Interview with Ilya Yakovlev
Name: Ilya Yakovlev
Major, minor, and graduation year: Computer Information Systems & Accounting, 1997
Job Title: Director of Center for Information Systems
Organization/ Place of work: St Cloud State University, St Cloud, Minnesota
You're a Computer Center Director, what does that entail? What are your duties or responsibilities?
-My job is to oversee computer support for the staff and the leadership of the university. My staff provides technical support, computer training, application development and other services. I also work with vendors, colleagues at other institutions, prepare contracts, budgets, and help define the direction for technology for my employer.
What are the highlights of your job that you enjoy most?
-It is highly satisfying to see the finished product, for example a new technology, implemented successfully and providing visible value to the user.
What are the challenges that you face with your job that are not enjoyable?
-With management, there is a lot of bureaucracy and red tape that must be overcome. With experience you learn the processes to get things done.
How do you spend your work days? Do you spend a lot of time office/lab/meetings/outside/___?
-About half of my time is spent in formal meetings or informal visits with my customers. I spend the rest of the time working with my staff, meeting with other colleagues, preparing written, and electronic communications, and other tasks.
How did this type of job/field interest you and how did you get started?
-I have always been interested in computer technologies. UW-Superior helped me clarify my interests thanks to the great professors such as Drs. Trudeau, Reichert, Jordan, and many others, especially in the Business & Economics department. I did a lot of hands-on programming and was fortunate to also be a student employee in the UWS technology services department. My first full time job was at UW-Superior as a computer programmer and I was then promoted to a supervisor position.
What qualifications did you need to obtain this job?
-My current employer was looking for someone with supervisory experience, someone who could work well with staff, faculty, and administrators, and for someone who could manage projects well. It helped that I had experience in higher education and that I am also a certified project management professional (PMP).
What personal qualities or abilities do you believe contribute most to success in this job/field?
-Communication skills are everything in this job and in this field in general. They are also harder to outsource than many technical skills. Another valuable skill would be the ability to learn new things quickly and to stay informed of the latest developments in technology. I pads (version 1) and Wiis were all the rage just a couple of ago. Today they are old news.
What organizations were you involved in College that helped you towards your career?
-In retrospect, I should have sought more opportunities to get involved. The one organization that stands out is the World Student Association (it might have been called the International Student Association at the time). It is a great place to network and to make friends.
What degree/s is appropriate for this line of work?
-At management level in the technology area, many employers (particularly in the government sector) will prefer someone with a Master's degree in a computer related field such as computer science or computer information systems. It helps to have project management, network, or similar certification.
Where and/or what do you hope to be in 2-5 years? 5-10 years? What are the keys to this career advancement?
-One valuable aspect of my field or fields is the variety of opportunities it offers. One track is the position of a Chief Information Officer. Another opportunity is teaching technology at a university. An alternative might also be the position of a project manager. It is important to remain flexible and to learn what it is that you really enjoy doing at every stage of your career. What you like doing now may not be what you want to do ten years from now. Also recognize that many jobs are moving to contract-type arrangement where clients change and you may not necessarily have an office-based 8-5 Monday-Friday position.
What was the best piece of advice you received and from who that helped you towards your career?
-When I was approaching graduation at UWS, Dr. Dokhanchi from Social Inquiry department said "Don't settle! Keep going!" I took that to mean that I should look beyond a Bachelor's degree and that I should expand my horizons. His advice served me very well.
Do you have any advice or "words from experience" for a college student interested in this job/field?
-To repeat, communication skills are everything in this field. Learn to write, speak, and to listen well. Offer training sessions, teach an adjunct class, do whatever it takes to be comfortable in front of large and small groups. Add a minor or a second major outside of technology to your computer-related major.
If you knew all this back in college, what would you say were the most important classes? Is there anything you would have paid more attention to? Any additional classes you would have taken?
-Pace yourself and allow yourself time to get the best grade possible in all of your classes. Even ten years from now your next employer might ask for your transcript along with your grades. Higher education is also expensive. Get the most value out of it.
The choice of classes is not critical. Ask your friends about the best professor they had even if it is in a different field. I thoroughly enjoyed painting and music classes just as I enjoyed accounting information systems because of the great professors who taught them. One of Steve Jobs' great inspirations for the Mac computer was a calligraphy class he took though it probably didn't neatly fit in his original major.
In college, people claim that a bachelor's degree isn't enough anymore and that you need a master's or doctorate degree to get your foot in the door. What's your opinion?
-It depends on the job. The above is true in higher education and may be true for many management positions but would not be for a computer programmer, desktop support technician, computer trainer, or a number of other positions. Certifications might be desired in particular fields such as computer network specialist. Generally it is best to have a balance of experience and academic preparation. An applicant with a Master's degree but no direct experience for a job may be overshadowed by one with a Bachelor's degree and a relevant internship. If you can get your Master's while you are working (and if the employer can help offset the cost), that might be a good outcome for many people. Do look at certifications first early in your career.