IT's superheroes snag new skills

More work? Bring it on! Where some see crushing workloads, these IT workers see opportunities to snag new projects and new skills.

Business superhero
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Kevin Joyce is taking on tasks that aren't usually given to a network manager.

He's part of a committee to make sure that his employer, St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica, N.Y., is prepared for a disaster. And he recently volunteered to be the IT representative on another hospitalwide committee, even though he's not yet sure of the committee's focus.

Joyce says he believes he has to step up to ensure that the organization is successful and to help advance his own career.

"I think people recognize who's willing to take on extra projects, who's willing to volunteer," says Joyce, who wants to eventually move into management.

Joyce's situation isn't unique. Layoffs and hiring freezes have left many IT professionals with new tasks and additional responsibilities. While some might grumble about being overworked, the savvy ones are pushing past the negative vibes and learning to see opportunities in this rough economy. They're gaining new skills and raising their visibility as they take on roles that once would have gone to others.

"There is always opportunity in the midst of change in an organization. That's an important dynamic for people to know," says Karyl Innis, founder and CEO of The Innis Co., a Dallas-based career consulting firm.

Innis says the prospects for job growth are real, even if IT budgets are stressed and workloads are high. Companies still need to get on with technology projects, and employees who are willing to accept new responsibilities in order to get those projects done can advance their own careers in the process.

That's because these high-octane workers are able to build relationships, become experts in specific technologies and demonstrate leadership skills that they didn't have a chance to showcase during better economic times, Innis says.

Taking the Long View

This isn't about working more hours, Innis notes.

"It's about making somebody's footprint wider and deeper," she explains. "The people who are plotting for their future are those people who tend to look at things big-picture and work toward the specifics. They're likely to be asking, 'Can I learn something here that I can use tomorrow?' "

Many IT workers are asking themselves that question. In Computerworld's 2011 Salary Survey, 44% of the 4,852 IT professionals polled said that taking on new tasks in their current positions is the No. 1 way for them to advance their careers and earn more money.

Indeed, many IT workers are looking ahead to better opportunities: 40% of the respondents said that they expect to be promoted to a higher-level position five years from now.

Shannon Stoltz, a former techie who now works with IT departments as a consultant with Houston-based SheaKay Communications, says people who are capitalizing on opportunities in today's work environment will find themselves well positioned for advancement when the job market starts to expand.

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