The CIO HR Corner: Determining which way to head next

CIO Republic's own HR expert, Peter Woolford, answers one member's question about whether to jump on the next tech wave to remain a competitive force and advises another member on the value of project management certifications.

CIO Republic’s new monthly column, CIO HR Corner, focuses on helping IT executives and leaders find the right answers and approaches for staffing and personnel issues. If you have a question you’d like CIO Republic columnist Peter Woolford to answer, e-mail it to us.

Question: Is a project management degree worthwhile?
I’m an IT professional with more than 10 years of experience. I think getting a certificate in project management would be great for my career, but I don't know which specific certificate I should be looking at. Can you give me some advice?

Writer’s anonymity requested

Answer: Certifications have some value
Getting more education is always a good thing, but I’m not sure I would ever use the phrase "great for my career" in the same sentence as a certificate in anything. An advanced degree at MIT would be "great for my career." Certificates are not that highly valued.

Here’s how you should look at a certificate program. Certificate programs are to advanced degrees as appetizers are to a main course. If you order enough appetizers, they fill you up. If you get enough certificates, you'll get nearly the same education as an advanced degree.

The major difference, though, between an advanced degree and a certificate is that a folder full of certificates will never equal the prestige of an advanced degree from a good school. If you’re not looking for the prestige, certificates can be better for you because you can take exactly the courses you want.

Giving advice on a certificate program is tough to do. Programs are all over the map in content and quality. Look at the certificate from the perspective of what you’ll learn. That means carefully reading the course offerings of several programs. Ask your bosses about their opinions of local programs.

Getting a certificate sends a message to your bosses that you’re interested in project management work and willing to invest time to learn about how to do it right. That may open some doors for you. On the other hand, don't expect instant rewards from any certificate.

Question: Should I jump on the next tech wave?
I started in 1980 as a COBOL programmer trainee, switched to an assembler programmer, and then went back to COBOL before becoming a consultant. I worked in-house as a DBA for IMS and DB2 for 10 years.

During that time, I picked up lots of experience on systems internals and a lot of systems integration work for a major manufacturing company. Along the way, I finished my undergraduate degree. A good friend and I formed a consulting company, and life was good. I picked up an MBA in management. When the economy hit the dumper, I hired on with my client.

The company publishes some high-end packages, and I work on the team that assists clients with integrating the packages into their existing systems. I’m very highly paid for some specialized skills. Yet I can see the writing on the wall that some of these skill needs will be disappearing as newer versions of the packages come along.

My question is: Should I try to get on another technology wave, or move to management, or continue with my application to law school? I feel I need to do something to continue justifying my high salary.

Writer's anonymity requested

Answer: Stick with your strengths
This is the strategy I recommend. First, you need to keep up the work you’re doing to earn the big bucks, stay employed, and get opportunities to learn new things. I’m impressed that you managed to sign on with your client at the critical moment. That was a great piece of market timing.

Next, you need to get involved with some newer technologies. The best way to achieve this is to volunteer to help with an integration on newer technologies. Most likely, that opportunity will present itself when your company has a major project that involves a mix of old and new versions of the product.

When you were a contractor, you didn't have the opportunity to get involved with new areas of technology. When the part of the project that related to your specialized knowledge ended, your contract ended. Now that you’re an employee, your employer will be thinking longer term and should invest in you. The door should be open for you to get involved in newer technology.

If you’re still in the DB2 space, it’s critical that you get involved with the newer versions. If you can show experience with the UDB-on-UNIX version of the product, you’ll switch from being as valuable as a dinosaur to being valuable for your current skills.

You asked about other career choices such as management and law school. Based on your career path, the management area would be new for you. The realistic way to get into management is to earn a promotion. Let your boss know you’re interested and available for any upcoming leadership roles. However, I don't see a move into management as a quick cure to your career concerns.

Your other career idea is law school. If you get a law degree from Harvard or Yale, practicing law can be very lucrative. If you’ll be attending the local night school, don't expect money to grow on trees. My suggestion is to consider patent law, based on your extensive technical experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average lawyer salary in 2000 was $91,320. It’s up to you to decide whether that would be an improvement.

Have a question?
CIO Republic HR Corner columnist Peter Woolford welcomes your questions, dilemmas, and feedback. Send us an e-mail, and we'll pass it on to him.


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