Career advice: Networking as a career

Premier 100 IT Leader Zack Hicks answers three questions on networking as a career choice

Zack Hicks
Zack Hicks of Toyota Motor Sales

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader
Zack Hicks
Title:
Vice president and CIO
Company: Toyota Motor Sales

Hicks is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering three questions about networking as a career choice. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

I just got a degree in computer engineering and plan to go into networking, database management and later security. Does this sound feasible, or should I just pick one? If the latter, which one should I pick? First, congratulations on your degree. At Toyota, I encourage my IT associates to rotate through our different technical and nontechnical roles. My path to CIO was by no means a straight line, but I found that the perspectives gained from both technical and nontechnical roles, working with the business, ultimately set me up for success as a CIO. I would encourage you to get as varied experience as you can. That being said, if you find that you have a passion for networking, database management or security, you can find great success in your career by becoming an expert in any of those areas.

And for readers currently in school, I cannot stress enough the importance of a summer internship, which provides exposure to real-life business processes and often gives an edge when applying for a full-time job.

I have a bachelor's in business administration and an A+ certification. Right now I am a network technician, but what I really do is basic help desk support with some network stuff on rare occasions. I would like to expand my expertise and skills in networking and security for a higher-paying job. Is this a reliable route to take? What certifications would you suggest? I've been thinking of getting my Network + but I've heard a lot of people say to get a CCNA instead. Networking is a top skill. Three areas of focus for networking would be wireless, WANs and security. With so many mobile devices coming into the corporate world, in addition to the movement to cloud computing, this is a great space.

I suggest the following network classes and certificates: A CCNA certification (in routing/switching, wireless and security) would be more specific than Network + admin classes and would give you more marketable skills. After that, I suggest you look into a CCNP, if you want to upgrade your network skills further, and a CISSP to round out your security knowledge and experience. Network and security roles are continuing to become more important in my organization. With Toyota Entune, most of our cars have amazing telematics features that require advanced networking services and hardened security. It takes very experienced individuals to provide these services.

I'm wondering whether a move into network support and administration would be a good hedge against outsourcing. I don't want to guess wrong, because I'll have to pay for my own training. Generally, a company's outsourcing strategy is based on the unique needs of the organization. What I have noticed among my peers is that skills such as networking, data/business intelligence and security are, more often than not, locally sourced, but it would be difficult to predict what your experience will be. For whichever area you choose to focus on, my advice would be to spend time understanding the emerging technologies in that space and think creatively as to how they can be applied to business. The ability to demonstrate this type of innovative thinking is highly valued.

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