Back to the classroom, says IT exec

Continuing training is an investment that Timothy Marlow values, both for himself and his staff.

Continuing training is an investment that Timothy Marlow values, both for himself and his staff.

Timothy Marlow, group IT executive at The Berkeley Group believes, "You have to be committed to lifelong learning." Marlow is currently cramming for the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certification. He has already taken an MBA and also is qualified as an accountant.

"A head of IT has to invest in himself, to say, 'right, I'm going to bring my skills up to date in a particular area,'" he asserts.

While he acknowledges that the fundamentals of IT remain true forever, Marlow reckons that one third of his knowledge becomes obsolete each year.

"The challenge to IT directors is how you replace that knowledge", he says. Fail to do so and you will become a dinosaur.

Marlow's educational achievements roughly alternate between managerial and technical qualifications. He chose the MCSE because he felt his staff, "need to be able to communicate with me as naturally as I can make it", and without having to compromise the language they adopt.

Marlow's views on education extend beyond his own skill set into the department at large.

"We breed very poor heads of IT", he believes. "We don't start broadening people early enough. We give the impression that it's the technical skills that matter, not the people skills. If the head of marketing gets appointed as our boss, we've only got ourselves to blame".

The answer, according to Marlow, lies in department heads being better attuned to the career paths along which their team members show signs of heading.

If you have a team member who lacks sufficient technicalskills to move up through the departmental ranks, but who would make a good IT director, Marlow advocates giving them an opportunity to develop the skills and business awareness they will need for the job.

People can, he believes, nurture their people skills, "but only by practising them".

"I'm developing people outwards as account managers", he says. By fulfiling the role of interface between the IT department and its internal customers, "they get the people skillsÉ and the breadth that they need".

Secondments from IT into other functions across the business, says Marlow, are another means of exposing members of staff "early enough" to the rest of the business.

At the same time, Marlow accepts that some of his staff members harbour little or no ambition to graduate to department head, but are still "hugely valuable as technology resources". For these people, he creates appropriate niches in which they can follow their preferred line of work. "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water", he warns.

For the more technically adept members of his team, the education process takes another form. A strong believer in "creating areas for people to make mistakes in", Marlow has established a test lab, in which members of staff can carry out internal research and development, the idea being that trial and error is better practised on a test Wan than on the corporate infrastructure.

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