IT Career JumpStart

Jun 6 2009   5:54PM GMT

Another Answer to an Age-Old Question

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’ll kick off this blog with a snippet of self-disclosure. I was on the masthead at Certification Magazine from 1999 until 2007 as a contributing editor and then as technology editor. During the glory days from 1999 to 2003 or so, the magazine was often as thick as PC Magazine or PC World (in the world of print magazine, a “thicker book” equates to more advertising sold, which means more revenue, and is a much-desired state of affairs). Alas, I ended my association in 2007 when it became apparent that the 2008 freelance budget couldn’t even match the per-word rate for what I received for my first-ever published magazine story back in 1986. Simply put, they either couldn’t afford me any more, or I wasn’t willing to work that cheaply. That’s when we parted ways, but with good feelings on both sides.

I still drop in on CertMag from time to time, and continue to find it a useful source of information, news, and human interest stories for IT professionals interested in adult or continuing education, career development, and especially IT certification. That’s why I read Deanna Hartley’s June 2006 story “Academic Background Trumps All at Minnesota IT Agency” with great interest in seeking out grist for today’s blog.

As I field questions from prospective and active IT works, one of the most frequently recurring queries might be paraphrased as any one of the following, with countless variations on these themes:

  • What’s better: a degree or an IT certification?
  • What’s better: IT certification or solid on-the-job experience?
  • What’s better: a degree or on-the-job experience?

My usual answer to the two-factor version of this question is “Both,” or “All” for the three-factor version. Let’s face it: most employers want well-rounded candidates with the best possible combination of all positive factors. They don’t play the “If I had to choose one…” game either happily or willingly.

Hartley’s June story in CertMag tells an interesting take on this tale. She interviews Christopher Buse, who’s the Chief Security Officer in the Office of Enterprise Technology for the State of Minnesota, who opines in no uncertain terms that a strong academic background sets the foundation for an equally strong career in information technology.  He believes a degree in computer science or MIS is a great place to start, and that some experience in accounting or finance brings a real-world understanding of how financial systems and budgeting play  into making most effective use of information technology. He also stresses the importance of key soft skills, such as writing and communication ability, to helping entry-level workers advance up the career ladder. He also looks for key certifications, and for individuals who are active in professional IT societies who give something of themselves back to the profession.

It’s a fascinating read, full of useful information, and well worth checking out. It’s as good an answer as I’ve ever seen anywhere to some of the most evergreen and important career advice questions around. Enjoy!

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  • Ed Tittel
    Dear Janec: It is clear that an increasing number of educational institutions are starting to understand that offering IT certifications along with degrees is a good idea, and good business for them because it increases their opportunities to serve (and collect fees from) students. I'm not sure that your posting isn't a covert ad, however, so let me also observe that CollegeAmerica looks more like an ITT or a University of Phoenix kind of program, than a more prestigious academic program from leading state colleges and universities, and private institutions. My favorite recommendation for the financially challenged--and who isn't nowadays?--is to point them at local community colleges, where the same kinds of offerings are usually available at incredibly reasonable prices. Thanks for posting nevertheless. --Ed--
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