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Tech careers: 3 ways to catch the wave

Feeling left behind? Here's how to join the IT party in progress and be happier at work this year.

April 8, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - For years, Nick Brattoli had what some would consider an enviable IT job: It was steady, wide-ranging and at times, downright cushy. Working for a nonprofit mental health care organization as a Web and SharePoint specialist, Brattoli helped build the corporate intranet, trained employees and tended to traditional hardware and network support. He was reasonably paid and had ample vacation time. And the work came in fits and starts, so there was plenty of downtime.

Brattoli was content, but he didn't feel challenged. "It was a nice place to work -- I got pay raises and decent projects, but I was stuck in terms of title and responsibility," says Brattoli, 28. So after three years at the post, Brattoli embarked on a meticulous, monthslong job search to find a new position in the healthcare field that would let him spread his wings. "I'm too young to be settling. I wanted to move toward leadership, and I really like learning. My old environment wasn't conducive to that."

Read the full report: Computerworld IT Salary Survey 2013

Brattoli's search landed him a post as a SharePoint implementation engineer at Medseek, a provider of patient engagement software based in Birmingham, Ala. Although it's a comparable position, he's working on large-scale, state-of-the art projects like electronic medical records, patient portals and analytics, and there's plenty of room for growth.

Brattoli's message to other IT professionals? "If you're not happy, now is the time to work on it," Brattoli says. "It's a good time for IT."

While unemployment is still high in many fields, that's not the case in IT, according to John Reed, senior executive director at Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm. In fact, Reed says, the IT hiring picture has been pretty rosy for 24 months, driven by the explosion of new technologies, such as big data, cloud computing and mobile, and by sweeping changes in the economy, such as those brought about by healthcare reform.

"IT is really in a renaissance right now," Reed says. "For several years, IT was in a quiet period in terms of innovation. Now, IT is being viewed for its potential to revolutionize a company, and it's a cool place to be."

Like Brattoli, many of the 4,251 IT professionals who participated in the 27th annual Computerworld Salary Survey are riding that upswing, using the momentum to switch companies or change positions in their quest to find deeper career satisfaction. Here's how to join them on that journey.

Be of service to the business

Last October, Joe Scheible took a full-time job as a disaster recovery project manager at AIG after spending nearly 30 years working as an IT contractor -- at AIG and elsewhere. Scheible, who was diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year, felt extremely loyal to AIG, which had held his contracting post open during his illness.

When AIG offered him a full-time position, he was quick to get on board. The good salary and generous benefits package were big draws, but what really sealed the deal were the chance to work with data center professionals around the globe and AIG's commitment to technology. "AIG places a huge degree of emphasis on IT and how it can be used to enhance the business," Scheible says.

In Jeff Fandl's experience, helping a business achieve its core objectives is key to long-term career happiness and success in IT. "When you start to get midlevel or senior in your career, you've got to get out from behind the desk and talk with business users," says Fandl, who in December 2012 took a job as director of IT infrastructure at Sanare, a maker of diabetes management products. "You need to understand what their pain points are and how you can enable them to solve their problems." Fandl says he previously did a stint at an IT outsourcing company, where he honed the client service and business skills that readied him for his next leap.

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