To ice the cake, first you need a cake

If I had a dollar for every IT manager, recruiter and passer-by who told me IT managers must nowadays have business skills, I'd be a very rich woman.

If I had a dollar for every IT manager, recruiter and passer-by who told me IT managers must nowadays have business skills, I'd be a very rich woman - and I probably wouldn't be sitting here writing this.

Unfortunately payments haven't - so far - accompanied this advice, but that doesn't make it any less true. For some time, IT managers have required business skills. It may be that if you're a manager, or want to be one, you're contemplating doing an MBA.

Aacorn Recruitment director Steve Green says MBAs are becoming increasingly popular but not just for senior people within IT.

"We're finding more and more that people at the rung below, maybe business analysts and project managers, are also considering them. With the way e-business is shaping the IT industry, people performing project management and business analysis roles have to be far more aware of strategic and business trends, directions and issues - and less so technology - now than ever before."

Michael Fraser is an information technology and telecommunications manager in the South Island who has completed three units towards a MBA qualification.

He did his papers through Deakin University in Australia. He has taken a break from the papers for a couple of years, but intends studying again next year when he returns to Australia. However, he is now contemplating a PhD instead of an MBA.

He embarked on the MBA because he'd been away from study a long time and wanted to learn new things. He was also interested in moving away from a technical stream to a management stream and had been moving towards formal project management.

Fraser says the papers were good, however there were, as in all courses, issues of relevance. The financial segments particularly were focused on the private sector at a time when he was in the public sector. However, even now he is in the private sector he doesn't find them that relevant.

But he says the management perspectives course was the most eye-opening - very different to any previous training or education he'd had, and "very, very interesting".

However, Fraser says he had a problem with the ethics of the course.

"It seemed to me to be teaching you the techniques of how to motivate and manipulate others regardless of your personal belief in the worth of the work you were doing.

"My impression was that if you were genuinely compassionate towards your staff and fundamentally believed in the value of your work, the course would have been of little day-to-day use to you."

He says the time and costs of the course are substantial and it's vital to have your employer's support.

But, he says there are benefits. He has a greater understanding of what is going on around him, and the psychology of management.

After starting his course he moved into a project management role where he was in a completely non-technical capacity, spending long hours in meetings and working with high level staff from many organisations.

"I found the skills from the MBA course very instructive in dealing with these situations, and my input was generally soundly thought out and well received. I was expected to manage my projects, budgets, tasks and staff and report appropriately and all of these things went well."

However, now he has moved to a semi-technical management role, one step removed from the senior management team, he finds the same ideas and skills that served him previously are ignored in this position.

He suspects that because he regularly solves technical problems, people choose to believe he couldn't possibly have management nous as well as technical skills.

He says for this reason, he would suggest to other IT staff or managers considering an MBA that they look to their employer and where they want to go in their career before pursuing such a course.

He says you should go ahead if your employer is genuinely interested (prepared to help fund it and provide study and exam leave). You also need to believe it will empower you to manage your area better, both in terms of your approach to staff and to other management.

"If not, they might want to consider if they want to stay with their current employer or change career direction entirely."

Aacorn's Green says an MBA doesn't just allow you to gain business skills, "it also is a great avenue for establishing business networks.

"Those people I have known who have done MBAs, invariably say that the friendships and camaraderie they develop during those studies last a long time and are very powerful."

He says employers are always impressed by an MBA but it's not a "must have. If the candidate's got it, it's the icing on the cake, but they've got to have the cake first."

Email Kirstin Mills.

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