Transferable skills for IT pros: Change your job

Computerworld Canada – IT professionals who find themselves out of work amid the global economic recession could wind up working as stock equity analysts, insurance underwriters or health-care administrators, according to the author of a recent book on alternative technology career paths.

A former IT executive with companies such as GE and IBM, Janice Weinberg offers 20 different options for IT managers and CIOs who want to change gears in Debugging Your Information Technology Career, published by Elegant Fix Press. Each chapter also includes a "recession resistance" chapter that examines how vulnerable various jobs are to economic downturns, and what executives can do to ride out the bad times.

Weinberg, a consultant based in Westport, Conn., said she first started thinking about the book around 2004, when the outsourcing of traditional IT functions in corporate enterprises was creating widespread fear and uncertainty among technology professionals, particularly in the U.S. At the time, she said there weren't a lot of options offered to those affected.

"What I did see -- which is what disturbed me -- is IT professionals taking 180-degree career changes because of their predicament," she said, citing IT professionals she knew who became teachers, nurse's aides or entered the culinary arts. "I looked at these dramatic changes and I could not understand why I'm not reading about the ways that people who have invested a lot of time, energy and money in the computer-related disciplines wouldn't try to leverage their knowledge and using it as an asset to enter and succeed in alternative fields."

Weinberg said some of the options her book offers, such as a health-care administrator, might seem out of left field, but she points out that with the interest in physician order-entry and the development of medication error-detection systems, the transferable skills are there. Some of her alternatives, such as stock or equity analyst, may require IT managers to go back for their MBA, but 11 out of the 20 options involve a more natural move, she said.

"Think about someone who has been network security manager or administrator. Well, one of the hot areas in insurance these days is cyber-liability insurance because of the exposure companies have to external and internal forces compromising data. One could make a transition which is highly transferable."

Similarly, she said, software engineers can make the move to product managers at a company specializing in the same kind of software. Starting with the business function they impact the most, such as marketing, might be a good first step in identifying the right skills.

John Sulja, who until recently was vice-president of IT operations at Toronto-based life sciences company MDS Inc., is among those looking for a new position. So far, he said the most unusual job he considered was becoming a research analyst at a firm like Gartner.

"From an industry and business development perspective, most of my recent roles have all very much been back office types of roles: how to make a company run more effectively, take out costs, do things better," he said. "Early on in my career, though, I was more externally focused, looking at solutions for customers in the logistics space. Now I'm trying to see how can I take that early experience, put it together with the health and life sciences background I've gained . . . and go work for a smaller company."

Toronto-based online job site Workopolis on Monday published a poll which said nearly a quarter of Canadians are considering a job change. Patrick Sullivan, the firm's president, said that doesn't mean IT managers will exit the technology field entirely.

"I think what people tend to do is look slightly farther afield at industries with more stability," he said. "Health care, for example, is always hiring. People tend to maintain the skills they've developed but use them in an easily transferable way."

Those who haven't been laid off might still be thinking about career changes, but not necessarily a new job, Sullivan said. They might look online for advice about how to write their resume or to search for a job. Weinberg said she expects to see the same trend, particularly among IT workers.

"It's a very intense kind of work in terms of deadlines, time-critical projects, a lot of overtime, which you don't necessarily see in a lot of fields," she said. "A lot of IT people, even if they were not forced to look for alternatives, I think they would be receptive to alternatives that would allow them to capitalize on their knowledge."

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