Career Watch

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader: Marc West
Senior vice president and CIO

Company: H&R Block Inc., Kansas City, Mo.

West is this month's guest Premier 100 IT Leader, answering readers' questions about innovation, skills in the 21st century, getting started in IT and more. 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.

Marc West

Marc West

What are employer expectations for technical professionals in the 21st century? By that, I'm referring to skills as well as anything else that employers might be expecting, like degrees. Technology professionals need to offer expertise beyond core technical skills for continued development opportunities. Think of the challenge as aligning your "how" skills (how to build, operate, scale) with the "what" (the things the business cares about). Certifications offer some value, but only up to a point.

Converging the "how" and the "what" requires you to reach out to start the conversation with your business partners. The best way I know of is to reach out at the peer level and walk a mile in another person's shoes. It is amazing what you can learn and influence through simple conversation. Buy lunch for a peer on the business side and discuss what he does and how things can be better.

I got a bachelor's degree in computer information systems three years ago, and I haven't been able to find a job in IT yet. Right now, I'm working on my Oracle DBA certification. Please tell me what I need to do to get a database administrator's job. A degree is an important measure of skill and value but not the single factor that lands an IT job. If your goal is to be an Oracle DBA, you might want to consider taking another path, such as programming or operations, as an entry point and working your way over to the DBA career path. Landing a DBA job based on certification alone is challenging - you'll need some other IT or analyst skills base to attract attention to your resume. Another DBA path that might work is to focus on other databases, such as MySQL or SQL Server, and consider smaller companies that are seeking skills beyond Oracle as an entry point. Having Oracle DBA certification is more valuable if you can demonstrate broader database skills, such as data modeling or performance analysis.

I have 12 years of experience in IT support and support management but am confused. With so many avenues in IT now, I'm not sure where to specialize. Any tips on what someone with my experience should focus on? The core question I'd ask is, "What do I want to do?" and work back from that point. At your experience level, specialization carries some risks, so be careful! Being seen as the go-to person for a specific area is great until that technology either changes or is commoditized. Assess your personal -- not technical -- strengths and build a development plan that leverages those as the primary focus.

Focus on the more valuable aspects of technology skills that will stand the test of time. Focusing on a specific aspect, like a technology stack, is like accomplishing a project -- valuable but not enduring. Get the strategy right (your core skills), and the implementation (specialization and technical) will follow.

The Numbers

Fifty-nine percent of U.S. employees think that telecommuting at least part of the time is the ideal work situation. That includes 21% who said they would just as soon work at home all the time. But despite that strong show of support for telework, 83% said it's best to be in the office for meetings, because face-to-face encounters are the most effective. And for many workers, telecommuting is just a dream: Only 29% of all workers work from home more than once a week.

Source: Hudson survey of 1,911 U.S. workers, July 2006

Is Your Future in India?

Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. and Infosys Technologies Ltd., two large Indian technology firms, are increasingly scouring the world for employees. Some of Tata's and Infosys' U.S. hires work in the U.S. and other Western countries, but many can be found in the companies' facilities in Bangalore and other Indian cities. John McCarthy, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., told The Boston Globe in May that there are now more than 10,000 U.S. expatriates working in India for Indian IT consultancies and other outsourcing companies. Few tech companies are growing as fast as the two Indian giants.














Source: The Boston Globe, May 2006

50+ Workers Loom Large in Retention Policies

Retaining older workers will be a key challenge for companies in coming years, says John Venator, president and CEO of the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). In a column posted on Comp uterworld. com last month (" 'Perfect Storm' on Horizon for U.S. Labor Market," July 10), Venator notes that more than 1.5 million new computer- and IT-related job openings will be created over the next six years, but the U.S. will have only half that many qualified graduates as a result of the declining number of students enrolling in math and science courses.

CompTIA and nearly two dozen other organizations are working with AARP in the Alliance for an Experienced Workforce, whose mission is to help employers understand, plan for and create workplaces that successfully engage workers over the age of 50 and utilize their skills.

As Venator writes, "Employers that fail to attract and keep the 50-and-over workforce lose a wealth of experience, skills and knowledge that these employees have gained by performing work at each rung of the career ladder. They risk losing core competencies, in-house expertise and mentors for future talent."

He cites an AARP survey of 2,000 workers age 50 to 70 that found that respect from employers, flexible work options, opportunities for training and new experiences, and competitive health care and retirement benefits were the issues identified as most important to the majority of older workers.

Page compiled by Jamie Eckle.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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