A little (IT) knowledge can go a long way

Computer experts can prove their worth in seemingly unrelated fields such as marketing, says Roger Trapp
One of the cinema's most famous scenes has a youthful Dustin Hoffman in the film The Graduate, being pressed to consider a career in plastics. Nowadays, in what seems like another world, a well-meaning adult would be likely to swap "just one word" for two: "information technology".

The overwhelming presence of Bill Gates's Microsoft, as well as the success of the recently floated Netscape, attest to the continuing rise of the computing industry and those who work in it. But spectacularly well as these people and scores of others have done, it seems probable that some of the best opportunities for the IT-minded graduate will lie in related activities.

After all, one does not have to be too cynical to feel that a specialist skill or talent might take you further in a situation where most of your colleagues barely understand what the Internet is, than in one where you are competing with lots of similarly minded folk.

Once you have taken the decision to think laterally, the openings are almost too numerous to mention. For instance, as financial recruitment specialists never tire of saying, IT goes a long way in accountancy. Of course, there is the small matter of passing the accountancy exams to be dealt with first, but thereafter opportunities abound in the City, industry and public practice alike.

Similarly, a few IT specialists have been making hay in the banking sector for some time, on the grounds that their expertise puts them in a strong position to lead the fight against hacking and fraud.

It has not all been good news. In some organisations there has been growing suspicion about IT departments that have ballooned in terms of manpower and budget. And the spectacular failure of a number of high-profile IT projects will have made the odd chief executive wonder whether he or she is about to become a victim of the same principle.

However, even such setbacks do not appear to be closing down the numbers of opportunities. For the chief way in which companies are dealing with rising costs and the fear of things going wrong is by handing responsibility for such matters to the experts. "Outsourcing", as this is known, is becoming increasingly widespread in many areas, from cleaning and catering,even to accounting, but no more so than in IT. One only has to look at the size of the beneficiaries of this policy - organisations such as Sema Group, Arthur Andersen and EDS - to see that there are plenty of jobs still to be had.

For those not too keen to join the armies of systems people working for this sort of operation, there is another frontier: marketing. With the field becoming less concerned with imaginative advertising campaigns and concentrating more on such strategies as "knowing your customer", IT knowledge, in terms of importance, is fast approaching the ability to write catchy advertising slogans.

One of the results of the widening audience for the Internet is an increasing range of marketing routes and this awareness has spawned various books. One of the latest is Guerrilla Marketing on the Internet by Jay Conrad Levinson and Charles Rubin (published by Piatkus at pounds 25).

The idea is that the Internet and such developments as Microsoft's Windows 95 will make it easier for businesses of all kinds to market themselves - at limited cost - across large areas of the world rather than through the more gradual approach traditionally adopted. Some organisations, such as a recently launched "virtual management consultancy" and a group offering help with workplace stress management, are already doing this. But for the moment, this is not likely to be quite such a jolly experience as the authors suggest.

Far more promising are the marketing companies and the specialist bureaux that they employ, which are using increasingly sophisticated databases to search out their best potential customers and then sending them specially targeted promotions.

Now, if anything is going to make those cool advertising types abandon their dismissive attitude towards "techies", it must be hard information like that.