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 the like. 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 down the management career path.
IT certifications with management value or potential
Lots of different areas of certification are valuable 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-level or midlevel management jobs.
While the PMP is certainly one of the most widely recognized project management certifications, the Project Management Institute (PMI) offers a robust certification portfolio that includes a number of related certifications which may be of interest to managers. Among these are the PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA), Program Management Professional (PgMP) and Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP).
Enterprise architect certifications
The ability to use technology to meet business or organizational goals sits at the heart of IT architecture, as it does 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. Other helpful architect certifications include the Certified Technical Architect (CTA) from Salesforce and the ITIL Master 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 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 ISACA's Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT) and Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) 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 important 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 for one 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 (as well as 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. Find ways to assume management roles and perform management tasks for experience, or take on an in-between role (such as team or project lead) to prove your interest.
Essential soft skills
At many levels, management is mostly about soft skills. Not only are managers masters of teamwork, problem-solving and decision-making, they also must excel in communication, both written and oral. It requires massive people skills to lead, motivate, inspire 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 start building and improving that set right away. BizLibrary, Udemy, Pluralsight and other platforms offer training to help you gain the soft skills you'll need to be a successful manager.
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 mull 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 career path, it will soon become clear that they 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 you should ultimately see a terrific return on investment.