Transitioning to a Tech Job
Technology jobs aren’t just for programmers.
As more companies realize the value of aligning information technology projects with business goals, employers are looking for people with solid business skills to fill certain roles in the information technology department.
Even in a tough labor market, IT is where the jobs are. The unemployment rate for technology jobs was 3.3 percent in June, compared with a 9.2 percent unemployment rate overall that month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In the most recent edition of its Occupational Outlook Handbook, the BLS said it expects IT employment to grow “much faster than the average” of all occupations through 2018.
As every industry relies on technology to improve everything from market share to customer relations, leveraging business skills into an IT position can help make employees more valuable to their organizations.
“We’re seeing some customers that are open to doing it as the role of IT becomes more strategically aligned to the business,” says Tania Lavin, market research manager at TekSystems, a technology staffing and services company. “It’s being driven by the inherent need for IT leaders to have business skills and to be connected to the business.”
Skills in Demand
According to a October 2010 TekSystems survey, 42 percent of IT decision makers cited the lack of business knowledge as the source of problems within IT projects. That’s one reason why the business analyst role, which acts as a bridge between IT and the business units, is becoming increasingly valuable.
Business analysts gather, analyze and interpret data, contribute to project reports and presentations, and act as a liaison between clients, customer service, information systems, and other departments.
“Anyone who is able to manipulate data and various data systems has a great opportunity in tech,” says Alice Hill, managing director of Dice.com, a career Web site for technology and engineering professionals.
Project management skills are also in high demand in IT departments. Project management can include negotiating with vendors, coordinating schedules, risk assessment and process management. Although these skills are not typically associated with IT, they’re essential for making sure technology projects are aligned with business goals.
“The project manager role is very crucial,” Hill says. “Somebody who has experience in goal setting, budgets, estimates could really do well in this. There have always been shortages for good project managers.”
Business analyst job postings on Dice.com up are up 25 percent from last year, while project management postings are up 26 percent.
“When you think about business analyst or project management positions, those are the easier skills for someone with business experience to break into the role of IT,” says Lavin. “Those are skills that require a balance between technology capabilities as well as more robust skills in business acumen, financial acumen, strategic thinking, and very good verbal and written communications capabilities.”
Diane Morello, managing vice president at technology research firm Gartner, says IT departments are also looking for workers fluent in data analytics, business intelligence, and forecasting because those employees know how to parse various streams of information to formulate a business strategy.
“All those types of analytics and business intelligence and business process — that becomes the language of an entire company, much more often than technology,” says Morello. “Information technology is moving much more out into the forefront of interactions directly with customers, clients, and supply chains. Many [executives] are looking for information to help them identify and understand the profitability of their products and services by various markets and geographies.”
Leveraging Your Expertise
When it comes to making the transition to IT, Morello suggests focusing on an organization’s individual business units and determining how you can apply your business skills.
“Instead of positioning this for what fits into the IT organization, think about how do I take my expertise — particularly if I’ve used it to drive new products and new markets — how do I take that and apply that elsewhere in the business,” Morello suggests.
While project management and business analysis don’t immediately suggest IT, Lavin notes that these roles can serve as a gateway to more traditional IT positions.
“Think about project management and business analysis as some of the low-hanging fruit,” she says. “You often see people in these types of roles move up in the ranks of IT and become CIOs and VPs and directors because they have that business acumen.”