#1. Get Over IT.
At a recent tech conference I attended in NYC, a keynote speaker keenly pointed out that many of today’s most attractive firms are indeed IT companies. I’d be hard pressed to come up with any company of significance whose fundamental underpinnings are not entrenched in IT. IT is everywhere, and those with a background in engineering, business analysis and technical project and program management are highly sought after. So get over it. A resume replete with a highly technical background is no longer the handicap it once was. Tech companies get this, but more traditional shops are quickly realizing the importance as well: firms who are not infusing their organizations with fresh technical minds are at risk of falling behind their competitors. Know that this background is valued. Learn to position its virtues within a broader business context.
#2. Become Fluent in Business Speak.
One of the first lessons I learned in the corporate world was how to manage my personal brand. So, let’s think about this—how are you going to transition from IT to become a business manager if you keep hanging out with engineers in the lunch room? Pigeonholing is self-inflicted. There will come a point in your role, where you will directly interact with a business counterpart. Perhaps this is a stakeholder for one initiative whose technical aspects you are managing or executing. Your specific task may be to represent your work, but it is important to reshape your narrative to have broader business implications. Do not use jargon, do not talk about API calls. Instead flex your Anderson muscles: Express how your work affects the company’s ability to improve its services and increase its value for its customers and shareholders. Doing this well demonstrates a wider perspective and, if sustained, a potential to assume roles beyond those in IT.
#3. Increase Your Visibility with the Right People.
As you build this foundation, it’s important to increase your interactions with business counterparts. For some, it may be built in to your roles. Others may need to create these opportunities. One approach is to prove that a direct relationship with your business stakeholders is more efficient than relying on intermediaries or bottling up information until the next meeting. Emails do little to break down barriers and forge relationships. A phone call is better but an in-person chat is best. And in these interactions, don’t just discuss business. Ask about their other initiatives. Get their input on recent shifts in the industry. Take your time to cultivate relationships and always be authentic. I can smell desperation and self-promotion from a mile away—most can too. Some of your relationships will flourish more than others. Some of these colleagues may become your advocates and help support your eventual move to transition out of IT. Keep that in mind as you search for positions.
#4. Make Your Intentions Clear.
People need to know what you want, but be reasonable. A jump from an engineering role to managing a business unit is difficult—there are just too few overlapping skills. From what I have observed and experienced directly, a role in technical project management is often a natural step out of a strictly technical role and into one that is more business focused. These roles require technical fluency but also the ability to manage relationships outside of the IT organization. And much of a business manager’s role is anchored in project management. View these projects as a gateway to learn more about the business. Become a cross-functional expert and figure out how the business works and what its vision is. Use your skills to drive value to the business, not just to the projects you’ve been given. With a solid track record behind you, let your advocates know about your intention to cross over. Get their advice on how to position yourself as declare candidacy for new roles.
Jose Lustre is currently the Director of International Expansion for Beachbody, LLC. Prior to this position, he has held roles in Planning & Analysis, Brand Management, IT Project and Program Management and Systems Analysis. He is a proud FEMBA 2015 and has served in the FEMBA Council for three years. Prior to Anderson, Jose graduated as a Presidential and Thematic Option Scholar at USC with a degree in Print Journalism & Film Production. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.