Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader: Hap Cluff

Hap Cluff

Title:IT director

Organization:City of Norfolk, Va.

Premier 100 IT Leader, 2006

Cluff is this month's guest Premier 100 IT Leader, answering readers' questions about tracking information security regulations, certifications and career directions. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com and watch for this column each month.

What is the most reliable way to track the movement in new information security regulations? -- J.A.

Obviously, tracking the literature and subscribing to security industry push e-mails are important. However, it is the fellowship of trusted peers that really makes it possible to stay on top of things. I attend a monthly breakfast meeting of IT directors from all the cities and counties in Virginia, and I belong to a national consortium whose membership is limited to 65 IT directors from cities with populations of more than 100,000. The members of these groups are committed to engage with each other via very active e-mail list services. Whatever issue we come up against, it's fairly certain that at least one of our members has encountered it already and perhaps even dealt with it. I encourage you to get involved with a trusted group such as these for your specific industry or specialty.

I'd like to jump-start my career with new certifications. Is e-learning viable, or should I go with classroom training? -- K.H.

Certifications are nice and sometimes required for certain technical positions. When I hire people, however, certifications aren't "qualifiers." In fact, none of the job descriptions for my IT shop call for college degrees; instead, they all stipulate "college degree or equivalent related experience." More and more, we are looking at "talent" rather than skills and knowledge. We can develop skills and teach knowledge, but someone who isn't inclined to be a technologist isn't going to learn to be one. These are the kinds of things I advise you to express on your resume. Obviously, one way to make the talent point is with certifications in your area of interest. I couldn't care less where or how you attained them.

Which is more valuable: fresh certifications without a current bachelor's degree, or a bachelor's degree in a computer-relevant field that is five or more years old? -- J.W.

Neither. I'm going to call your references and verify that you are who you say you are and that you can do what you say you can do. Of course, it may be necessary to front-load your resume with key certifications to move past the screening process and get the opportunity for the interview in the first place. As for my philosophy on hiring, see my answer to K.H. above.

I am graduating from an IT management program in Toronto and looking for my first job. So far, I have not been getting a response. Any suggestions on finding entry-level work in IT? -- M.A.

Offer to work for free in a local municipal or school IT shop. Then put your head down and work your tail off. Nothing answers the question of ability like previous experience.

With the advent of service-oriented architecture and an emphasis on better understanding business processes, is it likely that we could see a greater demand for business analysts and IT relationship managers? -- R.T.

I have created a separate bureau in the IT department specifically to focus on business process automation. The area of process automation is the single greatest unmet need in all of business and government. Go after it with a vengeance! The problem is that most CEOs don't get it yet. Those who do are leading successful businesses that will become great organizations while others flounder and eventually fail.

The only place with people qualified in both technology and business processes is the IT shop. Since every kind of business is now a "technology" business, companies will most likely be run by business process management experts from IT.

I have 10-plus years of experience in databases (DBA, support, etc.). I have worked on ERP, CRM and other projects and have more than three years in SAP environments. With outsourcing and cost-cutting so prevalent today, should I get more experience in SAP plus databases or concentrate purely on databases or something else? -- G.S.

The most important thing is to choose one thing -- it doesn't matter what. None of the things you are experienced in is likely to go away anytime soon. Don't fret over it any longer. Just decide right this second. It's that easy. By choosing, you accomplish two things: You learn to trust your "natural knowing," and you know exactly what to do next. As long as you are vacillating, you are like a sailboat with no wind.

Choosing one thing doesn't mean you can't change your mind later if you discover that the direction you chose isn't what you expected it to be. It just means that you are progressing all the time.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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