Enterprise Software

Combat a lack of formal IT training with niche classes

Given his current job and age, one IT manager isn't sure where to start when building a formal IT education. Career expert Molly Joss explains that, since age is an issue, it's best to start with what this manager already knows and build on that.

I manage a small IT department, but I do not have any formal degrees. I work with EDI, and while I have those transferable skills, I still feel that I need to go to school.

I am middle-aged, and I want to maximize my time left to work. I really am at a loss as to where to start. I enjoy business very much, and I have the personal skills to manage people and systems, but I need and want more.

I bet there are a lot of IT managers out there who can relate to your situation. Many of the middle-aged IT managers of today probably noticed that it took a while for higher education to catch up with the changes in the computer world over the last few decades. During that time, companies large and small needed people to work with PCs and eventually manage their IT efforts. So lots of people without formal degrees got hired and learned as they went—along with the rest of the world.

Obviously, you feel limited by your lack of education, and your eagerness to fix this omission is a good start. You won't be able to go back and make up for lost time, of course, so you should build on your strengths.

What you've got going for you is your experience, particularly your experience in EDI. Use that as the foundation for building your career from this point forward. You should also use it as the basis for planning your formal education because you must plan to spend part of your time over the next few years in a classroom.

I can't see the point of wading through a traditional Bachelors of Science program at this point in your career. So many of the courses you'd be required to take would not interest you or add to your IT education. And getting a four-year degree would take you three to five years if you took a few classes each semester.

Yet, don't rule out taking college-level courses in computer science if you find some that interest you. However, you'd probably benefit more from getting a few certifications rather than taking regular classes.

Because you already have some experience with EDI, investigate the training options for this area of IT. You may find that the training classes are offered only on CD or online. That's okay, but don't forget to check out classes that might be offered in conjunction with industry trade events as well. Vendors often offer training for their products, so make sure to investigate those options.

SAP offers several certification programs, including a SAP user certification. If your company uses SAP, it might be willing to pay for your training—or training with the vendor it uses. Even if the employer doesn't pay for it, the training would be valuable to you.

Don't forget to brush up on your people skills
Along with the EDI training, I'd recommend mixing in a few classes in people and project management. These courses are readily available through independent training organizations or community colleges. For example, you might take a course in conflict management or general management skills, plus a class or two in project management.

The American Management Association offers management seminars in major cities across the country. Some of the seminars are designed specifically for IT managers. SkillPath is another training vendor that conducts courses in many locations, including courses in project and time management.

Make sure that you carefully explore what is taught in all of these classes; you want to make sure you will be learning something that would be useful to you. Unfortunately, there are a lot of classes out there that are geared towards raw beginners and not so many for people with experience. Before you sign up, ask to see the details of the curriculum or learning goals, or talk to the instructor.

I hope you like your current job because it's going to take you a few years to build up the education part of your resume enough so you can compete with other management candidates. There is no time like the present to get busy building your educational background. Don't think of it as going back to school—think of it as expanding your capabilities.

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