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Don't flee from IT, career expert says

What does it take to put yourself on a successful IT career path? Matthew Moran, author of the new book "The IT Career Builder's Toolkit: A Complete Guide to Building Your Information Technology Career in Any Economy," offers some advice. Moran has served as a CIO, project manager and technology consultant. His background is in programming, network integration and automation and project development and management.

Matthew Moran

Matthew Moran

Is it a good time to get into IT again?
I don't think there hasn't been a good time, which is contrary to what people think. That's something I honestly believe. I've seen a lot of people make great strides over the last four or five years. The market wasn't as bad as the cries. There's a loud, vocal minority that struggles to get work. … Worldwide it's been a tougher time for everybody.

A lot of people are coming into the industry with a very unrealistic expectation of what it meant to build a career in technology. The expectation has to be that I go out and prove my worth and create value for my client or employer for an extended period of time, and I see advancement over that period of time as well. Can you offer some general IT career advice?

Don't fall under the assumption that all IT careers begin and end in an IT department.

Matthew Moran, author

Don't have a preconceived notion of what an IT career looks like -- some linear path that moves from end to end. … You can take several different paths to get the same results as someone else.

Don't fall under the assumption that all IT careers begin and end in an IT department. There are a lot of departmental-level IT folks. Departmental level or small business level technologists are valuable, and you're hitting a market that is generally under-serviced. Employers from 30 employees up to 200 really don't have huge IT departments, so they need someone who can wear a networking hat one day and a programming hat another day.

I'm a big believer in that small business market. From a career standpoint, you're not just one of 25 technologists running around. You are the person they go to. The scary part is you have to produce. What are the hottest skills to have?
Certainly, a good handle on some type of automation -- I mean from a programming standpoint. Sometimes it might be Microsoft Office-type automation. That's a great skill set because a lot of companies need that and don't get it.

I'm always approaching the technologists and saying they need business savvy or business acumen. Your technical skills advance more rapidly and get better overall if you have a strong understanding of business concepts and business practices and the way things work. Your technology becomes more business driven. It helps you produce better tools. How do you recommend that IT professional improve their business skills?
Find peers or mentors who are not technologists. Have some conversations about what the business is doing. Ask proactively. A lot of times technologists aren't included in meetings.

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Say I'd like to be involved in those meetings. Get involved in those higher-level strategic meetings. Find peers and mentors that are not technology related.

Don't focus entirely on reading technical material. Technologists feel this incredible anxiety of making sure that their technical skills are up to date. I am one. I program. I'm doing a SQL development project right now. I believe that your skills are enhanced through business understanding. Your technical skills advance faster when you're able to see how they're utilized and how they affect people. What would you say to someone who got out of IT because of the economic bust?
I guess there would be two things. One is when you were doing IT work, were you enjoying it? The wrong reason to enter any career is because you think there is quick money to be made. Get back into it with a change in perception. I'm going to be willing to work for opportunity. Certainly I'm not against people making money -- that's not the issue -- but having this perception that I'm going to put myself in a position to advance more rapidly.

Regardless of where the economy goes, you're responsible for your personal economy. You have to do the things that work for your career and analyze where the trouble was in getting the work. Were there really no jobs? In major metropolitan areas I have trouble believing that. What are the current prospects for IT careers?
Hitting up smaller market spaces. I'm a big believer in hand-carrying resumes into businesses. I don't wait for a job opening, I go in there and introduce myself. … You have to network your way into these places. Also, networking not with out-of-work technologists, but networking with other professionals. Giving time at a non-profit, for instance, you'll meet a lot of people who are pretty well known in the community.

Don't get caught up in I'm looking for 'X' title and 'X' position. You have to be a little more flexible. … Become highly proactive. That means I'm going to follow up with people, I'm going to call them back in three months or six months. If I'm really a producer in that area, I believe I can go into a job and separate myself from my peers by my production. If you're a C# programmer, don't think you have to get a C# job.

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An IT career path may vary. Continuous learning and staying relevant is a general pattern, though. But most jobs are now more technical and technology assisted.