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

Beth Stackpole

Moore acknowledges that training is expensive and sometimes hard to accommodate, especially when you're already working full time. "Typically, you can't take a month off for training," he observes. Moreover, he adds, "if you don't use what you learned, it disappears pretty quickly." He also says it's difficult to figure out when the tide is turning on your chosen IT specialty.

For now, Moore remains committed to SAP despite the fact that competitor Salesforce.com's star is rising. "It would be a whole new world for me to move over to Salesforce.com. I'd have to start at the beginning," he says. "That's not my preference. There will be jobs in SAP for many more years, but they may become more difficult [to find] and probably at lower rates."

Riding a brand into the sunset
Justin Burmeister, who in the late '90s also made a career switch to SAP, from various roles involving Microsoft's Windows NT, says it's possible to pick up new skills on the job. In 1998, when he was in a Windows NT help desk support role, he had an opportunity to work closely with consultants his employer brought in to implement an SAP system. "My company chose to train me on SAP so I could support the systems," says Burmeister, 39, currently associate director of SAP infrastructure at Cheshire, Conn.-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

After a six-week knowledge transfer session, Burmeister embarked on years of continuous learning in which he regularly tackled new projects and was called upon to troubleshoot thousands of problems as an SAP BASIS specialist — a role he says was similar to his Windows NT jobs in that it focuses on root cause analysis and tuning server performance.

Burmeister is well aware that his deep SAP expertise puts him at risk if SAP's standing in the market erodes, but he says he's not overly concerned. "In the case of SAP, companies have eight, nine, even 10-figure investments in SAP projects, so they are pretty much married to the technology," he says. "At this point, I'm in pretty deep because it's all I'm qualified to do, but I think I'd get another 10 to 15 years out of it even if the technology does change."

Business skills still in demand
Nick Brattoli was recently promoted in part because of his concentration on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software, but he doesn't see that particular domain expertise as a principal driver for career growth over time. The 29-year-old, whose background is in network engineering, recently changed titles -- from SharePoint implementation engineer to SharePoint architect -- at Medseek, a Birmingham, Ala.-based provider of patient engagement software. Yet he's focusing on developing business-related skills with an eye toward pursuing a career in IT management.

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