Linda Bubbers got a tip early in her career: Become a Certified Netware Administrator and earn a transfer to a better team.
Bubbers, a Cobol programmer at the time, took the advice. She paid for the CNA course and test herself, banking that the certification would indeed help her get ahead.
It did. And so for the past 20 years Bubbers has followed the same strategy for career success, earning multiple certifications through studies she funds out of her own pocket. She estimates that her ongoing education, which includes structured classes, conferences and books, has cost her at least $14,000. She spent another $9,000 earning an MBA from Webster University.
"I just kept doing it on my own because I wanted to advance, but also this is what IT people need to do to stay employed. Everything changes so fast, you can't not stay in the education stream," says Bubbers, now a senior network administrator at Craig Technologies, an IT and engineering services provider in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Bubbers is hardly alone in her approach. IT spending may be on the rise, but training budgets aren't increasing at the same pace. That has left many IT professionals shouldering more of their own training costs as they seek to keep up with the rapidly changing technology landscape.
In fact, in a Computerworld survey of 489 IT professionals conducted in August and September, 62 percent of the respondents reported that they have paid for training out of their own pockets in order to secure their careers. They listed "keeping skills up to date/being valuable to employer" and "finding an appropriate new position for my skill set" as their two biggest career concerns. And 78 percent said education has been either very important or important for their careers.
They're on the right track, says Jack Cullen, president of Modis, a global provider of IT staffing services.
"IT workers are right when they say this is an expectation, because given what IT jobs pay, the expectations from employers are high," Cullen says. "It's a very competitive field, and this is what you have to do to stay competitive."
That's not to suggest that an IT professional has to get every certification under the sun to stay employed or land a big promotion. But, he says, the plum jobs and assignments do indeed go to those who have the extra education on their resumes.
Training as table stakes
IT is hardly the only field with such high expectations for ongoing training. As Cullen points out, people in many other lines of work face similar pressure to continually seek professional development opportunities. In fact, some professionals, such as CPAs, lawyers and medical personnel, are required to take a set number of hours of training if they want to retain their licenses or rights to practice.
"If you really think about it, IT is playing catch-up to what other professions have been doing for years," Cullen says.
Some IT workers approach training the same way people in other professions do -- with the sense that it's essential to their careers.
Take Chante Nelson, an information systems analyst for Florida's Broward County. She started in IT soon after joining the U.S. Navy in 2000 and remained in the field after receiving an honorable discharge in 2008.