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Do you have what it takes to make it in IT management?

The IT job market is the worst anyone can remember. Unemployment numbers are still going up, bonuses are still dropping, salaries are going nowhere fast and technical recruiters seem to have all but disappeared. Might as well throw in the towel at any chance for getting into management, right? Not on your life. This is the best time of all to take action on your career, groom yourself for a new management post, or aspire to a higher one.

Quite simply, it's in a bad economy that you have the time to actually do something about your career. This is the time to seek out training, go back to school or target key certifications. Any of these steps will put you in better standing for the next management post that opens up -- and there will be openings. If you want to be one of the chosen few considered for future management opportunities, now is the time to start laying the groundwork.

To get started, give careful thought to where you want to go in your career -- not with just the next job description, but the one after that. Consider the best step toward that goal, and what you need to do to take that step.

Assess where your current strengths are and where your weaknesses lie. Look at not only your professional skills, but also your personal traits. If you're like most IT professionals, you probably have a good grasp of the technologies at your company. But you probably need polish in the areas of communication, public speaking, writing,

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team-building, mentoring, conflict-resolution and relationship building.

None of the things on this list are technology related. But to get into and succeed in IT management, it's not the technology skills you need to invest in -- it's management and communication skills. IT managers need to speak the language of business and get things done through others. The higher up in IT management you want to go, the more fluent you need to be in the language of business and the more relationships you will have to master. And as you rise in IT management, it is the business skills more than the technology skills that will make you successful

That lesson isn't lost on Geri Padilla, a network specialist with the Arizona Department of Gaming. Padilla monitors the network that tracks gaming (gambling) machines at the state's 17 tribal casinos. She is good at her job, according to her boss, but she has set her sights on a management job.

Padilla knows that a big push is on among the local tribes to build more, and expand existing, casinos. She knows that means more network demands, more IT professionals, and more managers to supervise them. So she has already gone back to school to get an advance degree, to get a jump on her competition for a new management job.

To begin her effort, Padilla did some soul searching on what her skills were and weren't. She decided her strengths were all on the technology side, but her people skills needed work. Most importantly, she has worked alone in her office for much of the duration of her current job, and she has little experience with working in teams. Padilla decided the best way to get the skills she lacked was to go back to school, and concentrate on management and business skills.

"A master's degree will definitely help me get my foot in the door," Padilla said. "I've got the technology background. What I really wanted to focus on was polishing my communication and writing skills, so I can communicate on a management level."

Padilla's boss couldn't agree more with her strategy. Department of Gaming CIO John Briney did the same thing six years ago, returning to school for his master's degree. But instead of concentrating in IT, he chose an MBA program that integrated technology into a traditional business program. The result: upon graduation he received numerous job offers, including the CIO spot he now holds.

"The biggest benefit to me was understanding the larger objectives of the company -- the dynamics, the politics and the technologies that are being deployed or that we are attempting to deploy," Briney said. "Since learning more about the business, I'm better able to understand the goals of the organization and align the technologies to that."

About the author: Weldon is a business writer and IT staffing expert in Stoneham, MA. You can contact him at Dweldon646@aol.com.

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This was first published in March 2003

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