Help me get out of an IT contracting loop!
May 20, 2008 12:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm 26 years old and stuck in a IT-contracting loop. Would an MBA, Masters or going back to get certified in certain hardware/software help me out? What kinds of opportunities could they open up?

I've just turned 26 this past April and I've been out of college for 4 years this spring. I graduated from a good university with dual majors in Information Technology and Management. I've worked for such companies as American International Group, Nokia, Pfizer, Merck and Louis Vuitton. My positions have varied:

-Help Desk analyst
-Help Desk Manager
-Systems administrator
-Operations administration
-Project Manager
-Documentation Specialist/Policy Developer
-Change Control Consultant
-Technical Trainer
-Technical Writer
-LAN Group consultant

I currently do not have any technical certifications. I think something important to distinguish myself is that I'm not just a nerd in a cubicle who sits there and codes all day. (In fact I don't code at all I rather dislike it very much!) I think I'm really adept at creating the bridge between highly-technical (non social) people and managers who are not technical at all. I'm fast to adapt to emerging technologies and my creative problem-solving has helped me a lot throughout my career so far. I've also demonstrated a strong ability to motivate people I manage and bring projects in on time.

I'm a people person and I really enjoy working either in groups, managing projects or being involved with strategic planning related to technology within a company. I've been stuck in contracts lately that last anywhere from 3 months to at most a year. I don't particularly love the jobs that I've been getting and I feel like I'm just treading water when I should be really advancing myself in my career. I'm actually just ending a contract of 3 months.

The IT industry as a whole is very rocky lately with all of the outsourcing and companies downsizing/offshoring tasks to cut costs. I have been considering getting an MBA as that would "open up a lot of doors" I'm told. I've also considered going back for a Master's degree, (in what I have no idea... Technology? Business like the MBA?), so that I might be qualified for higher level jobs and earn myself some more stability. I have good experience under my belt but I feel I'm not specialized at all. It almost seems like specializing in one thing can be dangerous and really limit you as well.

My main question is...what can you do with an MBA? What about Masters degrees in other fields? What kinds of opportunities can they lead to? Are certifications where it's at? Is it better to study by book and take the exams or take a structured training course? Is it true that unless the company you're working is first and foremost a technology company your purpose to the company will always be viewed as something "outside" to them? (For instance IT within an insurance or pharmaceutical as opposed to IBM/Google/Verizon) What kinds of certifications are good and have lucrative careers? Storage specialists? Cisco CCNA/CCNP engineers? Bear in mind I'm not a coder so C+, C#, Java, HTML etc is not for me.

Does anyone know how intensive the PMP certification is? I've been thinking since I like the project management experience I've had thus far that might be a good choice- since with it you can manage not only IT projects but pretty much anything!

I feel like I really need to make some big decisions and put my nose to the grindstone because I'm never going to survive on contracting alone or earn enough to support myself and possibly a family one day. All advice and insight is most appreciated.
posted by PetiePal to Work & Money (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Setting up LAN cables and installing printer drivers are comodified skills. Anyone can do it. Typically, smaller companies (or operational units) will outsource to folks like you. Speaking from personal experience, technical writing and training are also precarious career paths.

What you really want to be doing is figuring out how you can add more value to your organization. What do you really want to do? If you have people skills and leadership ability, you may consider becoming an architect for enterprises, designing specific network and infrastructure solutions. A PMP certification is rigorous, and useful. But there are a lot of PMPs out there.

There are also a lot of MBAs. Unless you are specifically interested in learning the stuff they teach in an MBA course, don't get an MBA, and the same goes for a Master's degree. It sounds like you have pretty vague ideas of what you would like to do.

So what do you want to do? And who would hire you to do it? If you are entrepreneurial (and it seems you are), you might want to start your own company. Hire several people to increase your revenue stream.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:20 PM on May 20, 2008

I would definitely put a Master's degree on the low-priority list. I haven't gotten much mileage from mine, but larger companies may value it more than small ones.
posted by tommasz at 12:29 PM on May 20, 2008

I'm never going to survive on contracting alone
If you have been contracting, have you thought of going to a consulting firm? More stable than independent contracting with the possibility of try different things to fit.

I know some people swear by being PMP certified though it is intensive and not cheap (though WAY cheaper than going back to school. My InfoSci master's was necessary to be a librarian but it has helped in my current position (doing similar work in a non-library environment)
posted by pointystick at 12:55 PM on May 20, 2008

should have said "it also has helped.
posted by pointystick at 12:56 PM on May 20, 2008

Most business processes are not unique, so companies try to contract that out. Anything related to this starts to take on the pricing of a commodity, that is bad for you. You want to work with the revenue streams of the company. I don't know one company whose "storage solutions" are the competitive advantage of the company. There are, however, a lot of companies whose relationship with clients are their competitive advantage. Focus on becoming a consultant in implementing CRM or client relations solution in a very specific industry. This works well because now your tied to their revenue and profit, but they take all the risks! Don't focus on specific technologies, instead focus on increasing a company's value and cash flow. Mail me if you want to discuss this further.
posted by geoff. at 1:50 PM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hey PetiePal, your last 7 of your last 16 questions were related to your career:

- Help me define a job role or career path based on my interests.
- How to get a job when you're past entry level and have minimal contacts.
- Help me figure out what type of careers are possible!
- Help me get my career in order!
- What does an Info Science major do?
- Where do I go from here? (Career)

It sounds like, perhaps, you might want to spend more time figuring out what you want. This can be, and is for a lot of people, a career unto itself. I would try to take six months to a year off and not focus on career advancement. What do you find yourself doing all day? I think then you'll find your answer.
posted by geoff. at 2:18 PM on May 20, 2008

Huh. It is eerie how similar our experiences are, and this could have been my question a couple of years ago, except many of your concerns stem from one primary difference in our situation: I am employed by a consulting firm. This has positive and negative consequences, but the biggest positive is my company's reputation. I don't have any certifications personally, but other people here do. I can assemble a team where each person has extensive experience fulfilling a particular role, at varied billable rates, which proves to be the deciding factor very often when clients choose us over other firms. I can see how it would be much more difficult running a small (or even one man) shop, unless you have one area of expertise and a proven track record.

So if you like having varying roles and responsibilities (I myself prefer this), I think it would be best to join a consulting firm. If you would rather stay independent, then anything that distinguishes you from the competition is a necessity - an MBA, a PMP, or any other specific certification. On your own, being a jack-of-all-trades is a liability.

And just to vent a little regarding long contracts: if project length is a concern for you, I consider this one of the biggest negatives of working for a consulting firm - you don't always get to choose your projects. I've been working on one project for the last 3 years, and just got renewed for two more, and I can't tell you how badly I want it to end. It's job security, but I'm frustrated and bored. Luckily I have other projects to distract and keep me sane.
posted by krippledkonscious at 3:30 PM on May 20, 2008

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