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This Company Needs Me?

Think only high-tech companies employ graduates with your skills? Think again.

By Valerie Anderson

This Company  Needs Me?

Technology rules in today's workplace. No matter where you work, technology is a key component to the success of any business. More and more non-tech companies are hiring at least one IT professional to maintain their networks and provide support.

That's great news for you because it means increased job prospects. But what is it like to be the only techie in your workplace?

It can be the ideal situation if you like a lot of autonomy at your job and crave being the sole authority on all things tech. With that independence, however, comes a strong sense of responsibility. You will have sole control over the way the IT department is run and the changes it will make in the future. Employees and managers from all departments will turn to you when they have IT problems—whether or not they are in your specialty. Being the only IT expert at your job can be a daunting prospect for some since it may be difficult to work without the camaraderie and support of other techies.

You Want Me?

IT professionals will discover that working in a non-tech industry has many perks. For example, if you want to work for a company that you truly believe in, like a non-profit, it can more than make up for the lack of on-the-job technical peers. Similarly, if you find a position with a non-tech company that provides a service or sells a product that you feel strongly about, the benefits can definitely outweigh any negatives. And the good news is that positions for IT professionals are extremely diverse, which means there are jobs for almost every specialty and interest, according to Robin Hammond, director of Career Services at Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering, Arizona State University.

"Since engineers are trained in solving complex problems and looking at whole systems, they are very attractive candidates for a wide range of industries, which are not necessarily engineering focused," she says.

"One example is in the financial industry. Companies in this sector are always trying to make internal processes more efficient and more effective. Engineers are rigorous problem solvers, highly analytical, and proficient in math and quantitative skills. These attributes are key competencies for such companies as American Express, Goldman Sachs, U-Haul, and Dreyer's Ice Cream, to name a few."

Hammond explains that these types of companies come to Arizona State University to recruit engineering students because they want engineering skills for their leadership programs. "More and more companies who are cultivating their talent pipeline look to engineers as key candidates for leadership roles," she says.

There's Work To Be Done

Michael Neece, chief strategy officer for Pongo Resumé, an online resumé-writing resource, believes non-traditional jobs for engineers and IT professionals leverage the analytical and mathematical skills of the technical person." IT instills employees with problem solving skills and the ability to see patterns within huge volumes of data. This makes technical people valuable to non-technical professions," he says.

Neece describes a few of the positions that engineers and IT professionals can have in the non-tech firms. He says that they can work in production management, patent research, or by the health care industry to optimizing management of electronic medical records. According to him, computer scientists are also hired in the wastewater and electric utility industries to help optimize water stream flows and power delivery.

Neece asserts that nearly every industry hires technical professionals, including universities, government organizations, construction and manufacturing, hospitals, utilities, petroleum producers, and more.

The Lone Tech

But can you handle being the only IT expert at your job? It's important to understand the pitfalls of working for a non-tech company before you make the leap. In this type of work environment, you will have to contend with management not necessarily valuing IT as much as a tech company would. In fact, they may be more prone to cutting costs when it comes to new technology.

Non-tech companies also tend to hire one IT professional as a kind of "catch-all," which means you might end up working on anything related to IT, even if it is outside your area of expertise or if it is incredibly mundane. For example, you may spend an exorbitant amount of time helping people in the sales department recover lost files after their system unexpectedly goes down.

Many More Pluses

Jim Turnquist, director of Career Services at Michigan Technological University, encourages new IT grads to take a look at the wealth of job opportunities available for techies in the non-tech world—regardless of the perceived negative aspects.

"The attractive part for engineers and IT people is that just about every employer may use them. We are a high-tech society using technology to do more for us. This changes the complexity of the work force. Jobs will be eliminated because of technology and new ones will be created. Like the post 1980s recession in the automotive industry, many jobs were eliminated due to automation. These people had to go back to school to learn new skills that could deal with automation. This is an ongoing phenomenon. Society is changing constantly due to technology. We have to adjust our skills to meet this need."

Turnquist says that all kinds of companies are hiring engineers and IT people, like the railroad industry, insurance companies, investment firms, the federal government, medical schools, health clinics, law offices, retail, hotels, consulting firms, and more.

"Investment firms hire engineers to do research on potential investments and new products that could affect the stock market (for instance, alternative energy, mining, new manufacturing methods)," he explains. "And insurance companies hire them to investigate accidents, fires, and other damages to facilities. Also, engineers may investigate a potential customer to evaluate their facilities to determine if they want to insure their operation."

Turnquist uses the railroad industry as another example since they have been hiring engineers to manage crews, and service systems engineering is becoming a popular degree program for coordinating transportation issues.

According to Turnquist, many engineers also make excellent medical doctors because of the intense undergraduate program they completed. "Robots and other electronic systems are playing a bigger role in medicine," he explains. "Being an engineer would prepare them for this part of medicine.

"Hospitals and clinics need engineers to help them with all the new equipment—both in development and maintenance," Turnquist says. "And more and more engineers are going to law school to specialize in patent or corporate law."

What Can I Expect?

"An engineer [working for a non-tech company] should expect a variety of careers within one company. The person could start off in design and then convert to marketing/sales and then management," Turnquist asserts. But keep in mind that IT professionals should plan to continue their education while employed, possibly pursuing a master's in engineering or an MBA.

Also, Turnquist says, "Engineers need to understand that the employer will want strong communication skills in conjunction with their analytical skills. They need to polish their people skills. Working alone is not always an option." The most desirable employees will be ones that have both technical skills and "soft" skills. "We live in a high tech society, but we deal with people. An idea is just that unless we can communicate it to others."

Valerie Anderson is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.

computer scienceinformation technology

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