I’ve gotten a lot of questions from TechRepublic members about the best ways to direct their careers. There is the inevitable certification vs. degree debate as well as questions about experience vs. education.

Since each situation is unique, there is no clear answer across the board. What I’ve decided to do in the coming weeks, however, is feature personal stories from top IT pros as to how they got into IT and succeeded at it. I hope you’ll find these stories useful in making your own career moves.

This week our featured subject is Eileen Heveren, Provost of National University.

Here is Eileen’s story:

I first started working in colleges and universities before desktop computing! (I’m in my mid-fifties and I remember taking cards to the computer center to be run as an undergraduate, or a tape to be hung when I was in grad school…). My first management position was with a college that had just put in its first home-grown “student information system” – it was extremely basic compared to the large ERP systems we now put in, but back then it was great!

I held positions in academics, student affairs, adjunct faculty, fund raising and the like, throughout my career. My husband took a position back east and I found a position as a “subject matter expert” in a software company, working as a trainer and consultant to universities who were implementing our company’s fund-raising information system. I enjoyed the work but after five years, obtained a position back on a campus, which I missed.

Some years later, I got a call from a large Midwestern university inquiring if I’d be interested in a position as the executive director of a large ERP implementation project. I really didn’t know the particular ERP system except its name at the time! But, they were looking for someone who understood universities and how they worked, and who could manage a large scale change project. I got the job…

Five years later, someone who knew of my background called and asked if they could nominate me for a Director of IT position at a university in my hometown. They were putting in the same ERP system – I thought to myself, who would want to do that twice! I protested that, while I knew that system, I didn’t know much about networks and phone systems and AV and Help Desks, etc. The individual said they felt that the team here was strong and that I had the smarts to learn about those things but that they felt I was “the one.” To make a long story short, I got the job and over time became the VP for IT!!

From my perspective, our Information Technology group made great strides during my leadership, not just in the wonderful technology they provide, but in the area of understanding the users of our technology and the work they do. This is, I think, the biggest difference I made. I also helped recruit a great technical leader for the team and he is doing a great job. Yes, after almost six years here in IT, I was asked last summer to take the Provost position, which is the Chief Academic Officer. It’s been a wonderful challenge, and I’m back on that challenging learning curve once again!

To think, all this from a gal who never took a computer class in her life!