Some IT professionals are total tech-heads. They want to bury themselves in the details and revel in the minutiae of new tools, technologies, software platforms and so forth. But others may be interested in a mid-to-late career shift into management. Such folks often wonder if IT certification or additional education can help them to make such a move. The short answer to this implicit question is yes. As it happens, numerous avenues are available to lead interested IT pros in the management direction.
IT certifications with management value or potential
Lots of different areas of certification are valuable and useful for aspiring managers. Topics with management impact include the following:
- Project management certifications: Managing projects is about working with requirements analysis, project design and delivery, schedules, budgets, and people. All these things are important for managing projects, but they're equally important for managing businesses or business units such as project teams, functional groups and departments. Most of what you must know and be able to do to earn the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) or Project Management Professional (PMP) plays directly into many entry-to-mid-level management jobs too.
- Enterprise architect certifications: The ability to use technology to meet business or organizational goals sits at the heart of IT architecture, just as it sits at the heart of IT management. The leadership, communication and people skills so important to developing and maintaining IT architecture skills and knowledge are likewise essential in any kind of management role. There's a profound overlap at work here, even though the day-to-day details may differ. Useful architect certifications include The Open Group's TOGAF 9 and Open CA certifications, and IASA's Certified IT Architect – Professional (CITA-P) credential.
- IT governance certifications: IT governance is primarily defined by the processes that enable IT to be used efficiently and effectively in helping an organization to meet its goals. That makes it a critical discipline for managers to understand and apply, and for those who design, maintain or audit such processes and procedures. There's a lot of overlap here too. ITIL and Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT) are particularly valuable credentials (or sets of credentials) within this discipline.
To achieve a certification "hat trick" with maximum management potential, think about pursuing one or more of the top certifications in each of these three categories as steppingstones on your path into a corner office.
The education trail from IT to management
If there's anything close to a silver bullet for making the transition from working as an individual contributor in IT to working as a manager, it has to be the MBA degree. Short for Master of Business Administration, the MBA has turned into something of a catch-all for many different walks of management work and activity. It's possible to obtain an MBA that focuses directly on information systems, as a Google search will quickly illustrate. (Check out this "best 20 online MBAs in MIS" item, as one particularly pointed example.) Other areas of MBA focus of great potential interest and relevance to IT professionals, and direct relevance to the preceding certifications, include the following:
- IT management
- Technology management
- IT and corporate governance
- ITIL and business process management
- Program and portfolio management
The important thing about pursuing an MBA and then putting it to work as a transition vehicle is to be clear with your managers (and HR, and anybody else who's involved in performance evaluations or career planning in your workplace) that you're seriously interested in moving into management. If you can volunteer or talk your way into tasks or responsibilities that give you a chance to assume some management roles and perform some management tasks to help you gain experience beforehand, so much the better. If you must assume an in-between role (such as team or project lead) to prove your interest, that's a good thing too.
Don't forget soft skills
There's a lot of truth in the contention that the higher one climbs any career ladder, the less important the mastery of detail (or technology) becomes, and the more important soft skills loom. At many levels, management is mostly about soft skills. Management requires constant and careful communication, in both written and oral forms. It requires massive people skills to lead, motivate and care for the human assets who do the real work.
If you want to possess a set of well-developed and capable soft skills by the time you make the management transition, you'd best get started building and improving that set right away.
Putting all the pieces together
A strong combination of education, certification and soft skills will ensure that IT professionals who aspire to a management position can do the job. Along the way to acquiring these things, most IT pros will also have the chance to chew over this topic thoroughly and decide if it's what they really want to do with their working lives.
For many people in IT, this might not be the best fit. But for those who dig in and find themselves further inspired to pursue this avocation, it will soon become clear that they really, really want this for themselves, and for their personal and professional development. For those chosen few, the right combination of training, skills and experience should be the ticket to where they want to go. It's a lot of work that takes time, money and effort, but that should ultimately provide a terrific return on investment.