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A Question of Degree

November 25, 2010

On rare occasions I find myself at a loss to express my despair.  Now is one such occasion, brought about through an unsought opportunity to further my career.  I have been approached about a job that is a unique opening and a perfect fit for me.

It seems, however, that the organization is likely to be adamant about its requirement that any potential employee have a University Degree.

Truth be told, I can understand their point of view.  This organization; a large prestigious global financial body; quite rightly requires that the majority of its employees are forged in the crucible of learning that is the University.  In most cases their existing employees hold a Baccalaureate, and some a more advanced degree that has direct relevance to the challenges of their day-to-day duties.

Unfortunately for me, I do not hold a degree of any kind.  Since being compelled to withdraw from a Bachelor of Science in the 2nd year back in 1985 I have pursued a career in Information Technology Management.

Back in 1985 there were few courses offered in the field of Computer Studies.  What little that was on offer related to the field of Computer Application Development rather than Operations Management.

On various occasions over the years I have looked closely at the possibility of returning to finish my BSc.  Since many of my employers have not had a programme to facilitate outside learning opportunities I have had to concentrate on the job of work that I was being paid to perform.  In fact, formal learning opportunities have been very few throughout my career.  With budget constraints and timelines being what they are there is often not the lead-time nor the funds available to enjoy the benefits of a professional educator leading me through an exhaustive treatment of a particular topic.

And this is my strength.  It may seem counter-intuitive to say that the lack of a formal course of study in the field of Information Technology Management is something that I have turned into a strength but I believe this to be an absolute personal truth.  My intention is to convey that I have developed my skills in self-directed learning.

Back in 1993 as a Senior Operations Lead for the Health Insurance Commission in Canberra I lead the organisation’s move from a mainframe based email system (Officevision) to Lotus Notes.  I remade myself to take advantage of an opportunity that I Identified for my employer in moving from a mainframe to a client/server email system.  But, there was no training available and without it I could not speak with sufficient authority to push forward with the project.  I knew that when I presented my proposals to Mr. Peter Hatch, the Director of IT (a mentor who took the time to have one-on-ones with me about once a month), he would immediately begin asking me questions that I would not have suitable answers to.

My direct Manager, Mr. Gordon Gullock, could see the merits of the direction I wanted to lead the organization but there was no money for training, and at that time there was simply no training available in our locality.  But being motivated can be a wonderful thing!  I contacted the IBM Sales rep who dealt with our account and he graciously organized a boxed set of the server and client software.  I begged and scrounged components to build a server from the hardware techs on staff.  I must have installed that server and client software 200 times each learning how to break it and fix it and just working through the manuals.  I made contact with the Lotus technical department (again through IBM who had just purchased Lotus), and picked their brains about how the underlying technology works; the security of server-to-server authentication; encryption protocols; replication handshaking; inter-domain authentication, etc.

I still had to navigate through the proposals and committees and documentation of the plans I was to put forward.  Any organization has its methods of command and control but they simply present another learning opportunity.  The point I’m trying to convey is the process I went through to overcome the challenge of a lack of training.  When I went to Mr. Hatch & Mr. Gullock I was able to speak with a degree of authority and knowledge that I would not have obtained from the formal training courses that became available the following year.  In fact I did do the courses the following year and found many holes and inaccuracies in amongst the course material.

This approach to learning is one I’ve carried with me throughout my career.  I have come through 25 years of profession focussed, self-directed learning.  I still spend many hours a week on my own personally tailored Professional Development Programme.  Whether that is listening to Gartner/Forrester research briefings and following up with my own research; or reading my RSS feeds from the multitude of Tech Press representatives; or listening to Tech (and Tech Law) related podcasts, I expend significant effort on developing myself so that I can speak on a great breadth of Tech topics with some authority.

I know that if I begin a formal course of study again that there will be opportunities to gain some course credit for “life experience” particularly where this has direct relevance to the coursework.  But that would only get me so far.  I would be obliged to complete a course of study that is only peripherally related to my current duties and probably not to future career opportunities.  This would also take me away from my existing Professional Development Programme to spend time on less germane topics.

It’d be a shame if the organisation in question imposes irrelevant criteria to this job posting.   I may end up calling the University here in Adelaide (one of the big 8 here in Australia), perhaps things have changed in the last few years since I last looked at the course options.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Mike Smith –

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 26, 2010 10:19 am

    Dear Uncle

    I will start by firstly wishing you the greatest of luck with this position! You of all people know how important it is to stay positive and confident about the prospect of securing the position so please stay positive and focus all your energy into securing the role!

    In regards to what you have said it relates to me strongly as I too do not hold a degree of any kind and failed at school, however what I do have is a gift to “Influence” and a gift to “relate” with people on all different levels. I believe this was always an attribute I held however it showed itself when I was working part time in a supermarket where I was always conversing with customers.

    When I decided to pursue a career in real estate it was to be honest met with much doubt by family and friends, I even remember yourself showing some amount of doubt or “worry” in my choice to take such a leap. I being the positive self I was chose to ignore this negative energy and instead I took on the “Ill prove you all wrong” approach, this gave me all the energy I needed to succeed and succeed I did, earning many awards and earning the respect of my peers in the industry.

    One must also remember it is not only the position we must focus on, it is also the relationships we build along the way. While I sit here writing this message to you I have an inbox flashing at me and I can tell you there are 3 job offers in there, one is a position at a Commercial Firm in Sydney, the other is middle management with a Malay shipping commpany and the third is for a private builder / developer.

    These offers have come to me due to the relationships I have built throughout my career thus far.

    As I have just done you also have illustrated the need for a degree or further study will not guarantee anyone a position, it may earn you the chance to sit down for the interview but the important moment is that connection you build with management and the message you can convey to them.

    This my friend is something you have the power to do! so beleive it and make it your reality

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