Best 100: International IT: A world view

For some IT workers, the world's their oyster. As their U.S.-based employers expand operations worldwide, new challenges, experiences and career opportunities are opening up here and abroad.

At United Parcel Service Inc. (No. 9), for example, growth in international operations has prompted expansion of IT systems. That in turn has led to the creation of jobs overseas.

"Extending the reach of our services internationally is creating job opportunities, from technician up to project management and department manager positions," says Glen Barry, a systems analyst technical manager at UPS's enterprise systems management division in Mahwah, N.J. "The majority of those jobs are created in the U.S., although there are some regional international support groups. Those new jobs help us build career paths, and that helps IT employee morale.

"Whether the server is in Louisville, Ky., or Germany, we have to be able to monitor the network devices and the connectivity," adds Barry.

Some IT workers say international assignments offer them a chance to stretch their skills. Others say they provide opportunities to learn about other cultures or collaborate with colleagues from other nations.

Virginia Preuss says she learned more rapidly about IT by working in England, where she is manager of management systems at Ford Motor Co. (No. 35), than she would have in the U.S. "Coming to Europe has enabled me to get a broader set of responsibilities earlier in my career," Preuss says. "It's like working for a small start-up where you can get your hands dirty in everything."

Working in Europe, Preuss provides IT support to operations as varied as accounting, human resources and the office of the general counsel, and she also reports to the top IT executive in Europe.

If she worked in Ford's U.S. IT operations, which are several times larger than those in Europe, she probably would have responsibility for only one of those areas and would report to someone further from the top.

Eye-opening experience

Becoming part of an international financial services company last year opened up new opportunities for IT workers at Household International Inc. (No. 46) in Prospect Heights, Ill. The new parent company, HSBC Holdings, wants Household's U.S.-based credit card IT system to be rolled out in at least 22 other countries in Europe, Asia and South America by 2008, says Dennis Rodriguez, a director of IT business systems at Household.

"The lives of IT people here have been significantly enhanced," says Rodriguez. "There will be more travel for my team initially, and we also will be relocating people from these countries to our team in the U.S. for training."

International IT also gives employees a broader sense of their profession. Life in Europe has given Preuss a better idea of the difficulties faced by international employees for whom English is a second language. U.S.-based managers who authorize the creation of new online IT training in English need to remember that, she says.

"They don't always think of that right off, but it will be my first thought when I get back to the U.S.," Preuss says.

Anu Moturi, a business program manager at Ford in Dearborn, Mich., says working in Germany sensitized her to the ways different cultures handle the same job, such as human resources. Now part of an organization that supports global HR applications, she realizes that not every HR department needs the same information.

"When people start requesting reports to support different business processes, we have to try to support their needs," Moturi says. Among other things, that means supporting about 15 different languages.

Broader responsibilities

Even existing jobs are being changed by international expansion at global companies.

At UPS, most of the applications that control the US$500 million a week in worldwide billings are centralized in two U.S. data centers, in Mahwah, N.J., and Atlanta. But Europe's strong labor unions -- which sometimes hold sway over what types of personal information can be transmitted across national borders -- had to be consulted on the design of billing systems.

"Programmers need to bring global business requirements into their design -- languages, currencies and uptime needs," says Jim Medeiros, vice president of information services at UPS. "Those global requirements affect how a new system is architected."

International commerce with Canada affects IT workers, too. At trucking company Roadway Express Inc. (No. 64) in Akron, Ohio, IT employees have become deeply involved in working with Canadian border authorities to accelerate the speed of shipping goods from the U.S. to Canada.

The Roadway IT system provides Canadian authorities with near-real-time information on the status of a freight trailer from its point of origin in the U.S. to the time it approaches the Canadian border, says Pam Well, manager of applications development at Roadway. A shipment's contents can be reviewed well before the truck reaches the Canadian border.

"This gives border authorities good information electronically so they can focus on any suspicious shipments, such as hazardous materials like chemicals," says Jerry Quinn, a senior systems analyst in Roadway's applications development group. "I had a real big say in how that system was designed, and to me that was a motivational thing that kept me inspired."

Steve Alexander is a freelance writer in Edina, Minn. Contact him at Sorion99@yahoo.com.

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