Podcast Recap: IT Specialization vs. Entrepreneurial Thinking with Van Romine

Written by Brandon White on September 21, 2020

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What’s better for IT professionals: deep specialization in their unique field or instead an entrepreneurial mindset?

That’s exactly what JumpCloud’s very own Ryan Bacon sat down to discuss with Van Romine, IT Manager at Inland Valleys Association of Realtors, in a recent episode of our “Where’s The Any Key” podcast. If you missed it, don’t worry. We’ll cover all of the highlights and then some right here.

How Does Entrepreneurial Thinking Play into IT?

Van kicked off the good-natured debate by explaining the benefits of a more business-focused perspective to succeed in IT. 

“As an IT person, I believe it’s so helpful to be able to appreciate the business parameters, the business challenges.

“Sometimes there are no good technical solutions to people problems, but there usually are good business solutions to those kinds of issues.”

This mindset, that IT is not an island outside a business but instead is part of its lifeblood and affected by all of the business implications, makes total sense. But, in the true spirit of a debate, Ryan immediately challenged it.

If an IT organization is responsible for outcomes outside of purely just technology, that means less time to spend on tech. 

Two Examples: Google and IBM

To support both sides, each debater brought up the tech giants they had first-hand experience with.

Ryan mentioned an internship at Google, where the siloed nature of such a large enterprise enabled individuals to have very structured, defined roles. He was able to tune out the larger concerns and objectives of the organization, because his responsibilities fit neatly into his specialized role. It was easy to inform his manager of the tech he needed and let someone else work out the budget, versus being responsible for also justifying the business case.

To counter this point, Van drew back to his days at IBM, relating the two tech bohemeaths on this siloed nature, which ultimately contributed to the decline of IBM’s supremacy in the tech space. Not to mention, the politics that come with silos make it essential to understanding the business dynamics to be successful in IT — definitely a case for the entrepreneurial mindset.

Different Types of Career Progression

Next, our debaters turned their focus to the way each of these mindsets affect an IT professional’s career path.

With a specialized career path, Ryan made the point that the path is easy to define. 

“You want to be a network engineer? Okay, you stay with your Net+ certification and some schooling and then you go on to your Cisco certifications or whatever. There’s a clearly defined progression of how to get to the next step. 

With entrepreneurial thinking and bringing in the business side of things, how do you progress your career?”

Van answered this question by explaining the importance of being adaptable and taking risks. The disruptor mentality that is foundational to an entrepreneurial mindset is really what guides career progressions. His real-life example was about the transition to cloud computing, which he resisted given his familiarity with AWS. But by being willing to unlearn his previous ways of working, he was able to excel in his career path — a trait he noted is important whether you’re an IT specialist or generalist.

In a world where everyone wants to be irreplaceable to be truly valuable to an organization, choosing specialization in a particular IT field can feel like a guessing game. Pick a specialization that will be important in 10 years, or else get ready to relearn at the drop of a hat.

Is There a “Right” Answer? 

As the debate came to an end, both Ryan and Van reached pretty similar conclusions.

Running a successful IT function takes the ability to demonstrate a win-win: an IT win must be a win for the organization. The best way to do that? Being able to demonstrate the business value of any IT decision. Especially because IT is often a cost center — an important one, of course, but not generally responsible directly for revenue — making the connection between IT’s function and business outcomes is critical for success.

Yet deep IT knowledge, by necessity, is important to the trajectory of IT professionals. An individual’s IT specialization or business focus is usually dictated by their desire to stray away from pure technology and into the business world, and it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

“There will be moments in your conversation like we’ve had where you’re really thinking, ‘Wow, specialization is exactly what’s going to really fit me right now.’

“Then you can do a little different stage of your life, like a different stage in our conversation, where you say, ‘Wait, maybe a little bit of business smarts would really help me out in solving this problem.’ It’s just an ebb and flow. I don’t think that there is a single answer, but I do believe, just like this conversation, there is movement back and forth.”

So really, the “right” path for one could be totally wrong for another. But in navigating your proclivities for IT specialization or business generalism, remember Van’s closing words:

“Being flexible is really the answer to most problems.”

Listen to the full podcast to hear more stories we didn’t highlight here from Van’s trajectory. If you’d like to learn more about how JumpCloud enables IT Managers like Van to deliver organizational value, drop us a note.

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