For Jerry Masin, finding a technological whiz kid is less important than finding someone who can think and learn in the right way.
As the president of SetFocus, a Parsippany-based training and placement academy for IT professionals, Masin sees up close how fast and how often technology changes. And being able to keep up with the changes is more important than knowing any one particular program.
Masin will be part of the “Bridging the Gap Job Search Workshop,” a program by the NJ Technology Council’s Technology & Entrepreneurship Talent Network, on Wednesday, October 3, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Middlesex County One-Stop Career Center in New Brunswick. The event is free to attend. Visit www.NJTC.org.
Joining Masin will be John Dykeman and Malte Pendergast-Fischer of Emerald Financial Resources, Charlyene Latimer Douma, a recruitment and retention manager at Bayonne Medical Center, and Jerry Passione of Juniper Networks.
Masin came to the IT world via communications. He is not a technology guy himself, in the sense that he does not know how to write programming code. Rather, he manages IT staffing and gets people connected to other people and to jobs, he says.
In college (Rutgers, where he earned his bachelor’s in communications) he built what was at the time (circa 1980) the largest student-run television station in the country, Knight Time Productions. This was at a time when even New York City had only seven television channels.
Finding a taste for management, Masin earned a master’s in the subject from the University of Maryland and became the HR director at Bloomberg in 1994. Masin stayed in HR until 2010, when he became the COO at David Landau & Associates, a management consulting firm.
He found SetFocus, he says, while working on a business development project in Russia. He liked that the company was “an engine to create jobs” and how it translates technology into real world applications that put people to work.
Mainly, Masin’s career has been about helping stressed companies, “turn-arounds,” and early stage companies in every field from retail to technology grow and increase their sustainability, he says.
Be creative, be smart. What Masin has found in his career is that a broad understanding of how technology works is better than specific knowledge of one application or program. What SetFocus looks for in potential students, he says, is someone who can translate technology into life experience and vice versa.
He looks for the problem solver, the creative thinker, and the ability to make the abstract into something concrete. “Creativity isn’t the domain of scientists,” he says. “It’s the domain of smart people.”
The IT industry is a draw for smart people with technological and creative bents, Masin says, because smart people recognize a few advantages to the field. First is the money — IT newbies usually make a starting salary of between $40,000 and $65,000 a year. Another plus is that while the national unemployment rate has waded into the 8 to 9 percent area, unemployment for IT professionals is 3 percent, Masin says.
Not just anyone can do it. The screening process for SetFocus, for example, is fairly rigorous, and the requirements of the workplace are not at all easy, Masin says. He boasts that his company has a good history of placing students into jobs, but even those students who get through the screening process — made to weed out people who can’t keep up — aren’t guaranteed a job.
The biggest myth, Masin says, is that training at a school like SetFocus, or even college, will mean getting a job. SetFocus stacks the odds in a student’s favor by assigning a career coach to each student, helping with resumes, and introducing candidates to a network of tech employers. But it makes no guarantees that anyone will actually land a job.
It’s a competition out there. Besides the unethical aspects of making promises of getting a job, Masin cautions would-be IT workers to know how competitive the job market is. The irony is that the field actually works against experienced workers right now. In interview rooms all over the world, new-to-the-field candidates are going up against seasoned pros. And while it’s hard to break into the field at an entry-level, it can be harder for a longtime IT worker to get work.
Why? Money. Newer workers are willing to work for less than seasoned workers who’ve gotten used to big paychecks, Masin says. At the same time, experienced workers have gotten wise to the dynamic and are willing to work for less money. So either way you slice it, Masin says, getting a job in IT is competitive.
SetFocus keeps the odds in the students’ favor by leveraging Microsoft. The company trains workers in the Microsoft systems and has, Masin says, “the breadth and depth of Microsoft” at its disposal. SetFocus teaches the open source .NET system (as opposed to Java). SetFocus also has a deep research staff and partnerships with industry organizations that help it stay ahead of the curve.
Still, what it comes down to for Masin is the ability to understand what that curve is curving toward. SetFocus starts potential students off with a free library of basic training information that offers 200 hours worth of the ABCs of database networking and object-oriented concepts.
“Once they get their arms around that we can go from there,” he says. “We begin every conversation with a talk about the ability to get into IT. Not everyone can do it.”