With 16 years’ experience doing everything from coding to systems management, Scott Nease thought he was ready to step up to the big chair. But when he enrolled in a six-month executive education program geared for teaching business skills to IT pros, his worldview changed.
“I thought IT was all 1s and 0s, and the CIO was just the person with all the answers on the technology side,” Nease says, information systems manager at Axis Dental, an equipment manufacturer. “But being CIO is really about how to manage the business from a technology standpoint, and determining the right tools and solutions to implement. [The courses] opened my eyes to a level of IT structure I didn’t know existed.”
Nease was one of the lucky ones -- his employers sent him to Technology Leadership Essentials, a 12-course program offered by Carnegie Mellon University and Tatum Partners in 35 U.S. cities. When most IT pros go back to school, they do it on their own. According to a survey by the Computing Technology Industry Association, 88 percent of IT pros pay for all or part of the training themselves, and four out of five aren’t compensated for the time they spend in class. Not surprisingly, more than half say they’re looking for better jobs with other employers.
Some, like Nease, go back to school seeking the business acumen that will allow them to reach the next level. Others hope to develop the skills to survive in an increasingly global IT environment. That includes both learning how to manage employees spread halfway across the globe, and making themselves more marketable in case their own jobs end up being outsourced.
The MBA payoffs
More and more, getting ahead in IT means hitting the books. And although an MBA may be essential for getting that C-level job, an increasing number of schools -- like Carnegie Mellon, Northeastern, and Walden University -- are offering specialized high-tech MBAs.
Designed for students with heavy computer science backgrounds and work experience, these programs focus on the unique challenges presented by integrating constantly changing technology into core business functions.
At Northeastern’s College of Business Administration in Boston, which offers a high-tech MBA degree, a typical student has been working at least seven years, has a degree in computer science or electrical engineering, and is already managing a small team at work, says Marc H. Meyer, one of the MBA program’s three directors and the school’s Matthews Distinguished University Professor.
“The beauty of the program is that half of our courses are project-based,” Meyer says. “Students can apply what they learn to real live projects inside their own companies, and not to some generalized Harvard Business School case.”
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