Career Watch

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader

Hap Cluff

Title: IT director

Organization: City of Norfolk, Va.

Cluff is this month's guest Premier 100 IT Leader, answering readers' questions about education choices and career directions. If you have a question that you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to and watch for this column each month.

Hap Cluff, IT director for the City of Norfolk, Va.

Hap Cluff, IT director for the City of Norfolk, Va.I'd like to jump-start my career with new certifications. Is e-learning viable, or should I go with classroom training? 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 calls for a college degree; 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.

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? 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.

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

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