Career advice: Promising directions for a tech career

Premier 100 IT Leader Dave Ballai also answers a question on getting a master's degree

Dave Ballai
Dave Ballai of Reed Technology & Information Services

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader
Dave Ballai
CIO and vice president of commercial solutions
Company: Reed Technology & Information Services

Ballai is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about what directions a new graduate and a veteran of software development should take their careers. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to

I recently earned a bachelor's degree in computer science. What technology area looks most promising for the future? First, congratulations on investing the time to earn that degree, it is such an important and relevant credential in building your career.

Among the many white-hot areas, the one I find most promising is the tremendous push into analytics-driven decision-making generated by the ever-growing availability of big data. Today, we all work in content-rich environments where information sets of almost endless combinations are being developed to deliver strategic value. This suggests a strong need for data scientists, developers, analysts and related technologists who can help organizations build and work with analytics-driven tools.

Of the many other options, one involves a persistently evolving and mission-critical challenge for government and commercial entities: the delivery of high levels of system and data security. We've all seen bad behavior in system intrusion and the effect of that activity, and the problem is unfortunately only growing. This suggests that information and system security professionals will continue to be in demand for many years to come.

I am focused on becoming a business/technology leader, and I think a master's degree will help with my goal. Would an MBA or an MIS be of more help? Great question. As for the answer, of course it depends. If your passions are technology first and leading people second, then I'd recommend the MIS degree. However, if your longer-term goal is to become a senior leader with a broader responsibility for people and the business, then an MBA is more relevant. In this regard, it is critical that you develop a deep understanding of the mechanics of business and managing and motivating teams in conjunction with pacing your learning in the technology arena.

As you grow toward senior leadership levels, the work increasingly becomes focused on designing strategy and overseeing execution rather than understanding the thorny technical details of adopting the most recent emerging technologies. The best leaders in any discipline understand that success ultimately comes from the hard work of people acting as a team. If you decide on the MBA, remember that, while you will need to maintain close awareness and expertise in the technical disciplines of your field, you should also be honing your management skills if you want to advance in the organization hierarchy. The MBA ensures exposure to business disciplines that are critical to your developing a holistic view of business. You should also consider stepping into a nontechnical management role for a period of time to help you to refine your capacity to lead.

After more than 20 years in software development, I'm thinking it might be time to move on. What are the hottest areas in IT these days? Twenty years in software development is quite an accomplishment! This suggests that you've watched the evolution of technology and have witnessed and contributed in ways that should now offer you a very strong method to evaluate your options.

Answering your question requires a bit of understanding of the range of your software-centered skills, so my first reaction is to suggest that you likely already have an answer to the question based on what you enjoy most. I'm inclined to think that the answer to your question should start with an evaluation of your passions first and how they align with real or perceived hot technology areas. While there are plenty of articles emphasizing trends in BYOD, security, predictive analytics, SharePoint, cloud computing, social networking and many more, take the time to consider your interests first. By way of example; in my work with CIOs in the technology community, I'm often asked to help those in transition. The conversation typically starts by asking, "If you could work anywhere or for anyone, who might that be?" We then discuss how to move toward that objective. Similarly here, are you pursuing a technology simply because it is the current fad, or can you really see yourself working with it for the next 20 years?


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