You might think that without specific information technology experience you don't have a snowball's chance in Silicon Valley of getting a job in the IT industry. But, according to IT professionals and analysts, snowballs are doing pretty well in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the IT industry these days.
"When I was offered a position as head of business development for Eclipse Info Systems, it was a big shock," says Stefan Pagacik, then a consultant with management background but no technical training. "They looked at the work I had done reviewing potential start-ups for Benchmark," said Pagacik referring to a technology-related venture capital fund. Pagacik's work at Benchmark focused on determining the earning potential for start-ups. Since most of them were "dot coms" he became very familiar with the challenges facing Internet companies. That was enough for his soon-to-be employer.
Pagacik is among the leagues of professionals who have been able to translate management, corporate and problem-solving skills to the IT and Internet markets. "The writing was on the wall back in 1995 when Bill Gates fired off his famous memo," he says. The "famous memo" ordered an end at Microsoft Corporation to most commercial CD-ROM multi-media titles in favor of an Internet-centric strategy. That, said Pagacik, was the gunshot that signaled the rush to the 'Net and the subsequent fantastic demand for professionals with skills that might translate--even loosely--to the new medium.
Experts agree that people with all sorts of backgrounds can find positions in the IT world. People whose past career incarnations have carried them into such different areas as food preparation and Feng Sui consulting have found their way to the 'Net to market to offer their services. In the process, they have gained experience that has made them immensely marketable both to corporations and consultants who outsource IT services.
Cambridge Interactive, a four-year- old business-to-business application service provider, is typical of such an outsourcing company. Andy Singleton, the company's founder, notes that "project manager" is one job title that a lot of people without past IT experience are finding a comfortable fit.
"The only thing you need real IT experience for is writing code," says Singleton. Because programmers are only part of the picture, workers are needed for marketing, sales, finance and project management, he adds.
"Every project needs project managers to deal with the details. People from all kinds of backgrounds have the right organizational skills," says Singleton. He notes that project managers act as interfaces between the client and programmers, usually taking responsibility for keeping job on-schedule.
"The job requires three skills--you have to be good with people, detail-oriented and patient," he says.
Cambridge Interactive now has three project managers on-staff. Singleton, who claims to be "always hiring," says that most of the project managers he has hired worked previously in the "off-line" environment.
Charlie Lax is a venture capitalist with SoftBank Technology Ventures, a billion-dollar investment fund with stakes in companies ranging from Yahoo to Bluedot.com, the new Internet member of the Martha Stewart /K-Mart family. According to Lax, who reads more than 20 business plans a week and advises IT start-ups on staffing efforts, a solid general educational background is everything.
"You can hire a dog groomer as long as he's bright and well-educated," says Lax. "There's such a shortage of people right now..."
And Lax emphasizes that by "education," he does not necessarily mean a "double-E" (under grad and Masters in Engineering) or an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management.
"The EE or MBA degrees are not essential as long as people went to school and did well in whatever field they studied," concluded Lax.
The bottom line? IT manager are seeking people who are smart and can learn quickly--and, of course, isn't that the perfect description for you?
Mary Nelen is a longtime journalist and public relations specialist. She has special expertise in business, technology and interactive media. Mary lives and works in Rockport, Massachusetts.