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Don Burleson Blog 







Leveraging your skills in a tough job market
May 16, 2002 - Donald Burleson


Beginning with the recession of 2001, we have seen a huge shakeout among the ranks of computer professionals.  While computing and information technology continue to have the highest industry demand within the United States, we see an overabundance of marginal information technology professionals scrambling to find jobs in a very tight job market.

While the IT job market may significantly improve within 2002, it is very interesting to note that the shakeout is quite isolated to the lower ranks of IT professionals.  For example, among the ranks of the H1B visa computer consultants, we see a huge decline in demand, and thousands of foreign IT professionals are being forced to return to their country of origin.  For those IT professionals who reside in the United States, we find a similar type of trend, whereby those people with marginal skills and highly-focused skill sets are finding it difficult to find employment. This article will take look at this phenomenon and explore some ways that IT professionals can enhance their presence within the job market. 

 So, why are the cheaper and less experienced IT professionals out of work, while the more experienced IT people working? To understand this, it is important to take a historical perspective. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming a computer scientist was no trivial matter.  The Computer Science profession was taught as a division of electrical engineering, and those individuals were good enough to be admitted to the colleges of computer science were those individuals who had demonstrable skills and aptitude within the computer science arena. 

The explosive growth and demand for information systems professionals throughout the 1970s and '80s change this dramatically, and this opened-up the market to those people without degrees in engineering and computer science to enter the IT market as developers and programmers. 

 Today we see a clear two-tiered employment hierarchy with that the information technology arena.  On the high end, we see those IT professionals with extensive training in software engineering, informatics, Oracle database administration, and UNIX system administration remaining in very high demand, while IT professionals with less community college or technical school backgrounds are having a tough time finding employment.

 While it is very depressing for IT professionals to find themselves unemployable as a result of the recession, it's important to note that there are active steps that can be taken order to reconfigure and enhance their careers.  While none of these solutions are quick fixes, many savvy IT professionals are undertaking the work necessary in order to enhance their marketability within the IT industry.  These career enhancement efforts generally fallen to several areas.  These include getting recognized certifications, getting a theoretical background in computer science, learning business administration, and honing technical skills in hot technologies.

 Computing certifications

 Many of the old-timers within the information technology arena rarely bother to get certifications such as an MSCE, CAN or OCP.  This is because their resumes demonstrate enough real-world experience to allow them to easily get jobs within the open market.  However, for those entry-level IT professionals, being a certified Oracle professional, CNA or MSCE can often help open the doors to an entry-level position.

 Theoretical computer science

 One of the shortcomings of many of the underemployed IT professional is that there are only trained in a very specific technical skill set.  Those IT professionals who have remained recession-proof tend to be those who have a very deep and broad background within theoretical computer science.  These individuals generally have degrees in electrical engineering or computer science from 4-year universities, and possess a very broad knowledge about internal algorithm design, data structure management, language theory, and other theoretical areas which may appear to have no direct application to the job market.  However, what many lower-level IT professionals fail to realize that, taken together, these theoretical areas build a foundation for the seasoned IT professionals to very quickly apply their theoretical knowledge to real-world situations.

 Business Administration

 Another hallmark of the recession-proof IT individual is a background in business administration.  Those IT professionals who can combine their computer science skills with knowledge of accounting, finance, marketing, and international management generally find themselves in much higher demand than those individuals who rely solely on a specific technical skill in order to find employment.  Many of the individuals who are in high demand as developers tend to have degrees in business administration and management from the accredited business schools.  At this point it's important to note that there's a big difference between a fully-accredited business school, and those small business schools that falsely claim to be fully accredited.

 The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the only recognized accrediting body of business schools, and is the accrediting body used by the Ivy League schools such as Harvard Yale, and most State universities.  Those IT professionals who receive business degrees through AACSB colleges will find themselves in much higher demand than those individuals who attended business schools with lesser certifications.

 Honing your technical skills

 Another area to improve marketability is by improving hard skills in highly technical programming areas.  This might take the form off becoming a self-taught C++ expert, an expert in J2EE, an expert on server side JavaBeans, and so on.  With the technology of the 21st century, it's possible for the IT professional to self-teach themselves in these very marketable technologies.  From a hiring point of view, the IT manager is more interested in hiring the candidate with demonstrable ability to perform the job, and having demonstrable skills will dramatically improve their potential to be hired within an open marketplace.


 While these techniques will not ensure employment for all IT professionals, it's important to remember that those people who distinguish themselves with than the IT arena tend to be those who have the highest and most consistent demand within the job market.

 Employers recognize that those individuals who take the time to get a four-year degree in computer science, those individuals who take the time to get a background in business administration, and those employees to take the time to get certification and self-train in the hottest technologies tend to be those individuals who have made a commitment to making IT a lifetime career.  Hence, these individuals tend to have a much higher demand within the marketplace and tend to be far more recession-proof than those individuals who are trained exclusively within a single skills set.




Burleson is the American Team

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