How-To IT Career Guide: 7 Critical Strategies, From Getting Started To Semiretiring - InformationWeek

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How-To IT Career Guide: 7 Critical Strategies, From Getting Started To Semiretiring

Driven by our salary survey data, a look at make-or-break moments in a career.

Making Back-To-School Pay Off
One in five paid their own way to training the past 12 months, our salary survey finds.

Scott Baldwin was a Web designer at and considered using the company's training program to move into software engineering. But he decided he needed more. So in 2004 Baldwin decided to go back to school, moving his wife and infant daughter to Salt Lake City, where he attended Neumont University, a for-profit tech school where he did a two-year, project-based program that gave him a B.S. in computer science.

The good news: He's now working at IBM as a WebSphere consultant, earning 30% more than he did at Amazon. The bad news: He has a $60,000 student loan. As a software engineer, Baldwin has put himself in the third-highest-paid job category among business technology staff, according to the InformationWeek Research National IT Salary Survey, with a median total compensation of $98,000. Web developers make a median of $63,000. (See our How To on moving into a higher-paying job track.)

So what kind of training do IT pros think helps their careers the most?

chart: most valuable training

Image Gallery: What IT Pros Earn: Charts From Our Salary Survey

By far, training in specific technologies is cited most often, by 67% of staff and 46% of managers. Next is certification training, cited by 37% of staff and 22% of managers, followed by project management training (26% and 31%) and business skills training (16% and 32%). Only 13% of staffers and 12% of managers see college courses in technology or business as most valuable in developing their careers. Business tech execs complain often about the lack of communication skills, but just 9% of staff and 11% of managers cited those skills as most important to their careers.

If they want training, most tech pros will have to pay for it themselves. About 45% of staff and managers have education and training benefits from their companies, and 30% get tuition reimbursement. Only 20% have certification reimbursement. About 20% of staffers and managers surveyed have paid from their own pockets for training, certification, or both in the past 12 months.

Systems Architect
Software Engineer
Project Leader
Sales Support Engineer
Database Administrator

Image Gallery:
What IT Pros Earn:
Charts From Our Salary Survey
Graduate degrees can pay off, as long as you're building real-world experience. "An MBA or M.S. in computer science is nice but not mandatory," says Kirsten Smith, a partner at executive search firm Battalia Winston. "What is more important right now is the ability to think in terms of business and to have the ability to solve business problems." Employers are less concerned with an advanced degree than they are with the thinking that may result from one, she says.

Only 12% of IT managers and 4% of staff in our survey have MBAs. More broadly, 18% of managers and 17% of staff have some kind of master's degree.

Companies place different values on education. At Edward Hines Lumber, a privately held company that posted $250 million in revenue last year, many entry-level IT people come into their jobs without college degrees. Many start in an operations role, working with customers, or loading lumber. However, Edward Hines encourages its people to advance their educations as they move up, says IT director John Payton. All three of the managers in his organization have master's degrees in computer science or business. The company will work with individuals on a case-by-case basis to help with tuition, though there is no formal policy. "Education is important," Payton says, "but learning the business and knowing the company is, too."

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