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Do I need an information systems management degree?

IS management degrees are table stakes for many IT job seekers. Hands-on experience and specific certifications make applicants more desirable.

The importance and value of a formal degree, such as an information systems management degree, has become a matter...

of debate for modern businesses and IT staff. The short answer is still yes; a degree is a good launching point for a career in IT.

Job candidates who possess a formal degree in information systems management can demonstrate the successful completion of a prescribed course of study that forms the foundation of a professional career that spans a wide range of potential task areas.

An information systems management degree program includes coursework such as the organizational use of information systems (IS), basics of IS, ethics in IT, software and hardware infrastructure concepts, database concepts, enterprise IT architecture, IS project management, systems analysis, business continuity planning, trends and applications in IS, and more. This offers a broad set of basic knowledge that can lead to opportunities in varied IT roles.

For example, IT job seekers with an IS management degree can become involved in systems administration, network administration, systems and network security, developing and deploying data center infrastructure, and working with data, including big data analytics. Information systems management degrees are often related to job titles such as information systems manager, systems analyst, application analyst, data analyst/scientist, database administrator, IT technical support officer and systems developer.

But a formal degree -- especially at the associate and bachelor's degree levels -- is just a launching pad. For employers and job seekers alike, knowing the basics isn't enough to be successful. It is virtually impossible for a Bachelor of Science degree alone to adequately prepare a candidate to step into a role that involves the many complex technologies and services that modern businesses use in day-to-day operations. That takes practical work experience.

In practice, an information systems management degree is table stakes for any candidate seeking an entry-level IT position. But many of the routine tasks expected of that job candidate are learned on the job, such as using Microsoft System Center Operations Manager to administer a set of Windows Server 2016 systems according to the organization's established policies and practices.

As tools, frameworks, systems, and even policies and practices are upgraded and replaced over time, IT professionals must continue to advance their knowledge through practical work experience and continuing education.

It is this persistent demand for continuing IT education that has gradually led businesses to de-emphasize the role of traditional college degrees in favor of more industry-focused and vendor-specific certifications.

An information systems management degree will get a candidate in the door, but it is unlikely that an IT professional will advance that degree as a job priority. Instead, the IT employee will pursue one or more relevant industry certifications, such as a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) variant, such as CCNA Data Center; a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) variant, such as MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure; or countless other potential certifications.

Industry certifications enable IT professionals to tailor their expertise to meet the requirements of specific employers. And unlike a degree -- which is a lifetime credential -- IT certifications are typically renewed every few years to ensure current competence.

This was last published in April 2018

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Has your degree or your on-the-job experience been more valuable in your job seeking endeavors, and why?
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Currently, it takes a degree to get a foot in the door and make it past the HR screenings to get to a hiring manager. For entry and mid-level jobs, an associate's is as good a Bachelors. To advance you are going to need a BA and eventually an MSc or MBA to move up into senior positions. Certifications are great additions once you have experience and they demonstrate that you are keeping current. Not all employers value certifications equally, and some prefer vendor neutral to vendor specific.
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