IT Survivor

Imagine this: Without warning, you find yourself in an isolated place with only two pieces of paper (and perhaps an iPod, a BlackBerry or maybe an iPhone 3G). You find a desk and a virtual workstation, where the e-mails are already pouring in. Meanwhile, the phone is ringing and your calendar is filling up.

Where exactly are you? And what are those precious pieces of paper you're grasping? You're on "IT Island" — one of the newest enclaves in the corporate chain. The papers are a bachelor's degree (in almost any field) and a master's degree with a specialization in IT. You are now in the most real of reality events: "IT Survivor."

And with your master's in hand, you are part of a small group of specialists in the workforce with excellent chances for survival. Yes, this workforce segment has high turnover in management and high financial stress, as evidenced by recent budget trends. But at the same time, it's a segment with great ability to produce business value.

This last point — creation of business value with IT — is the key to survival on IT Island. It is also the key for sustainable success in a global economy.

In terms of business success and IT, it appears that even former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan agrees. In remarks he made in January 2000 about technology and the economy, he said, "Information technologies, by improving our real-time understanding of production processes and of the vagaries of consumer demand, are reducing the degree of uncertainty and, hence, risk."

In short, IT raises output per hour in the total economy principally by reducing hours worked on activities. But not all technologies, information or otherwise, increase productivity — that is, output per hour — by reducing the inputs necessary to produce existing products. Some new technologies are bringing about new goods and services whose value per hour of work is above average.

Howard Rubin, CEO of Rubin Worldwide
Howard Rubin

It is in this context that we can best understand the value of graduate education that specializes in IT and how the best of the best have defined their academic programs. Graduate IT education, by design, bridges technology and business and draws from the disciplines of strategy, technology and management.

This "bridging" is a mechanism by which business needs are linked to technology strategy and effective execution and by which technology opportunities can be channeled into business innovation. This form of interdependence is perhaps what Peter Weil and the MIT Center for Information Systems Research team describe as a more highly evolved business construct — the "IT savvy" organization that outperforms its nonsavvy peers.

Before the advent of graduate IT programs, people attained these important skills through apprenticeships or rare insight. Today, these skills can be taught in the classroom and reinforced through specialized studies, internships and "externships." In today's technology-based economy, the value of such knowledge and the ability to execute with it is priceless.

But back to the island ... and IT Survivor. That second piece of paper, the master's in IT, is the training credential to outwit, outplay and outlast. Use it well.

Howard Rubin is professor emeritus at City University of New York, CEO of Rubin Worldwide, a Gartner Inc. senior adviser and an MIT CISR research associate.

Next: Opinion:'s Tom Silver offers 4 ways to use your graduate degree in a job search.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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