I have no direct experience with Web design or the Cold Fusion programming used for our client deliverables.

Because we have evolved the product into an ASP approach, I am quite familiar with the aspects necessary to interface with external clients, senior management, and the technical team itself. I realize this is a career track I am interested in, but is it critical that I have an in-depth grounding in the programming details to move to other organizations? Do firms hire people with successful projects (several complex Web sites with advanced functionality) under their belt without programming backgrounds?
—TJC

Rosenberg: IT skills demand seems to fluctuate. In the ‘70s programmers and analysts outnumbered all other IT positions exponentially. This trend continued well into the ‘80s and even into the early ‘90s. But as the development of world-class “package” software such as Oracle, JD Edwards, and Peoplesoft began to flourish, the demand for programmers waned and was replaced by a demand for business analysts and implementation specialists.

Then the mid-nineties hit and the Internet became the single most interesting thing in IT. With this, the demand for programming talent boomed—but instead of established “old-economy” tools like COBOL and Visual Basic, the demand for talent centered on the twenty-somethings just out of school with C++, Java, HTML, etc. Now, the package uprising is coming again and the demand for implementation experience is on par with the demand for XML, Cold Fusion, and EJB programmers.

In your situation, the fact that you get to manage projects that are being developed using leading edge tools (even if you have never used them) is an added bonus and most certainly will build your resume. By osmosis, you will become familiar at a conceptual level with the challenges and idiosyncrasies of the new products being deployed. As a manager, it is this conceptual knowledge coupled with your ability to lead and motivate others to deliver a specified project that you are being hired for. Sure, having walked a mile in the shoes of a developer would add value—but not having done so should not greatly limit your career progress.

My advice is simple: Choose the path that best suits your interests and will contribute to your long-term success. In our lifetime, I do not foresee that either the technical career path or the implementation and project management career path will see a decline. In fact, for every ten developers and for every implementation, there will always be the need for a good manager.

Q: It has taken me the better part of almost 40 years to figure out what it is I want to do with my career. With several years of IT management experience and with no official qualifications to show, I have reached a crossroads.

The issue as I see it is two-fold. Do you know of any online business analysis certification programs and are they worth their salt? Achieving certification, in my opinion, may leave me with a catch-22 situation—certification, but little experience! In the event that no official online training is available, what would you recommend as the next logical step?


—CO

Rosenberg: It is probably not possible to advise you within the scope of this problem. Especially since it is apparent that you have already thought through this situation and know what you want. However, you bring up a very salient point: Certifications with little or no experience are of limited value.

Several “Career Compass” installments have covered the issue of certifications. Similarly, an overwhelming number of the unanswered messages I receive ask the same question: “What certification should I get”?

Certifications are an excellent source of condensed knowledge and are a way in which already technically savvy professionals can augment their skills or keep them current. However, certifications are not a turnstile by which one can change directions in their career while preserving their seniority and/or wage expectations.

I caution you not look to a certification as a “get out of jail free” card. Perhaps you can find another position that leverages your current skill set while affording you the added challenge in analysis.

TechRepublic has written extensively about certifications and business education programs. Here are a few articles you’ll want to download for easy reference:
  1. Certifications for project managers
  2. MBA programs with an IT focus
  3. Join an IT association

Disclaimer
Remember, career decisions can be quite complex. This content is intended to be used at your own risk. The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for any problems that may be experienced.
Are your coworkers getting on your nerves? Is your boss a roadblock to advancement? Send Kevin your career questions or post a comment to this article. We can’t guarantee that he’ll answer your letter, but he does read each question and addresses the most common concerns in this column.

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