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IT Manager Jobs Are Up 44% In 5 Years. Here's How Not To Get Left Behind In The IT Manager Boom

Managers have been the fastest-growing IT job class. It's a trend that matters even for people on the technical track.

Walk into the offices of Millens Recycling in the foothills of New York's Catskill Mountains, ask for Timothy Millard, and someone might say, "Oh, you mean the computer guy." Yes, Millard's that, but he also has grown into a role at the 118-year-old family-run business that goes beyond keeping the PCs and servers running. Millard makes decisions about IT strategy, which technology projects to take on, and how to go about them. Unnoticed by most, Millens' computer guy has been thrust into the job of a manager.

Timothy Millard does double duty for Millens Recycling -- Photo by Ken Schles

Timothy Millard does double duty for Millens Recycling

Photo by Ken Schles
There are tens of thousands of IT professionals with similar stories, which, taken together, explains one of the most important trends in the business technology workforce. The number of IT managers em- ployed in the United States has jumped 44% since the dot-com collapse of 2001, com- pared with a 19% decline in the number of programming and support jobs. That translates into 119,000 new IT managers during the same five-year span that programming and support jobs have shrunk by 200,000.

Slicing the Bureau of Labor Statistics data another way, managers now represent 11.2% of IT employment, the fourth-largest tech job category, up from 7.8% in mid-2001, when it was the sixth-largest job category. This trend is critical for IT pros to understand as they manage their own careers or make decisions about hiring and developing staffers. Even people who want to stay on a technical track must pay attention because this isn't just a matter of changing titles on business cards. The labor stats are based on people describing their work, not their titles. The surging number of managers reflects the skills that companies value and the way IT is used and implemented in business today.

Who Cares What They Call You?

Timothy Millard, IT officer, Millens RecyclingTitle: IT officer, Millens Recycling

What he does: All things IT. Millard sets IT strategy based on Millens' business goals and does hands-on IT for the small company

How he got there: He was working as a networking consultant when his friend persuaded him to be the one-man IT department. (Oh, and give some credit to his grandfather, who bought him that Commodore Vic 20 back in 1981.)

His background: Millard was way ahead of today's emphasis on communication skills in IT, having majored in English and computer science at Gordon College. "Writing is basically the way I like to communicate," which helps in creating proposals explaining to company execs what he wants to do.

Advice: Don't get too hung up on formality. "If I walk in as the IT officer, they have no idea what I do. If I walk in as the computer guy, they say, 'Oh, it's the computer guy.' It's a way for me to knock that down a level. Technology makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. They feel stupid. My goal is not to make people feel intimated by the technology."

The growth in IT managers isn't attributable just to small businesses like Millens Recycling, a 40-employee recycler of scrap metal. Big companies are spreading management responsibility--with and without the titles--in order to get decisions made faster. Companies also are aligning IT more closely to business disciplines, which often means putting more people into business units, where they need the authority to represent the IT department. At Dell, one in nine IT employees is a manager; a decade ago, that ratio was about one in 15. Dell CIO Susan Sheskey sees the complexity of IT and business requiring more expertise in narrow disciplines, resulting in smaller teams in which managers supervise fewer people.

Not About Direct Reports

The influence of the new IT manager isn't measured by the number of his or her direct reports, since many don't have any people who officially work "for" them. Instead, they're managing relationships inside and outside the company. That's a story partly about outsourcing, managing teams of offshore contractors who write code or support a business process. But it's even more about IT-savvy project managers pegged to coordinate initiatives that bridge departments, where the dotted lines on the org chart are every bit as important as the boxes.

Nearly a quarter of luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co.'s IT staff are managers. Their job descriptions involve coordinating the IT needs of a specific business operation, including supply chain, retail, inventory control, international, and e-commerce. IT directors work with business units to develop business strategies, and IT managers execute the implementation of tech-related business projects. "I had one of our senior VPs tell me, a person in my area knows more about that business than most of their people," Tiffany CIO Robert Davidson says.

The role of the pure technologist isn't dead. Besides managers, the other IT category that added a lot of jobs in recent years is computer software engineer, up 117,000, or 16%, since 2001. The three largest IT job categories--software engineer, computer scientist and system analyst, and programmer--still employ 60% of IT people. But even people who want to stay on technical tracks must develop some management skills, since the people most likely to succeed combine tech chops with business acumen (see story, "Careers: Seven Tips For Success On The IT Technical Track").

Which is more satisfying to you: managing people or technology?

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A study this year by the Society for Information Management, led by a team of academics, finds that even IT workers in the trenches must know how to make business decisions. The top three skills sought by IT employers for midlevel hires, not all of whom would be managers, involved managerial proficiencies: planning, budgeting, and scheduling; project leadership; and project risk management. Only two of the top 10 skills entail technical know-how, and those put emphasis on the big picture: systems analysis and systems design. Other sought-after skills include user-relationship management, negotiations, project integration and management, and knowledge of an industry, as well as the functions and processes of the business domain they support. "The word 'manager' implies something these roles aren't doing--formally supervising people," says Kate Kaiser, associate professor of IT at Marquette University's College of Business and one of the study's leaders. "What they're really supervising is the resources to get something done."

This story was updated Oct. 2.

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