Career advice: The usefulness of certifications and master's degrees

Ram Murthy

Title: Director of application systems

Company: Peace Corps, Washington

Murthy is this month’s guest Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about education, certifications, leadership and dealing with slackers. If you have a question you’d like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to and watch for this column each month.

Ram Murthy.jpg
Ram Murthy of the Peace Corps

Would an A+ certification in networking, along with a master's degree, be useful in moving one's career along? And is an online master's degrees worth much in the job market? I have heard that online degrees do not hold much weight. The IT field is continuously evolving to meet business needs. This implies that the IT knowledge worker must be always on top of technology and invest in continual learning. Getting A+ certification in networking with a master's degree in a related IT field does somewhat help, but it must be backed up with professional on-the-job skills and experience. With respect to online master's degrees, one from an accredited university does carry weight. In fact, in this network-centric world, online and self-paced educational opportunities to help you balance your professional and personal activities are becoming more common.

Remember, though, that while certifications and education can help you get the entry-level job, to move up, you will need to support your credentials with professional work experience.

I've been a contract .Net programmer for the past two years and have enjoyed the flexible working conditions and opportunity to work on varied projects. Recently, I was offered a full-time position at a major pharmaceutical firm. I'd like to suggest a “try before you buy” approach to the hiring manager for a three-month trial period. At the same time, I don't want to appear noncommittal. What do you advise? If you can seriously devote your time and effort to being a full-time employee, what are you losing by taking the job? Most employment contracts favor the employee, and if you perform well beyond the probationary period, you can rest peacefully and not worry about the next paycheck after the short-term contract is over. Nothing stops you from quitting a job that you don't like. Having said that, you probably will make less money as a full-time employee than as an hourly rate consultant, but you may find that the risks are much lower with full-time employment.

I'm a 12-year IT industry professional whose position was recently outsourced. I'm thinking about returning to school to obtain mobile application development training at a cost of about $6,000. Do you think it's worth the investment? Yes. And if finding funds for the training is an issue, check out the self-paced and free classes and code camps that vendors like Microsoft and IBM offer.

With end users these days expecting to have information available anytime, anywhere and by any means, skills in mobile technology and mobile application development will be widely sought. I would also suggest that your résumé should show support for your training and education with real-life app dev examples to get the attention of recruiters.

I have worked in Windows administration, networking and project management. At 38, I'm interested in moving into more of a leadership position, with the goal of one day becoming a CIO. What should my next step be? Glad to note your aspirations to become a CIO. First, realize that the CIO job is about strategic thinking and building relationships with the stakeholders of the company, and that it moves you out of the tactical role of IT administration. I would suggest you start building your core leadership skills — leading change, leading people, being results-driven, having business acumen in terms of finance and human capital, and building coalitions. There are several CIO boot camps that help you learn the basics of these leadership skills. Once you've developed these core skills, seize an opportunity within your current environment to demonstrate them. Lastly, you still need to have a technical edge on a broad level in terms of IT security, enterprise architecture and project/program management, but you should leave the deep technical skills to your smart subject-matter experts.

In 12 years in IT, I have always been frustrated, at whatever company I'm working for, by those colleagues who manage to do the least possible work. They are like Wally in the "Dilbert" comic strips, and management doesn't seem to catch on. I've never wanted to rat these people out, but as workloads increase because of smaller staffs, the frustration is mounting. (Why are the Wallys always the last to be laid off?) What would you advise? The basic problem involves visibility and awareness. Your management is completely blind on resource allocation and performance management. There should be better accountability. They need to institute weekly status reports and related communication tools on the work accomplished that will show who is responsible, accountable and producing the work.

As for you and the other non-Wallys, don't be modest about marketing yourself and your accomplishments. You might also need to employ creative communications to your customers and business units so the message circles back to your boss on who actually produces the work.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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