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The demand for people who understand both computers and business is only increasing as technology plays a bigger role in society, making computer information systems management an attractive career path. The pay off will be great, but don't underestimate the workload necessary to reach this position.

A few years ago, Aashish Kumar was enrolled in business at McGill University and working part-time in IT sales, but he worried about landing a job after school with just a business degree. Reflecting on his strengths, he decided computer science would be a good route. He moved back home to Calgary and enrolled in a four-year Bachelor of Computer Information Systems degree at Mount Royal University, which offered that attractive combination of business and computers.

An information systems manager is the middle person between the computer programmers and management. As Ricardo Hoar, associate professor of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at Mount Royal University, explains, knowing the technical lingo and some neat web development and programming tricks is important ' you need to have a technical aptitude. But also a good set of business skills, because you may talk to a programmer and then you have to turn around and talk to a VP. A VP and programmer don't speak the same language, so the ability to be a really good communicator is essential.

Hoar says that before creating this degree, the university spoke to employers who hire computer science grads, and they found that, while the students have great technical skills, they lack many important soft skills. He says a lot of computer science students see their skills set as useful, and while that's true, Hoar points out that it's even more useful when you know how to apply it to business. When you can do the tech, but also understand how it will affect the business, it's way more impactful.

You can't just start at the top though. Adriana Bidegain knows this. After attaining her undergraduate in computer engineering and an MBA in economics and industrial management, she began her career as a programmer. At various companies, she was then a systems analyst, then a project manager, then senior project manager, then director, and was recently appointed VP of Global Delivery at Telocell. 

She says her organizational skills, ability to collaborate, willingness to learn, and communication skills allowed this career path to unfold for her. It is a stressful job because most of the time you're dealing with tight timelines, and nowadays you have virtual teams, so not everybody sits together. They are in different time zones, have different backgrounds, different cultures. And all of these impact timeline, communications.

The job description covers a lot. Your day could involve meetings with your customers in order to discuss project status; internal team meetings to track the plans and see where everybody is; and managing the budget and meeting with your finance group. Of course, then you need to manage the project itself and update the project plan. 

If this is the career path you desire, Bidegain warns that you have to be willing to work long hours, even weekends. So sometimes you're not going to be able to see your kids as often as you want, or see your friends. You have to think about whether you are willing to have that unbalanced lifestyle. 

But the benefits ' the salary is usually one of the highest in the market. IT pays well. It's always in demand. So people usually don't struggle, or find themselves out of a job for a long time. You can work pretty much anywhere in the world, because if you are a Java developer for instance, it's the same skill, the same knowledge here, as in Brazil or Spain.

Bidegain has fully taken advantage of the universality her skills offer ' she has worked in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Israel, and is now based in Toronto. 

Kumar decided to try the business side of computers because he likes dealing with people. I don't necessarily like getting stuck behind a computer all day.  It's fun, don't get me wrong. It's the field I'm going into, but I like talking to people more.

Given his previous IT experience, he knows it takes lot of work to get to the top, and that he's not going to graduate and become the next Steve Jobs. Not right away at least.

Photo: Foto Maximum/Thinkstock