Information Systems vs. Information Technology vs. Project Management?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by friendorfoe, Feb 23, 2009.

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  1. friendorfoe

    friendorfoe New Member

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    Okay, so it occurred to me that this question belongs in the IT section but since there is a business element to consider I decided to post it here.

    I'm now working as a project analyst in an IT department, specifically for a development sub-unit. I'm surrounded by programmers yet I do not know the difference between a java developer and a vinti caramel machiato latte'. So as you may imagine my job is to track project progress, then present in intelligible forms technical progress to both technical and non-technical management. So I find myself suddenly way behind the curve on technology knowhow, verbage and systems thinking. I've got business down, I can smell a business need or lack thereof from a mile away, but I need some help here...

    1.) I need to bone up on some technical knowledge but do not need to become a technical person in the process. I need a big picture understanding of the concepts and how they fit into a business model.

    2.) I need additional project management skills. In fact I am thinking of doing a certificate program from Boston University or even locally at Amberton University.

    3.) I would like to get a MS degree in some technical area that will help me with need #1 but not at the expense of repeating a bunch of work I already did as an MBA. 1 or 2 courses are okay as I don't mind transferring credit over, but I do NOT need an MSM which after some careful research I have come to discover Boston University's Master of Project Management really is. In fact PM may be too specialized to seek a degree soley in that discipline.

    So that in mind I ask this to everyone...

    What degree programs do you guys recommend?

    What is the difference between an MSIS and an MSIT? I understand that an MSCIS is much more technical than either so I may just forget about that as it doesn't fit my need at this point.

    Also does anyone have a RA state school that isn't too expensive they would recommend? Private school is fine too but at this point I wouldn't mind a bigger name on my resume. Any suggestions?
     
  2. bazonkers

    bazonkers New Member

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    I shouldn't be replying since I should be studying for the GRE but here is my quick reply anyways.

    From what I have seen, Information Systems degrees and Information Technology degrees are the same thing. Schools usually use one of the above names to describe the same degree. Some schools have more technical focus and some have more business focus. It depends on the school but I've seen both approaches with either name.

    I would look for schools that offer either of those two and then look at the required and elective courses. You'd be able to pick a program that better suits what you need. You could pick some PM classes, some programming, networking, etc. I wouldn't get hung up on the actual name of the degree. See who has the best classes for you.

    The degree that sounds the same but isn't (well it is sort of) is a degree in Information SCIENCE. Those are almost Library and Information Science degrees. Even those, if you pick the right school, could allow for really in depth technical coursework. In your case, however, I think you'd be better off with an IS or IT degree that allows you to take some PM classes in the mix.

    I'll leave it up to the others to help with specific program recommendations. My GRE wordlists are calling me!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 23, 2009
  3. dlady

    dlady New Member

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    You are in a precarious position, and honestly stand to build some real resentment as the guy that "doesn't know anything but wants it done faster and keeps telling on us". I used to HATE when a non-techy was a project manager/analyst, and would not let it happen in departments that I ran.

    That being said, I'm not trying to be mean, just give you a heads up. The fact that you are trying to educate yourself is great, but book knowledge and the years it takes to become a good developer are very different things.

    I would recommend the following:

    1 - Carve some time out of your day each day to spend with the developers on their schedule, pay attention to the things they talk about and what about management frustrates them

    2 - never, ever, ever, say "are you done yet" or "you said 40 hours for this task, why do you need more time", if you do, they will start telling you things take 6 times as long as they really do and your timelines will expand to the right a lot, besides the answer will always be bad specs

    3 - Be an advocate for the developers and not management. if you lose management thats okay, but if you lose the developers the project will have problems and they will start feeding you bad information and sending you off to fight silly fights that ultimately discredit you.

    4 - if you truly understand the business, position yourself to negotiate compromises between what can be done in a timely fashion with the technology, and what the business folks initially said they needed.

    5 - instead of trying to learn to program real quick, a better role that everyone will see more value in is requirements collection and analysis. If you can get the developers good specs, and get the sponsors to agree to what they want in writing, everyone will be happy with you. Even if you already have this role, you can send back junk before the developers ever get it, which they will see value in

    6 - I would look for quick courses in requirements analysis instead of degrees in IT.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 23, 2009
  4. Ruble

    Ruble New Member

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    I employed the "Scotty" method many times, especially if I had a non-tech person as the PM.
     
  5. dlady

    dlady New Member

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    my point exactly :)
     
  6. -kevin-

    -kevin- Resident Redneck

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    The infamous "trouble is leaving your end 5 by...."
     
  7. dlady

    dlady New Member

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    As a department head one of the things I started doing, which for some reason was fairly unpopular with "the business" (mostly because it meant there was less risk diffusion), was not to have staff that "kept and reported on the score" aka PMs, which are expensive and only tend to report history, but instead spent the money on more technical resources. This meant that the technicians had to manage themselves, which no one seemed to mind, and it kept us from having 600 meetings about the status of our last meeting.
     
  8. friendorfoe

    friendorfoe New Member

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    The great thing is, I'm not the project manager of these development projects, most of those guys are techies, I'm an analyst that works with the PMs to fit a project into a business need. It's kind of hard to explain really. Also a lot of PMs seem to be brought in after a project is chartered and sent off running, at least that seems to be the case, in which PMs do report history. However if they are brought in at the "initiate" phase (PMBOK) there is a lot more room for collaberation, etc. and I can see where PMs can add a lot of value to an effort, but not if they are brought in to clean up a mess.

    I appreciate the feedback David and trust me, I'm not the corporate advocate, the PM bully, the managerial whip or the techie wanna be.

    Like I said, I'm looking for a broad overview of systems, systems integration into business, etc.

    Also I've been a PM in the past before my LEO years building a data center when I was supposed to be a Network Engineer, I discovered quickly that I am more PM than techie and that's okay, but I'm not afraid of technology in the least, so long as it serves a purpose.;)
     
  9. friendorfoe

    friendorfoe New Member

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    Also I've done some homework, I've found this:
    http://aln.coe.ttu.edu/alnweb/MSSEM.php
    but the only problem is I do NOT have a "strong technical background", I have a fairly antiquated technical background. But there is a minor (odd for an MS) in Software Engineering which looks like the courses you recommended dlady.

    I've also found this program http://www.tarleton.edu/~is/
    which looks good because it is oriented towards those "students with a baccalaureate degree in another area, who lack information systems skills and desire to develop new career skills in Information Systems"
    Another plus is they are a hometown school with campuses in Fort Worth where I live and inexpensive to boot.

    I've also considered http://www.tamu-commerce.edu/graduateprograms/programs/technologyPrograms.asp
    because they tend to focus on the business aspects of technology management from a systems overview perspective (if that makes sense) and they have a strong MIS concentration. The bad thing is my brother had a very poor experience at this school with absentee professors, clueless teachers aids, etc. But then that was 1 course in a totally different program. These guys are local and well known in my area.

    Lastly I've considered good ol' Bellevue University's http://www.bellevue.edu/cs/ContentServer?c=buDegree&pagename=bu%2FbuLayout&p=1172638670631&cid=1177033758321
    MS in MIS with a CIS concentration. The only problem is I'm not sure the level of how technical this degree is but it says it is primarily an IT management degree instead of say a techie degree. Also I could swear they were involved with Gartner, but I cannot find a reference to that anywhere. Gartner is the new big thing in my office.

    Anyhow, those are what I've considered recently. I considered the University of Management and Technology MIS with PM concentration but honestly, I think I'm going to do a grad certificate in PM seperate from the degree program if necassary because I intend on doing a PMP at the same time. A total immersion approach I guess you could say.

    I should also say that I've been told at least a half dozen times by my boss "I don't want you getting too deep into any of these technologies, just get a broad overview of understanding, a little of each and plug them into business needs". So there is that for what it's worth.
     
  10. -kevin-

    -kevin- Resident Redneck

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    FoF,

    several issues here that I see. First, you will never catch up technically to the guys who do it for a living, technology changes too fast and the experience is not replaceable by a degree, only augmentable. Secondly, business skills/responsibility, especially P&L, are very important.

    However, I will state that soft skills, especially the abilities to diffuse adversarial situtations and move forward despite controversy, are as important as both the technical and business aspects. (I would suspect your LE background would help in this area)

    As for degree recommendations, probably the most nominal (least technical) program I have seen but with a IS focus is at Minot State:

    MSIS

    as for the difference between MSIS and MSIT if you do a search we have discussed it several times over the years. But, take a look at the Marist degrees and you will see course differentiation and in the MSIS degree they further break it down into the CTO and CIO tracks.

    MS IS

    MS TM
     
  11. -kevin-

    -kevin- Resident Redneck

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  12. dlady

    dlady New Member

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    Good luck, I certainly wasn't implying you were any of these things just that in the role you describe, it is fraught with dangers that taking classes on systems isn’t going to help.
     
  13. bazonkers

    bazonkers New Member

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    Based on what you've told us so far, I think something like the MS Technology Management, MIS track program you posted at TAMU is exactly the type of program that fits your requirements. The coursework covers all the technical areas you might be responsible for without loading you up in only one area such as networking etc. It even offers a PM course. Anything that is an IS or IT program will probably be more technical. This one looks really good.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 23, 2009
  14. sentinel

    sentinel New Member

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    You need to spend time with the developers to both gain their trust & respect and acquire the terminology. A good analyst is an even better listener and knows when to ask questions.

    Either an MSIT or MSIS degree will help bridge the knowledge gap if you lack the necessary IT systems experience.

    Purely out of curiosity how did you manage to land an analyst position in an IT department with your educational background in criminal justice (undergraduate) and business (graduate)? These days most organizations are demanding 10+ years experience plus a related degree. In any event, I wish you well.
     
  15. friendorfoe

    friendorfoe New Member

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    Thanks again David and Bazonkers.

    David I understand what you were trying to say and I again appreciate your advice. In fact I started looking into what you were saying and have found much of what you were talking about my BS in Criminal Justice has already covered plus my experience in negotiating with people who shall we say, come in various states of mental fortitude, who were not usually happy to see me or necassarily inclined to "do it the easy way" but more often than not I was able to negotiate with under some extremely trying circumstances. Of course as a cop where negotiations end...

    Criminal Justice = Psychology + Law. So the good thing there is in a roundabout way, I've gotten some of the best soft skills training imaginable.

    Law Enforcment = Procedure, documentation and psychology among other things. Sounds almost like project management right?

    Anyhow my 5 year plan is:

    A graduate certificate in PM and soon a PMP. This will help bolster my PM know how.

    A Certificate in Project Leadership (for after the PMP) which helps me apply soft skills and leadership practices to PM.

    A technical management degree of some kind which not only adds marketability, but more importantly understand various systems, systems thinking and of course how these systems fit into a business structure. Allowing me to act as something of a bridge between Scotty and Kirk. Maybe I can be Spock? He seemed analytical...

    Of course I'm not stopping with just education or credentialism, there's the informal aspect from which to learn as well, Toastmasters, corporate leadership training, books, social gatherings, volunteerism and just being an all around helpful guy whenever possible.
     
  16. friendorfoe

    friendorfoe New Member

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    Sentinel, to answer that I'd have to ask you this, do you believe in God?;)

    Actually it was a blessing, some of it was because of my experience as a technical PM in the late 1990's to early 2000 (all in all about 13 months), plus I was involved with several projects for my law enforcement unit as it was a new creation/iteration after 9/11. 9/11 caused a lot of Law Enforcement Agencies to shift around under different leadership, different budgets, different chains of command and of course different missions, visions, focuses, etc. A lot of what I did was PM by default, most of what I did involved change management.

    Lastly I believe I interviewed okay and followed up well, they asked me for project artifacts to demonstrate the quality of my previous work and fortunantly a lot of the stuff I learned at Ashford was directly applicable to my previous position. But I don't take any credit, it's 100% a blessing no doubt.

    I think we sometimes focus so much on the educational aspect that we forget the bigger picture of what employers look for...and sometimes what really matters to them and in life in general will surprise you. It did me and continues to do so.
     
  17. samkoyejo

    samkoyejo New Member

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    Hello brother,

    These are the knowledge areas (in no particular order) i think will prove useful to acquire

    with reference to the scenario you have painted:


    -Knowledge of SDLC (Software Devp. Life Cycle): check on google

    -Business Systems analysis cert. : www.inquestra.com

    -IT project management cert. : CompTIA (check the URL on google)

    -IT Management related Masters degree with MIS conc. : www.ryerson.ca (check under the Masters programs)


    Regards
    Sam
     
  18. friendorfoe

    friendorfoe New Member

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    Hey Sam, you're spot on.

    I'm already studying for my Project+ Certification from CompTia.

    SDLC is a huge deal here, right now we're using the CMMI framework but I gather it's a recent thing and not necassarily organizational wide yet.

    I hadn't considered Business Systems Analysis as a certificate as of yet but it might be good to look into.

    A degree plan that caught my eye a while back that I read more fully into last night was Bellevue University's Master of Science in Management of Information Technology with an emphasis in Computer Information Systems. I read the course listing and the syllabus of several different courses for that program and it looks excellent. It covers SDLC, CMMI, some of the ITIL stuff (another biggie here) project management (1 class) development, etc. It touches on a lot of different things but doesn't appear to get too deep into any one technology, etc.

    Their more technical degree is their Master of Science in Computer Information Systems (designed for working IT professionals).

    Also UMUC has a great program. They have a good technology core, though not as wide reaching as Bellevue but they have a PM focus that looks second to none. My only concern with their program is that it may be too concentrated on PM.
     
  19. JLA_8

    JLA_8 New Member

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    I didn't read through all the posts, so these may have been mentioned already.

    1. Maybe MIS would fit what you need better. This seems to combine IT with business management. (at Excelsior College anyway)

    2. Perhaps a certificate program would be more suitable. That combined with the degrees you already have would seem to do you well.
     
  20. RFValve

    RFValve Active Member

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    Have you looked at the advanced certificate in PM from Stanford University? I completed the Computer Security certificate and they seem to be a good resume boosters.
    You already have few degrees so I wouldn't worry about another master's. A PMI or recognized certification like CISSP might be more cost effective for you.
     

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