IT careers: Does it pay to become a brand specialist?

Beth Stackpole

"If you brand yourself as a specialist in a specific technology and that's all you know, you'll only address that business need from the perspective of that technology, which isn't always the right answer," says John Reed, senior executive director at Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm. "It's really more about the skills you bring to the table. What's secondary is the tools you would use to solve the business problem."

Another risk of pursuing a career as a specialist in the fickle, fast-moving world of high-tech is that what's considered hot today can become stone cold tomorrow. "You certainly run the risk of the technology becoming obsolete," says Marshall Oldham, director of recruiting at TEKsystems, an IT staffing, talent management and services provider.

"People need to be smart about how and when they hitch their wagon to one of these brands," Oldham says. "People that do are typically pretty savvy and pay attention to industry trends, so they can proactively seek out skills for the next boom."

People need to be smart about how and when they hitch their wagon to one of these brands. Marshall Oldham, director of recruiting, TEKsystems

Oldham advises would-be brand specialists to do thorough and ongoing reconnaissance on the technology landscape to ensure they align with the brands and vendors that have staying power thanks to the right mix of financial backing and market entrenchment — for example, Salesforce.com, a relative newcomer, and SAP, which has been an enterprise IT mainstay for almost two decades.

Reed advises IT specialists to emphasis general skills and distance themselves from individual brands when seeking new opportunities, unless they're pursuing specific jobs that emphasize a particular technology. So, for example, a SharePoint specialist should highlight collaboration tool skills on his resume while someone who has a VMware job title should position himself as a virtualization expert.

"Talk more about your functional expertise and highlight the tool you have experience with," Reed says. "Don't position yourself exclusively with that technology because you can get pigeonholed."

To avoid being left on the sidelines with outdated expertise, technologists must keep abreast of industry trends by reading trade journals and attending conferences, and they should invest in ongoing professional development and training, Reed says.

Don't position yourself exclusively with [one] technology because you can get pigeonholed. John Reed, Senior Executive Director, Robert Half Technology

Moore, the SAP expert, is a good case in point. He ponied up $7,000 of his own money for a month's worth of SAP training and ABAP certification when he first started out, and several years ago, he doled out another $20,000-plus on a business intelligence certification — for SAP's Business Information Warehouse — from one of SAP's training centers. "I went that direction because it was kind of a hot area, and I was concerned that ABAP was running its course," he explains.

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