Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader: Wendell Fox

Wendell Fox

Title: Senior vice president, North American Information Resources Field Services

Company: Marriott International Inc.

Fox is this month's guest Premier 100 IT Leader, answering readers' questions about skills enhancement and project management. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com and watch for this column online each month.

It seems that IT workers 50 and older are having a more difficult time finding IT jobs. What can these workers do to ensure that they have the skills, experience and education for future opportunities? In my own case, I would like to work another five to 10 years before retirement. -- D.S.

IT professionals are faced with an ever-increasing pace of change, with the two biggest drivers being Moore's Law and globalization. A first step to keeping your technical and other skills current (and continuing to be an attractive resource in the job market) is to learn everything you can about your business, paying particular attention to the vision that your company's leaders are articulating. Then ask how the IT department is enabling that vision - what are the company's current technologies, and how are they being used? What are the IT organization's short- and long-term strategies to meet the business's needs? Do your strengths fit into these strategies?

Use this information to create your own development plan, and remain current in the technologies and business processes that are important to your company. For those individuals not currently working, the process is similar. Rather than looking internally, look more broadly to identify the current and future technologies being used to enable the industry you're interested in, and build your plan accordingly.

I also can't say enough about reading. Read industry and trade publications to learn how innovative companies are using technology to create competitive advantage. Learn about hot skills as well as technology issues that may be presenting broad challenges across organizations, like security is today. Armed with this information, focus on areas that are both appealing to you and in high demand.

Another positive consideration for those of us over 50 is workforce demographics. The workforce in America and other industrialized nations is aging. As baby boomers age, companies will look for ways to retain their institutional knowledge. To keep older workers engaged, many companies are offering flexible work schedules, opportunities for remote work, and part-time and contract options. In looking for employment, you may want to keep these nontraditional opportunities in mind.

I'm just starting my career in IT. Other than programming, what's a good IT job to start with? -- C.K.

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Look for jobs that will provide opportunities to learn about your business and industry. Regardless of your functional area, the more you know about the business you are in, the better equipped you will be to help your company leverage technology to achieve its goals.

Programming is a good place to start, as are corporate help desk support and systems administration. In large companies, working in a corporate data center can provide individuals with the opportunity to learn, observe and perhaps work in many different jobs within IT.

For an individual just starting an IT career, having the opportunity to see and try many different roles might lead to a particularly exciting job and, eventually, specialization. Based on my experience, unless a person already has passion for a specific job or field of expertise, he should be willing to try many different things and learn new skills.

I have more than six years of experience in sales and marketing of IT engineering products and services and have also been involved in project management and requirements-gathering activities. An injury sidelined me for 18 months, but I have since recovered and look forward to resuming regular employment. My interests are project management, business analysis, sales and marketing. Would a certification in project management be helpful to me, and will this gap in my employment be an obstacle for me? -- S.D.

It is my experience that there has never been a surplus of really great project managers. I also believe that project management is a truly portable skill across companies and industries.

Individuals interested in a career in project management should take every opportunity to learn and improve their skills. Certification is something that I look for when hiring project managers. There are many excellent programs in our colleges and universities, and experience can also be an excellent teacher. Personally, I would follow both paths. I would enter a reputable project management program -- whether for a PMP, a master's or some other certification -- and look for an opportunity where I could use what I am learning in real time in the real world.

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2006 Premier 100 IT Leaders

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