Educating tomorrow's IT managers

I had the distinct pleasure of teaching a graduate IT class at Harvard last week. However, in the end, I was the one who got the real education.

My presentation centered around showing the grad students what has changed in the IT industry since I had taken the course, as part of Harvard's Extension school, five years earlier. I also explained what technologies and trends they should pay careful attention to as they continue their education.

The biggest change, I told them, is in the integration of IT into every nook and cranny of an organization. IT acts as a consultant for all business units in determining how best to use the technology to achieve objectives. However, IT today also has to accept that the user is a bit more savvy and will want a say in the applications and hardware implemented throughout the organization. IT managers are not only excellent network architects and engineers, they are also businesspeople who can bring disparate opinions to consensus.

As I made my way through the presentation and they began to ask questions, I realized that these folks will be launched into a much different world than their peers were a few years earlier.

They had a patience for learning that probably didn't exist in 2000. The promise of insane stock options, unlimited spa services and high-end vehicles has gone by the wayside, so these students will have to base their job decisions on traditional values such as advancement potential, base salary and work challenges. They will also have to figure out a way to balance their work and personal lives - more so than their predecessors.

One person asked me about pursuing a master's degree vs. certification. I almost fell over. It seems to me that a master's degree from Harvard would open up a lot more doors than certification. But after I thought about it for a while, I realized that two years ago, people were dropping out of college early to take advantage of all the nuttiness in the dot-com industry. Time spent in college was time away from the big payoff from start-ups. And recruiters didn't care whether you finished your degree; they needed warm bodies in high-level positions right away. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a graduate-level education accounted for not much more than pursuing a series of certifications.

Today, though, there is time to finish that degree. The industry has settled down a bit and those who are rushing through their education are not finding as open a hiring market. Having that degree does open doors, and recruiters want to see what education you've accrued. Especially since many of them got burned on the inexperience of their previous choices.

Finally, the market has normalized to where comparing certification to a master's degree is again apples and oranges.

They achieve different goals. One does not necessarily negate the other, depending on the position you are seeking. And completing your college education is bound to reap great rewards when you enter the job market.

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