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Submission + - Career model for developers at a non-IS company?

mcmonkey writes: What should the IS career model for developers in a non-technical company look like?

I am a developer for a large manufacturer. 85% of our software is off-the-shelf, and primary support is either through the vendor or an off-shore consultant, with the remaining systems home-grown. Most of the folks in IS are business analysts and management-types. I would like to stick with this employer for a bit longer, but the lack of a clear career path for technical IS workers is an issue.

(This is not just an issue for me, but a recognized need. There is management support for major revision of the technical career model.)

For the few technical folks within IS, there isn't a clear career ladder or path for moving to positions of larger scope and higher responsibility. There is a career management document which is good for junior developers. It describes the progression from performing specific assigned tasks to leading small projects and working without immediate oversight.

But the career ladder--as documented and in reality--breaks down past that mid-career point. Past the 'expert with 5 to 10 years experience' there isn't any where to go other than in to non-technical management or out of the company.

Most of my career has been at smaller companies without a formal career ladder and promotion process. This was never an issue for me--I was changing companies every few years and was able to move in to positions of increasing responsibility (and compensation) without ever getting a promotion.

Now that I am looking to settle down, I would like to have an active roll in shaping the career model. But I do not have any first hand experience of a functioning technical career ladder or promotion process.

What should the IS career model for developers in a non-technical company look like? What steps should be in the career ladder? Can there be a technical career path for developers at such a company?

Submission + - Ideas for an IT Masters thesis?

mcmonkey writes: "I'm in a Masters program for IT with a concentration on computation and mathematics. Course work is going well, but I've got serious developer's block when it comes to a thesis topic. So I'm turning to my friends at Ask Slashdot.

What are your suggestions for a Masters thesis topic, or ideas to spark my own creativity? The project should be original, have a "significant programming component," and be appropriate for publication in an academic journal. But other than that, I've got pretty free reign. And I think that's part of my problem. Programming assignments and exams I can knock off with little stress. But given a blank piece of paper (or text editor) and say "fill this," I'm at a loss.

To anticipate some questions you might have:
"Why should I do your homework for you?" The thesis proposal is typically 15 to 20 pages, with the completed thesis 30 to 50 pages, not including source code. While your ideas are appreciated and are helpful, I wouldn't say one or two sentences counts as 'doing my work for me.'

"Why not go to professors at your school?" At my school it's considered very bad form to go to professors for thesis ideas. I do not know why. I can, and have, gone to profs for feedback on ideas I've had (and that feedback has generally been, "yeah, what else you got?"), but I can't go to office hours and fish for thesis topics.

"Contribute to an open source project, take over an orphaned app on Source Forge, etc." I'm in a computational, not engineering, track. A project that is programmatically significant but theoretically uninteresting won't do. Now something that uses a novel heuristic so solve an intractable problem would fit the bill.

"This is the worst Ask Slashdot question ever." There's been worse, and you know it."

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