CXO

Professional crossroads: Should I pursue Linux or Microsoft training?

Career coach Kevin Rosenberg has advice for an IT pro who wants to know if he should diversify his expertise and get Linux/UNIX training. Plus, Kevin warns a manager that a change in direction—while commendable—may entail a drop in salary.


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 his biweekly Q & A column.


Q: I am a 12-year IT veteran with nine years of Visual Basic experience developing various types of applications and systems. My experience is strictly with Microsoft products or products that run on Microsoft operating systems.

With the emergence of Linux, should I be learning more about Linux/UNIX programming and systems, or am I safe for the next few years sticking with Microsoft? I like to learn new things, but there's plenty to learn on the Microsoft side. Besides, if you learn something new and don't use it, you'll forget it really fast. I have an opportunity at my present employer to study either one or both. Thanks.

—PC


Rosenberg: Any career is a series of calculated steps, and you're constantly required to invest in yourself. In IT, the importance of managing your career—and moreover, keeping one toe in the water and pursuing the next new thing or technology—is imperative.

Your expertise with Microsoft products has probably proven quite beneficial, but to continue to run parallel with Microsoft exclusively is perhaps short-sighted. Asking yourself, “Do I need to learn other skills?” is a proactive question.

The answer is difficult because learning something considered esoteric today may prove to be lucrative tomorrow. However, to be four to 12 months behind the technology curve may throw you into a spin that forces you to merely keep up rather than allowing you to get ahead.

Of course, you are safe on your current path. But is safe really where you want to be? Being an IT professional requires that you be technically aware, malleable, and adaptable. This awareness and flexibility should also translate into how you view yourself. You need to be willing to invest time in learning tools and technologies that may not be the next VB or XML. You can't go wrong learning Linux, but any tool or technology you master, no matter how relevant, can be accretive to your value and abilities.


Q: I have been a manager with the same organization for 10 years. As of June, I am taking six months off to attend a full-time business programming course with Interim Technology with the view of entering the IT industry. My interest is in Web development and e-commerce.
  • What are the job prospects like in this area?
  • Am I going about my career change the right way?
  • Can you give me any hints?

—KP


Rosenberg: Kudos for taking the difficult step of reinventing yourself and taking charge of your professional future. I think if this is truly what you want to do, you are on the right path.

Your interests in e-commerce and Web technologies are not unique, but yes, there is great demand. However, be forewarned: Without practical expertise, your newfound profession and salary expectations may not be warmly received.

There are supply/demand pressures in the “e” employment marketplace. Countless TV and radio advertisements are touting the “get rich quick with careers in technology” mantra that recruiters and hiring managers have begun to loathe. But the reality is simple. Without experience, you may find a lot of closed doors.

However, all is not lost. Good old-fashioned enthusiasm, energy, and willingness to do what it takes will often open doors for you. Similarly, because Interim is a large IT services and staffing provider, you may be able to leverage their market relationships and clients to land your first job.

Remember: Keep your salary expectations reasonable and most importantly, check your ego at the door. Dozens of other people want that job as much as you do. Companies hire attitude and aptitude, not just skills. Coming from an academic environment exclusively leaves you with only attitude and aptitude. Use them wisely.

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.
Do you have to deal with a difficult boss? Are you tired of a long commute, but the company won’t let you telecommute? Ask Kevin for help and he may answer your question in an upcoming column.

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