Do technophile jobs exist at large companies?
October 8, 2012 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Does this job exist: new technology expert to help identify and implement cool stuff like bring your own device, cloud computing, virtualization at large organization.

I have 11 years of finance experience in both financial operations and internal financial management, for three different Fortune 500 companies. My true love however is technology. I read Engadget, ARS Technica and a number of other tech blogs. I keep up on whats out there in terms of computer security, new products, and new theories (think virtualization, cloud computig and storage, etc.) (I actually run VMWare on a server in my basement so I can easily try out new OSs.) Lately at my company they have been touting 'bring your own device', and some initiatives which will let employees bring their tablets to work. I love that stuff. I want to work in a group responsible for brining those ideas to the company and seeing them get implemented. So my question is, do companies have groups who do exactly this, or is this job rolled into some other IT function?
posted by Arbitrage1 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is out of my realm of expertise, but speaking just as a non-technical manager, I think this idea has incredible value. I could imagine you being successful as a consultant doing this for a variety of companies (my experience has been that many large companies don't really focus their IT efforts on cutting-edge solutions).
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:50 AM on October 8, 2012

It's rolled into IT typically, in my experience. It involves expense, disruption, integration, resources and often a change of working patterns for people who may consider themselves already busy enough, thank you so the kind of organisations that actively welcome this from their IT departments, or the IT departments that welcome this enthusiasm from their users are reasonably rare.

So even if the IT Director/CIO or someone below them is championing innovation you're looking for a [highly] profitable company, with board level enthusiasts for tech (or else it won't happen), who is either small/midsize or who is a large company without a one size fits all IT strategy.

If you're into that kind of thing and like evangelising about it (as opposed to rolling up your sleeves and implementing it), you might want to consider working for an advisory firm that specialises in disruptive technologies. The obvious place, although it has its detractors, is somewhere like Gartner.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:04 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Multinational companies usually don't have just one IT department. It's often a whole umbrella organization that supports multiple divisions (so you get names like "software & technology services" rather than just IT.) I work for a large company that has a division of people doing stuff like this under the banner of "next generation" (or nextgen) and future technologies. These aren't all programmers per se--some are project managers (or consultants) with subject-matter expertise.
posted by mattbucher at 7:40 AM on October 8, 2012

Very large companies have these. Long ago, in a galaxy far far away, was in a group that did this at Exxon.
posted by ubiquity at 8:10 AM on October 8, 2012

I can't tell if you want to stick in the Fortune 500 circle, but I suspect with a large company it takes a lot of time to make these things happen, and unless someone high up makes it a priority, you'll probably be a cycle or two behind the cutting edge. This isn't a bad thing, as the technology is supposed to help you get things done instead of getting in the way, but I wonder if you might have a hard time finding a position like this in big companies.

With that said, this is basically what I do as the sysadmin/head of IT for a small-yet-successful ecommerce company. The "small" part is important because it's just me deciding to do these things after I run it by the owner (instead of teams of people at a Fortune 500), and the "successful" part is important because I have money to spend on these things.

When I was hired a few years ago, the company was running on the original home office servers the company started with 7 years prior. The shared email workflow was "answer whatever messages your client happens to grab via POP. You might get 5 or 50." They had horribly broken WiFi, and as much as the owner wanted to, certainly couldn't BYOD. The phone system of the parent company was probably purchased when I was in elementary school. You get the picture. I've slowly been going from system by system, upgrading to whatever makes sense for us. Often it means the latest and greatest, it usually saves us money in the long run, and it's definitely been a lot of fun.

I'm helped in the fact that most of the employees here 20s and 30s, so they are pretty comfortable with technology, and the owners aren't scared to try new things. Small is important again here, because a new VoIP rollout for us means 2 dozen phones, rather than 200,000, so these projects take weeks or months rather than the better part of a year.

If you like the sound of that, you might want to start looking around on Craigslist or local LinkedIn groups to see what's going on in your area with small tech businesses. (I should clarify we very much aren't some sort of Silicon Valley-esque college startup. You almost certainly aren't looking for that.) Maybe someone's hiring a new sysadmin, or might just need a consultant for several months to get them back on productive technology. It's not as visible of a market, but if you can tap into it, it might be exactly what you're looking for.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:29 AM on October 8, 2012

Ah, just noticed your title about large companies. Sorry if that was too off topic.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:45 AM on October 8, 2012

Something along those lines does exist in many large companies, but they'll be staffed by technophiles with a heck of a lot more tech experience than reading Engadget. Because for every person like you, there will be a dozen or more people with a Comp Sci degree and ten or twenty years experience who would also like that job.

Also even if you were to get it, you might not enjoy it as much as you imagine, because the job won't be all about picking out cool new things and saying "Hey, let's try that!" In fact you might well spend a lot of your time telling people in the rest of the company who want to try out cool new things that they're not allowed to, because it would cause X, Y, Z problems, or there are other priorities that must be worked on, or there is no business case.

A more likely route for you to exercise your technophilia would be to become the person on the business side who is responsible for oversight of IT projects in their area.
posted by philipy at 10:35 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you wish to be a tech dilettante. That's not a job let alone a career. You want the exciting and fun parts of IT without acknowledging that the hard/boring parts are actually the vast majority of the job. Good IT departments do this throughout their organization, they don't have special teams or individuals that focus on it.
posted by fief at 10:52 AM on October 8, 2012

We have one our two people in this position who are basically working between the business and IT, leading the effort for new technology in order to determine its value in the company. We've only developed such a position in the last 2 years. It's less technical and more relationship management. They then bring feedback to the technical folks who, on top of the other "keep the business running" type of tasks, work on developing new offereings for our internal customers.

So, I think the answer to your question is yes. However, like philipy pointed out, people in these positions have years of corporate IT experience before taking on these reponsibilities. Many of the technical folks came from entry level positions, such as the Help Desk though.
posted by bwilms at 11:08 AM on October 8, 2012

I know and worked with someone who does this! Or, rather, who did this (I also vaguely know his replacements in a couple of the positions he held). He worked for several IT services firms where his job was to identify the services that their enterprise clients would want to be buying 2 or 3 years in the future, and implement a plan to provide them.

I'd say that 5% of his time was spent identifying and planning, and 95% of his time went to trying to convince someone with a "C" or at least a "Head of" in their title to back his plan. Because without an executive champion, change was absolutely not going to happen, and without an organizational culture that encourages transformation and risk-taking, those executive champions are very, very, very thin on the ground.

Eventually he transitioned into a subject matter expert for one of the initiatives he'd originally championed and now enjoys his job much more. It's a role for people who really love office politics, not technology.

But if you're not dissuaded, a background in project management or corporate strategy, plus experience with change management are the basic qualifications, and an MBA will probably be required to be a competitive candidate. Memail me if you want more details
posted by psycheslamp at 11:19 AM on October 8, 2012

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