Wanted: Techies with business knowledge. Others need not apply.

If you are in any type of IT role that relates to, or works with, anyone on the business side of your company, then more than ever before, industries-specific knowledge is required when trying to find a job. Jobs that fall into this category include, but are not limited to, Business Analysts, Project Managers, Software Testers, Programmers, Website Designers, Trainers, and CIOs.

Starting at the top, the CIO role has been evolving for some time, from being “Head Techie” to “Corporate Executive who happens to be running IT”. This is best illustrated by the changing view of IT within companies from Information Technology (IT) to Business Technology (BT). Yes, the technology group has matured as an organizational entity from the new and exciting world of high tech to an internal business function like Finance and Human Resources.

This pressure at the CIO level to personally be more business savvy is also, rightly so, finding its way down the IT food chain and to all lower organizational levels. I said “rightly so” because an IT organization exists to serve the business that funds it. That said, logic dictates that the better those within IT understand the business they serve, the better they can provide service and work with their business counterparts.

At the individual contributor level, business knowledge is crucial for many reasons, including the following:

• Industry specific laws, rules, regulations, and procedures that must be followed • The wide variety of industry oriented application software, such as equity trading systems within financial services and patient records within health care • The array of industry specific acronyms, terms, and slang that must be known in order to understand what people are talking about

Given this magnitude of required knowledge, it’s much easier and more efficient for managers to hire someone with a background in their industry. The reason is that this knowledge drastically reduces the amount of training needed to bring a new employee up to speed.

This hiring reality brings with it two important lessons. The first lesson is for those just beginning their IT career. This lesson is to choose your industry wisely, because as your specific industry knowledge and experience increases, the harder it will be for you to change industries. Experience and success are a funny thing. When you begin your career you say to yourself that if you work hard you can become a “This”, whatever “This” happens to be, a Project Manager, a lead Programmer, a CIO, or a whatever you aspire to be. Then you wake up one day and you are a “This”. When this day comes, many years into a successful career, it becomes very hard to be anything else.

The second lesson is for people of all organizational levels. If you want to get into a new industry, do your homework and do your best to learn the industry from the outside.

• Do self-study on your own via the internet. • Take a class or two at a local college. • Take online via a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) from a major university like MIT or Penn State, they’re free. • Start attending local professional association meetings and conferences related to your want-to-be-in industry.

This industry study is certainly not as good as experience working in the industry, but it provides you some knowledge, shows your commitment to the industry, to potential employers, and helps you develop contacts within that industry.

In closing, if you don’t do any or all of the above activities, you may get lucky, but if you don’t, you will become caught in a classic dilemma. You can’t get a job in the industry because you don’t have any industry experience and you can’t get any industry experience because you can’t get a job. This loop can be enormously frustrating, but with hard work and a little bit of luck, you will eventually find your way in.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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