The classic perception of a typical IT career is dramatically changing in Singapore. As the Technology sector matures and diversifies, there are many new job scopes and designations that are creating momentum in the market. The defining theme seems to be that business and technology are far less mutually exclusive than before. Looking back 20 years and a typical Computer Science graduate would see his or her career in IT as following a fairly typical and predictable career progression:
Developer > Senior Developer > Team Leader > Program Manager > CIO
Developer > Senior Developer > Architect > Development Manager > CTO
Granted this may be a massive simplification, but essentially, this is the classic roadmap and any deviation is just renaming the standard designation.
However, as the Technology sector widens in scope and as end user businesses align their IT departments more with the user audience, the job landscape has been broadening proportionally. This is a worldwide phenomenon that is seen in the more mature MNC populated markets; Singapore is now firmly in this category. Granted we may already be familiar with the term ‘business technologist’. This refers to combined skill set of understanding both IT and business skillsets with a view to bridging IT and business functions. Without stating the obvious, around 20 years ago, this gave rise to job titles such as Business / Systems analyst or Project Manager.
To this extent it is quite common to see career business analysts who major in a specific business domain such as front office investment banking or telecoms billing, and to this extent the direction their career would take would be as much dictated by their business knowledge as their appreciation for technology (if not more).
My point is that this category of employment is widening dramatically. Someone from a background discipline in Computer Science who wants to further immerse himself or herself in the world of business could end up doing any one of the following:
- Business Process Optimisation (BPO/BPM): This is a fast growing area of demand and is concerned with aligning an organisation’s business processes with user requirements. The overall objective is an improvement in business effectiveness and efficiency while striving for innovation, flexibility, and integration with technology. One difference with the classic BA role is that this role is not linked to specific solutions implementations. Instead BPMs attempt to improve processes continuously. One very well recognised skill set in the area is Six Sigma, which is increasingly becoming an industry standard in business optimisation.
- Project Management Office (PMO): Often confused with Project Management, this is a further significant growth area for Singapore within the MNC community. In short it is to be distinguished from project management as being the group or department within a business that defines and maintains standards for project management, so it is essentially a supporting, behind-the-scenes function. The PMO is typically the source of documentation and metrics to facilitate the PM execution and is all there to facilitate the scaling of projects through the creation of a template model which can more easily be replicated.
- IT Security, Audit and Compliance: Traditionally within an MNC (especially banking), you would have departments dedicated to Governance, Risk Management and Compliance and this would cover exclusively business/operational matter such as Basel II compliance. Then you would have a completely separate team covering IT specific security taking ownership for the implementation and support of technology platforms to safeguard information risks such as viruses, hacking etc. But the separation between these 2 areas has become significantly less clear cut. Take as an example the CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor). This is a job designation that is wholly rooted in the world of IT in terms of domain but is also solely concerned with safeguarding against regulatory breaches in a business operations context, eg information leakage.
So in highlighting these new, exciting and emerging domains that have leapt onto the Singapore technology job landscape in the last few years (and are noticeably accelerating in very recent times), what are the ramifications from a recruitment perspective. In my mind, I have made the following observations:
Computer Science is a great qualification to have from a vocational point of view and has a clear career path connected to it, but the opportunities have widened significantly;
Computer Science graduates should no longer be tagged as the geek squad who are only comfortable handling code or eliciting software requirements. Coming from a technical background provides an excellent appreciation of the systems underpinning global corporations, but for those capable, it is very possible to break into the business side of the fence.
This ambiguity puts greater pressure on recruiters and HR teams to better understand the inner working of their clients / stakeholders. Reviewing a job spec is increasingly inadequate when it comes to understanding the full gist of a line manager’s requirements. For instance, a spec may be for an IT security, governance and audit specialist, but only by asking the question and probing will we understand that the line manager is really seeking someone with Computer Science DNA, since this may suit the culture of the business.
There is undeniably a positive upshot to all of this however since the very basis of making these observations is that MNCs are locating their core commercial IT functions here in Singapore which is giving rise to significant levels of diversification in relation to the above. Also whilst budding Computer Science graduates should not look to specialise too early, it is important to be aware that there may be other options down the line other than becoming a program manager or CIO as an ultimate career goal!