Riding a brand into the sunset
Justin Burmeister, who in the late '90s also made a career switch to SAP, from various roles involving Microsoft's Windows NT, says it's possible to pick up new skills on the job. In 1998, when he was in a Windows NT help desk support role, he had an opportunity to work closely with consultants his employer brought in to implement an SAP system. "My company chose to train me on SAP so I could support the systems," says Burmeister, 39, currently associate director of SAP infrastructure at Cheshire, Conn.-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals.
After a six-week knowledge transfer session, Burmeister embarked on years of continuous learning in which he regularly tackled new projects and was called upon to troubleshoot thousands of problems as an SAP BASIS specialist -- a role he says was similar to his Windows NT jobs in that it focuses on root cause analysis and tuning server performance.
Burmeister is well aware that his deep SAP expertise puts him at risk if SAP's standing in the market erodes, but he says he's not overly concerned. "In the case of SAP, companies have eight, nine, even 10-figure investments in SAP projects, so they are pretty much married to the technology," he says. "At this point, I'm in pretty deep because it's all I'm qualified to do, but I think I'd get another 10 to 15 years out of it even if the technology does change."
Business skills still in demand
Nick Brattoli was recently promoted in part because of his concentration on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software, but he doesn't see that particular domain expertise as a principal driver for career growth over time. The 29-year-old, whose background is in network engineering, recently changed titles -- from SharePoint implementation engineer to SharePoint architect -- at Medseek, a Birmingham, Ala.-based provider of patient engagement software. Yet he's focusing on developing business-related skills with an eye toward pursuing a career in IT management.
Brattoli says Medseek values his SharePoint credentials, but what really appealed to the company was his prior experience in healthcare IT. "They liked my technical background, but they liked more that I could do the business side of things," he says. "Being good at SharePoint means I know a bunch of things -- how databases and Web pages work, and a lot of encompassing technologies. But it's the 'architect' part of my title that's more important." Now Brattoli is making a point to focus on the problems the business is trying to solve so his skills translate when the time comes to move on, he explains.
High demand + low supply = top dollar
Some brand specialists argue that if they choose the right product, there's no need to worry about latching on to the next great technology, because their skills will remain marketable long after the heyday of the brand.
That was Joseph Morgan's strategy for quite a while. The 31-year IT veteran was able to work for years doing PowerBuilder development long after the Microsoft/Sybase environment lost its luster in the late 1990s. "Even if something is considered old, you can still wring more career value out of it because there are companies invested in the technology who need assistance," he says. "You just need to do the legwork to find the opportunities."