Career advice: Do IT pros need to know about business?

Premier 100 IT Leader Juan Perez also answers questions on getting more funding for training and the pros and cons of being an IT specialist

Juan Perez
Juan Perez of UPS

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader
Juan Perez
Vice president, UPS Information Services
Company: UPS

Perez is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to

I will be finishing up my computer science degree over the next few months. I have several technical topics I want to sign up for, but I've been advised that I should give up some of them and take some general business courses instead. What do you think? In my experience, engineers and developers who have an understanding of general business practices and who get close to business processes provide great value to the organization. As you pursue management roles in IT in the future, it will become more critical to have a good understanding of the impact technology has on an organization's results. Having the ability to understand return on investment, total cost of ownership and the levers that help your company succeed can be effective tools in allocating IT investment and managing IT groups. So I think it would be beneficial to take some business courses as you complement your technical education. Accounting, financial management, organizational behavior and operations management are excellent candidates.

My company is stingy with training opportunities. I can come up with many arguments as to why this policy is bad, but I'm not a real good salesman. Any advice on how to present these arguments so they're persuasive and not just confrontational (my usual style, I'm afraid)? No need to be confrontational. As an IT professional, it is imperative that you that you keep up with your skills, especially in such a dynamic and constantly changing field. And looking at it from a competitive perspective, you can be sure that your competitors are finding ways to develop and recruit top talent to compete with your company. This has been my first argument every time I have requested support for training. I also like to categorize things in the form of return on investment, using the rationale that if I get trained on a particular area, I will be able to return the investment by doing ... . And lastly, it is important that you describe clearly the consequences of not providing training for the team. And there are many. In the end, your organization may still elect to defer training costs driven by a variety of business factors. But the key is to not give up. Keep asking relentlessly, without being confrontational.

I've been leading the entire IT operation of a small company for four years. (I've been in the field for nine.) I've been offered a job at a much larger outfit. The pay would be great, but I'd have to specialize. I'm torn. I really enjoy my current job, and the variety of the work has a lot to do with that. But I also want to keep moving in my career. What would you recommend? This is a tough but interesting question. What do you value more? Enjoying the variety of what you do or the opportunity to advance and grow in a larger organization? On the other hand, specializing in one field does not mean you cannot keep current in others. If you can manage your time and allocate time for self-development, you can still do both. Sometimes, in order to advance your career, you need to take some risks. You may think that specializing in one field may limit your enjoyment in the job, but I think this could be an initial step in finding other opportunities within the new company, especially since it is a larger organization.


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