Career options for PI specialists
After the first couple of years as a PI specialist the yearly career interview with the supervisor draws nearer and nearer, and every year the question becomes more important: What next? The manager will consider promotion options and ask for the opinion of his specialist. How can you respond? Which are your options?
The first and simplest option is the following:
“I like my job as it is and I’d like to learn more about (adapter x, protocol y) next year.”
This will probably make it easy for your manager, and if you have done a good job so far, you may also enjoy a welcome bonus or salary increase. And if this is your honest answer and you love it, then this is perfectly fine.
But what if you’d like to answer:
“I like my job, but now I’d like to do something else!”
This is probably going to put your manager into some trouble, since he needs to consider now different options, maybe putting you into a different team, assign different tasks to you and finding someone else who can do you previous job. So you better be very clear about what you want and how you could help your manager to make this transition.
What options do you have at all?
1. You may be a talented technical expert who would like to expand your knowledge and acquire skills on a different module.
This could be the easiest option for your manager, since he could see an option of an upcoming project, shift people around in some developer pool or even consider a job switch with a colleague interested in PI. It is also a clever career option, since employment chances rise if you can stand on two legs. In case PI gets outdated some day you’d have something else to lean on. However, this option is almost exclusively achievable within the same company. This company may have an interest in keeping you in the company for the internal knowledge you acquired and simply for human reasons. Job applications to an area outside your qualifications will most probably raise questions, make you enter at a lower level and maybe fail altogether.
Consider the options of specialization. You should follow your personal preferences and talents, of course, but strategically thinking it may not be wise to specialize in FI or SD modules, for example. There are too many good people around. If you can go for some Java technology like Portal, maybe IdM or some module in CRM area where there is not so fierce competition.
As a result you will in an ideal case find a job that gives you new challenges, skills and satisfaction. However, in a couple of years you may be in the same situation as in the beginning.
2. You may find that you have skills beyond the technical and would like to leave this area.
This will make it harder for your manager. For module developers there is a classical career exit to move over to the business side. In PI case this option seems to be impossible, since there is no business area assigned to PI. Right? Or maybe is there an option?
I’d like to make a case that there is.
This brings us to the strengths and skills you get by working in PI area besides mastering the tool technically. As a PI expert you build interfaces and connect systems. But you can also connect people, translate their (business) languages, and as you usually connect complex business processes you can acquire quite decent high-level process knowledge across all areas. What is the functional area of a team whose job is it to tie level 3 or even level 2 process together? Whose job is this in a project? Right, our functional area is functional process management, the level above business process areas as logistics, finance or sales and marketing.
Aspiring for such a position out of a corner that is mostly seen as some technical machine room business attached to basis and development rather than to business is a very big challenge and deserves maybe an article of its own. But it can be a lasting motivation. There can be various small steps to get there. Ask for management of interface projects, including the functional side and learn about project management. Try to get into a leading position first, for example of a PI team, and participate in meetings on a higher level. Try to achieve Solution Architect status for interfaces and fight for authority to decide interface design just like functional module developers decide implementation in their area. Expand responsibilities to related areas, for example CRM Middleware or other non-PI interfaces.
This is options mostly from an internal perspective. As a consultant, options are slightly different. A leading position will also help you getting more on the functional track, but in most cases you’ll be rather forced to learn more about different technologies than about business processes. This may require so much of your time that you cannot focus on the business side. So it may be more attractive to apply for different projects including more classical consultancy work leading interface workshops with functional teams, for example. In consultancies it is a lot easier to get into a completely different role. However, you lack the network and support from a grown company. It is more likely that you will be put back into your old tracks in case of failure of the first attempts.
Both will require cooperation from your manager. Opening up such a career path will be difficult and unusual for him. He/She will have to defend your career choice in front of peer managers and his own manager. He needs to fight for you to get you into these positions. He will have to be creative and open to find you these positions. There is also danger if you bring forth your wishes to aggressively. He might see you as a threat to his own position, for example. It is important to take that option off the table and convince him of the advantages this could mean for him. More prestige to his department, you could teach juniors and help him in acquiring new projects (in a consultancy) and take some work of his shoulders or substitute him in some areas he can’t manage in the time he has.
Lastly, the right job change in the right moment could give you that edge to advancement necessary to grow. Before taking that decision, better consider it well and talk to friends and trustworthy colleauges, ideally with your manager. Grown structures can only be bent to a certain degree and once you grow out of them a job change may be the only way to proceed.
As you grow older and more experienced you may find it tedious to search for hours in OSS notes and system logs for explanations for some obscure error messages. You may also experience that younger ones are faster and better at it. I hope that I could point out some possibilities to grow and develop beyond that technical role. I feel it deserves the effort.