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Can Software Engineers develop themselves as Brands?
Dr. S. Ramesh Kumar & N Bringi Dev
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Bringi Dev is Adjunct Professor and Head- Communication at IIM Bangalore. Dr. S. Ramesh Kumar is Chairperson, Post Graduate Programme in Software Enterprise Management & Professor of Marketing at IIM, Bangalore.

Thousands of software engineers aspire to transition to the management domain a few years into their careers. At the root of this need is a desire to develop themselves as a 'brand', and to differentiate themselves from the large mass of techies. One of the popular routes to achieve a unique brand position is to make a transition to the management side, and many see the acquisition of an MBA or similar qualification as the best route to becoming a more differentiated 'brand'.

There are several routes available to these engineers to pursue management education: some join full time regular two-year programmes; others a one-year executive education program at a foreign university whilst some opt for a part time management program that provides the benefit of earning a degree while continuing to work.

Know your dilemma
While those who choose to go for a full-time programme of management study face fewer doubts about their choice of path, they know it is the high-risk option. The part-time alternative is a good one to balance the need for a continuing stream of income while preparing for growth. The decision to opt for a part-time programme could give rise to doubts and concerns, and part timers tussle with several professional concerns that arise before, and even after they are well into their studies. Some of these typical questions are:
• Will I get the same level of recognition that full time MBAs get?
• Will my present employer see value in my management degree?
• Will I be able to change over to a managerial job that does not involve software at all? Might I have to take a pay cut?

Know They Self
Young professionals are very serious about working out their career prospects and scenario building but rarely do they contemplate and deliberate about their strengths (and weaknesses), a factor that is critical to achieve internal consistency and realistic goal setting. We need to select a branding strategy that is in tune with our perception of ourselves (self congruency) but do not seriously apply this aspect while planning and choosing our career trajectories.

The greatest barrier to developing a sound branding strategy is the extrinsic pull in the environment namely-the lure of fast track growth, attaining a "state of the art" job profile and the supposedly large salary packets that go with these 'hooks' to name a few factors. In many cases, peer pressure and financial needs make sound and rational decision making difficult.

The first prerequisite for a software engineer is to find his or her calling, based on a realistic assessment of oneself. One needs to ask (and provide honest answers) to questions such as 'Will I be comfortable working in an organization that offers a culture which is likely to be very different from what I have come to expect?' or 'Am I really passionate about management? Does my present job offer me avenues to put together the managerial concepts I will learn and can I move up in the same organization by using my enhanced knowledge?' This is a key question – Can one make the switch to management within one's current organisation or domain, without the need to give up experience or having to re-establish oneself in a new domain, market and organisation.

'I am not bothered as long as I find the best paying job,' may be another thought. In such cases they need the personality profile to withstand the stresses and strains that accompany the pursuit of such goals.

Work smart to build your brand while in B-School
Several decades ago Alvin Toffler, a pioneer in the field of cybernetics, emphasized the power of knowledge for future generations. While knowledge per se helps, its importance to managers is exemplified in today’s digital era. Gone are the days of fire fighting and getting things done through the lower rungs of management. In today's context, a manager needs to be a role model by adding value through one's experience based on knowledge. Models, processes and finding unique solutions that fit in with her own organization are a prerequisite for anyone who says and claims that she has mastered managerial concepts.

Through careful planning of your educational options, you can develop yourself into a well-rounded, balanced professional, capable of moving forward in your career with ease as well as confidence. How can this be done? Customizing the elective courses that you choose to take is a vital step. Doing projects in these subjects is another. These are prerequisites to the completion of the academic commitment and offers unlimited avenues for a student to show case her best.

There are two approaches to branding oneself – choose an area (for instance data-mining) that is emerging (even in emerging markets) and publish several papers that deal with the practical problems in this domain. These projects should incorporate a judicious mix of academic concepts and real-life experience, thus making a very strong statement about your ability to assimilate theory and apply it to real-life situations – a hallmark of a great manager.

Another approach is to get actively involved in issues and problems that are known but are not being addressed by managers in your current organization. By doing so, you will not only come up with solutions that will add value and help your company do better, but will build your credibility as a committed team player with clearly differentiated skills that will be an invaluable asset in the near future. Transforming your Brand from being a software person to a professional manager is not just about creating artistic profiles on social media or exaggerating one's knowledge set with a slew of buzzwords: it is about assessing and building upon your intrinsic strengths in a planned and systematic manner.

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