Career advice: Training on the cheap

Also, giving input to a nontechnical boss, and the merits of job switching

P&G's Jim Fortner Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader Jim Fortner

Title: General manager

Company: Procter & Gamble

Fortner is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about training on the cheap, giving input to a nontechnical boss, and the merits of switching employers. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com .

The company I work for used to be very generous about training, but it has cut back severely. But I can't do it on my own, what with taking a pay reduction and working longer hours after layoffs . I don't want to be left behind in skills. What can I do? It is absolutely critical that you continue to invest in yourself to remain relevant in your business. Do not let your company's lack of funds be a barrier to advancing your career.

There are four types of training that do not cost much. The first of these can be found on the Web. Many of the offerings there present opportunities for real skills building. The second option is distance learning, which is also generally accomplished through the computer. Third, local communities of shared interest can provide relevant training in technology, project management and even leadership. Finally, I would encourage you to learn on the job via joining up with others outside your team so you can develop broader points of view. I have learned a lot over the years taking on different assignments and meeting with all kinds of people outside of my space.

Certifications are also important, since they are visible signs that you are a "learning" employee, which every employer wants. For example, a certification in project management is a great skill to have in IT.

The IT industry is alive and well in the U.S. The Digital Age is in the early stages, and having employees who have strong enterprise skills and who like to learn is invaluable. Do not let your company provide the excuse for you to not invest in yourself. If you let that happen, you will not stay relevant in your business.

I'm pretty much a tech guy -- been working in networking for seven years and love it. I wouldn't expect to be anyone's choice for a management role -- too head-down, results oriented. Still, I sometimes have what I consider to be good ideas for the larger organization. My manager (who is far less of a tech guy) hasn't shown much interest in my input. I find that pretty irritating. What can I do about this? This is a challenging situation you are in. First, I want to commend your deep technical skills. Companies need IT leaders who are both technical as well as organizational savvy.

You should avoid labeling yourself as technical rather than managerial. When you do this, you tell yourself and others that you are not someone to involve in managerial and business issues. The danger is that someone else (or a vendor) will come along (domestically or offshore) who can do the technical job better. When that happens, you lose your distinctiveness. Therefore, begin professing that your passion is to improve business results for your company. That will ensure that you are seen as a person who is on the team and in the game rather than someone who is in the stands watching. The second intervention I would make is to build a relationship with your manager. He should be your biggest advocate. As he gets to know you and you him, you will appreciate each other's diverse set of skills. Through this mutual appreciation, he may open up and listen to your ideas. The two of you will begin complementing one another and leveraging each other's unique contributions.

Finally, present him with proposals and ideas that are carefully thought through and which clearly show how he can drive further business value. Managers are not stupid; they want to look good, and if they have an employee who makes them look good, this will pay off for the employee.

If you ever pit yourself against your manager, you will lose. Since your manager is not much of a tech guy, you will need to talk less technology and more business benefits and business processes. You need to talk his language. In summary, it begins with your mind-set, then moves to the relationship and finally to your actions and language.

I have been gritting my teeth for the past couple of years and holding on to a sysadmin job that I really don't like, the problem being insensitive management. A bad job seemed better than no job. Now, with the economy improving, I've been looking around at alternatives. Meanwhile, my current employer has suddenly shown some awareness that its employees are human beings and is being more accommodating toward us. Would it be wiser to move on, in the belief that this is a convenient conversion in their attitude, or to stay put and enjoy the new liberalism here? This is a very difficult situation, though a common one. It is important for you to really enjoy your work. We spend eight to 12 hours a day in the office, and it is critical that we see the value in this labor.

I would recommend that you move out of the sysadmin job and get something else that continues to grow you and provides passion in your life. I would also recommend that you do a deeper dive on whether to stay in your company or leave. You must really examine the pros and cons of this decision. If you are neutral or leaning more toward leaving, then you should begin the search process while you still have a job. It is important, though, as you go through this process to continue to give 100% of your energy to your existing employer. Do not let your heart and your energy leave while you are searching. Also, be careful that you leave for the right reasons. Many times, the company you are in is a good one, but your particular boss poses problems, or you have outgrown the job you are working in. Therefore, you should have a dialogue with you boss about moving to another area, so that you can increase your contribution to the company. Ask for support in this process. If they say no, then you have your answer -- you should look outside. Remember, you must take your career into your own hands. It is your responsibility to grow and develop through different opportunities and training, but be careful that you don't let your emotions take hold. Progress forward logically. And best of luck, my friend!

Read more about management and careers in Computerworld's Management and Careers Topic Center.

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Jim Fortner

Computerworld (US)
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