Professional associations can be a terrific resource for anyone starting out their career. An IT professional organization can also be a great way to keep up on changes in the industry. To find out more about the benefits of associations as well as other helpful information about starting an IT career, Bryant & Stratton College spoke with Barbara Viola, owner of VioTech Solutions and Co-Chair Chapter & Regional Support of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP)
Q: What value can professional organizations provide to students or new graduates?
A: Joining a professional association, such as AITP can offer students and new graduates an easy way to network with those working in their industry; develop more knowledge about our industry and possibly even develop leadership skills. Our AITP students can join (or start up) a student chapter and be exposed to guest speakers within the field, participate in our annual NCC – national collegiate conference and compete for awards in a variety of IT disciplines, such as programming, database development, PC skills, .net, public speaking, etc. In 2013 we met in St. Louis, Missouri and had over 700 attendees from around the country, coming from as far away as Alaska. We also had many national companies in attendance recruiting graduating students with over 500 open positions! So, joining a professional organization can be a great way to gain valuable networking contacts either as a student or graduate, and to keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry, and possibly even get your first or subsequent jobs! They can also run for Chapter officer positions and develop leadership skills and add to their resumes.
Q. What kind of recent shifts have taken place in the field that changes the way IT professionals do their job? What about changes that have impacted the level or type of degree they need to be successful?
IT is all about change and that’s why most of us gravitated to this field – we love the constant change and how our jobs are constantly evolving. Social media, mobile communications, the cloud, VM ware – there are so many technology innovations that have and are occurring, that it is important for IT professionals to have a well-rounded education. We need to be prepared for the many changes that are occurring within the industry. While you are in school students should try and investigate areas of IT that could be helpful in your future; security, web development, and taking some business courses in finance, management skills, etc. will prove valuable as you gain experience and take on management level positions.
Q. What is the biggest skills or knowledge gap you’ve noticed in new graduates during their first 90 days of work?
If a student does not have experience their field, they are at a very distinct disadvantage with other IT students when they graduate. While you are in college is when you need to be exposing yourself to your future career. This is when you are able to decide if IT is the right career path for you and which area interests you the most. Students without this exposure tend to take longer to find a position and may be forced to accept whatever is open, rather than pursuing the specific area of IT they would like to work in. If I have two student applicants and one has worked in the field during college, I tend towards hiring the one with work experience. Why? They have shown that they know what is involved in working in a business setting in IT and are sure that this is the field for them. An added benefit is that their work experience often gives them the confidence to realize that they can be successful in their future career.
Q: How important are soft skills in the IT field? What are three soft skills employers want in to see in new hires?
My AITP Chapter just had their annual CIO panel and each of the five CIO’s who participated were adamant about the importance of soft skills in the employees that they choose to hire. One CIO actually told the audience that because skill sets are changing so rapidly, many of their job postings no longer include specific IT skills within the job description – they focus more on potential and how adaptable someone is to changing technologies. Taking a public speaking class while in school as one of your electives is a great way to develop a skill that you may find very useful to you throughout your career – it could also help you tremendously if you have thoughts of becoming a manager eventually. It is also important to have excellent listening skills, since a lot of what is done within a corporation is working in a team. You need to work well with others, listen to everyone’s ideas and be able to communicate effectively. We hear a lot about emotional intelligence and I can tell you that those IT professionals who are able to find and keep jobs throughout their career usually are very high in their emotional intelligence and working effectively within a team environment. Their emotional intelligence is more important than their expertise with a particular skill set. If you ever want to reach the CIO level, these traits are much more important than any technology skill you may master.
Q: What advice would you give new graduates about starting an IT career? What about specific advice for other women who are thinking about entering the field?
A: It is a great time to be entering the IT field, and the outlook is very positive for our industry for the future. If anything, we are becoming more and more dependent on technology for every aspect of running a business. Women entering the field are in a great position in that there are not many of us and you can have a real advantage if know your stuff and are a hard worker. Your ability to do well in our industry has everything to do with your knowledge, and ability to work well with others. Employers want to hire you, since they want departments that are diverse and include both men and women.
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