Combining management skills with computing expertise

Combining management skills with computing expertise

For those adept with computing skills and looking for a unique specialization in a management course, an MSc in Computing For Business might be apt, writes Dr. Mario Kolberg.

Investing in a Computing MSc programme to enhance your career prospects in the IT industry can be an excellent decision. However, if your passion is for IT management, programmes which offer up -to-date knowledge and key skills in both computing and management can be a much better choice.

Such courses cover the application and development of key computer technologies, as well as business management principles. Good quality courses offer a choice of computing and business subjects, so that you can adapt the course to your interests, previous experience and education and career goals. Key management skills which should be part of such a programme include practical management approaches illustrated with case studies, people management (HR), as well as project, strategic and operations management. On the computing side, important topics include software design principles and software development approaches, key database technologies, as well as network technologies and applications possibly including phone app development. Such a mix of topics will make sure that successful students become respectable IT professionals who understand current design and development approaches, as well as have a deep understanding of key management practices so they are well equipped to lead and manage teams as well as projects.

When choosing an MSc programme which combines computing and management, besides the actual content of the course, extra-curricular activities offered by the university are just as important. This can include strong links with industry and offer students the opportunity to gain some valuable experience in industry. This may be through MSc projects carried out in partnership with companies or placements and part-time positions taken in parallel with the taught course. Any such experience makes students stand out from the crowd when looking for a job afterwards. Initiatives, such as “Making the Most of Masters” (http://www.mastersprojects.ac.uk) which organise company-led MSc projects, are of particular interest. 

Such projects provide an excellent opportunity to apply knowledge acquired while studying at the university in a commercial setting and to gain valuable experience working with an employer. Similarly, the “e-Placement Scotland” project (http://www.e-placementscotland.com) provides placements on a competitive basis with Scottish high-tech companies. These placements are paid and are a great way to gain commercial experience and help with the students’ living expenses.

More generally, professional and personal development support offered as part of high-quality courses are crucial for the investment in an MSc to pay off. Such support should stretch over a number of sessions and cover key topics such as developing self-image and professional confidence, communication skills including using effective language in a variety of situations, presentation skills, CV preparation, interview strategies as well as training in being assertive and being able to deal with difficult situations. After all, employers are not simply looking for good academic skills, but more general skills for competent employees.

After completing such a programme students are ideally placed to take on a role as an IT manager. This may be managing a team within a software enterprise, or leading an IT department in a major corporate. 

Companies greatly value the skill sets from students on such combined computing and business MSc courses, and the range of fresh ideas they can bring to a company. As Nick Pye, CEO of YouManage HR Ltd says: “A combination of Computing and Business topics seems like a sound idea for many businesses including our own. Having had varied experiences of working with Graduate Application Developers, we know which ones have stood out from the crowd; it's those who can align their day to day work activities with a solid sense of the organisation’s overall aims and purpose, and can easily link their job purpose back to the commercial aspirations of the company.  To combine management with computing topics is sure to address some very real business needs; a good understanding and combination of valuable disciplines, such as project, people and e-commerce management practices needs to be present, and likely to be insisted upon by employers in today's competitive marketplace.”

Similarly, Peter Harper, Development Operations Manager at Kana Software states: “A course that combines computing and business is a great idea. It should produce graduates who have a more rounded appreciation of what is needed to deliver business results as well as the technical knowhow to deliver them.”

The University of Stirling has recently launched an “MSc Computing for Business” course  (http://www.cs.stir.ac.uk/entrants/cb) or (http://stir.ac.uk/by) which is supported by a variety of industry placements and company projects. The programme has been designed with the demands of the job market in mind so will enable graduates to take up and lead highly successful careers in IT management.

(The writer is a Senior Lecturer, Computing Science and Mathematics, School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling)

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