Careers in Information Systems Management

June is “Information Technology” month at University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) Office of Career Services. Throughout the month, we are highlighting the University’s information technology experts to examine career and industry trends, and to provide students and alumni a chance to learn about different career paths within this industry.

Daniel Mintz headshot 2Recently, UMUC Information Systems Management Undergraduate School Program Chair Daniel Mintz answered questions about career trends and opportunities in the information systems management field. Mintz provides leadership by directing, managing and changing the curriculum and supervising over 200 UMUC adjunct faculty to assure teaching effectiveness. He also serves as the vice-chair of the UMUC Academic Advisory Board, which provides advice to and acts as an interface between the more than 3,000 UMUC faculty to UMUC’s Provost and President.

Mintz helped found and served previously as a Senior Advisor for the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC), a non-profit organized to forge an academic community-of-interest to help the government solve tough problems relating to technology. Additionally, from 2006 – 2009 Mintz served as the Chief Information Officer of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Q. How important of a role do today’s information technology managers play combating both changing economic and environmental factors to impacting an organization’s profitability? What are some advances in information technology that we can expect to see in the future?

A. Technology used to be something that an organization made use of. In today’s world, technology is integrated into almost everything we do as individuals or accomplish professionally.

Technology use ranges from devices that measure our health to the pervasive use of cell phones, themselves powerful computers, to the expectation that we are all almost instantaneously connected, and as a result our assumption that any kind of information is available to us on a 24×7 basis.

More than just impacting on an organization’s profitability, the ability to harness, manage, predict and successfully integrate technology has become key to an organization’s existence and value.

Information Systems Management graduates’ role is to answer the question how to use the almost limitless technology available to maximize an organization’s strategic objectives. Our graduates will be expected to be able to talk business goals to senior executives and technology discussions to computer scientists. The will need to explain the implications of each to all organizational stakeholders.

Future advances are only limited by our imagination. We are already starting to see and are likely to have a significant increase over the next decade in applications involving driverless vehicles, utilization of robotics in consumer facing situations, integrating artificial intelligence in general purpose applications, increased use of virtual reality especially in entertainment, and 3-D printing used for health delivery (created organs) and even possibly ‘printed’ food.

All of these would have been considered science fiction if not science fantasy ten years ago and now we can point to actual implementations, albeit perhaps in pilot form, for each.

Q. What career paths could one pursue working in information systems management?

A. Information Systems Management graduates are in great demand both because of the skills they bring and the role(s) they can serve. The skill sets include project management, taking a disciplined approach to problem solving, and understanding both technical architectures but also Enterprise Architectures (EA). An organization’s Enterprise Architecture describes business processes and objectives.

Early positions in an Information Systems Management graduates career often involve analyzing technology requirements or designing technology solutions as well as managing projects either on the technology side or business side of an organization. Such positions exist in government, both federal and state, as well as commercially, including retail and other businesses. The jobs may be within an IT organization or in the program offices that are more customer-facing.

Titles for such position would include computer systems analyst or engineer or architect. If the graduate also minored in cybersecurity, positions might include security management specialist. The classic senior position for an Information Systems Management graduate would be to serve as the Chief Information Officer.

A few specific examples:

  • Being a project manager at the Department of Transportation to implement a system to track safety on bridges
  • Developing the design for a State or local government to analyze crime statistics to optimize police street patrols
  • Being responsible for an approach for a grocery chain to determine when to reorder products to meet customer demand while minimizing spoilage

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Q.  What inspired you to pursue a career path in information systems management? What education path did you pursue? How did you begin your career?

A. When I got to my early thirties, I realized that the work I most enjoyed was in figuring out how to change organizational processes and culture through the use of technology, not so much the technology itself. Based on that I moved on to become a Project and then Program Manager, the latter owning the business issues associated with multiple projects.

During my 11 years at Sun Microsystems running major federal programs, I received a master’s in International Management (MIM) from UMUC where I first learned about adult educational opportunities and on-line educational provisioning. That helped me with adding incremental responsibilities for International opportunities at Sun.

I then was lucky enough to have the opportunity to serve for three years as the Chief Information Officer at the U.S. Department of Transportation, a truly wonderful job, and then held both CTO and COO positions at a number of federal facing firms.

At that point I looked around for someway to give back from some of the learning and experiences I had. That resulted in my teaching for the UMUC graduate program and finally to my current position as a Program Chair.

Q. How have some of your career experiences shaped you into the professional you are today?

A. All of us are the accumulation of many professional and personal experiences. I will point out two that left me with particular lessons learned.

The first happened many years ago. I applied for a job at Lockheed-Martin for a new division based in the Washington, D.C. area that Lockheed was creating (a job which I got). After the interviews, one of the people I met with summarized for me their opinion of me as a potential employee. He told me that I was perceived as bright and accomplished but that sometimes I was unable to choose correctly between “doing right” and “being right.”

I have often reflected on that conversation. We all are often faced with deciding whether it is more important to prove that we personally were right in an argument or whether we wanted to focus on getting everyone to the right result. Often we can only do one well. I have tried hard, not always successfully, to remember that conversation when I get into an argument over some point, and to make sure that I recognize getting to the correct result if better than continuing to argue just to prove I was correct and the person I am talking to was wrong.

The second happened more recently when I served as the Chief Information Officer at the U.S. Department of Transportation. One of my staff asked for a meeting to go over some issues that needed resolution, she had heard that I was in a good mood and wanted to take advantage of it.

I realized that all of us, regardless of what position we hold, are continually telling a story, far beyond the issue of what our mood is. How we act, how we treat people, whether we talk about our family or not, tell jokes or not, get visibly angry or not, are all entries in the story we are telling everyone around us whether we realize it or not.

Q. What personality and character traits must information systems management professionals possess?

A. The Information Systems Management role is that of tying together two organizational responsibilities that do not necessarily understand each other: those responsible for organizational strategy and those responsible for planning and implementing technology projects. One common characteristic however is that both responsibilities are facing dramatic, continuous change.

Thus to be successful professionals it is important to be able to communicate clearly, to listen well, to be collaborative,  to be flexible, and to always be interested in learning about new ideas. It requires a common capability to be both comfortable working with technology and interfacing with all kinds of people.

Q. What advice would you give UMUC students entering information systems management?

A. Even more than the norm, interacting with professionals in the field is important for Information Systems Management professionals. I strongly recommend picking one or a few trade groups that are active in your marketplace and become as active as you have the time to do so. If the trade group has active committees, serving on the one of the committees will increase your visibility and enlarge your range of professional contacts.

Wherever you are employed, it will be important to reach out to other divisions within your organization. Remember that your role involves understanding organizational strategy and tying it to technology management. You should get in the habit of learning about all aspects of your organization not just your immediate co-workers.

Q. For UMUC students and alumni already working in information systems management, what advice would you give them on how to keep advancing within the industry?

A. I have the same advice regarding trade group participation that I mentioned above. In addition, I would recommend continuing a focus on educational opportunities. It is not unusual for an Information Systems Management major to be more interested in either the business or more likely the technology side of their responsibilities. Obtaining a master’s in the area you feel you need additional knowledge is a smart step to take.

Q. Any final thoughts or recommendations you want to share with information systems management UMUC students and alumni?

A. The classical long-term goal for an Information Systems Management major is to be a Chief Information Officer. As I joke with most of my peers who have or support other technical degrees, I point out that all of their graduates will end up reporting to mine.

Seriously though, the demand for staff, managers and executives who can talk to and understand the strategic needs of business executives and take that understanding to optimize the use of technology will do nothing but increase in the coming years as technology becomes more pervasive in everything we do.

For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.

Jennifer Tomasovic is the director, Communications for Career Services and Alumni Relations at University of Maryland University College. She has spent her 15 year career crafting communications strategies and messages using both marketing and public relations tactics enhancing the brand and reputation for both the clients and organizations she has represented.