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Get With The Program

How to be a smarter . . . computer consultant.

With the entire nation going high-tech, it's no wonder computer consultants are in demand. But don't think it's an easy way to profit from the high-tech boom. It takes skill, hard work and even a little luck to make it in the computer consulting field.

One of the most critical concerns is determining the scope of your consulting services. Specialization is the way to go, according to Debbie L. Handler of the Independent Computer Consultants Association (ICCA). "You don't want to try to do everything; that spreads you too thin," she says. "Find a niche, and be the best at it."

If you've worked in a particular field, that may be your first choice as a specialization. But make sure that expertise is in demand, cautions Max Steiner of the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses (NACCB), a 300-member association of temporary agencies that finds assignments for computer consultants. The rapid pace of change in technology means the field you specialized in just a year ago may now be obsolete.

If you don't have an area of expertise but want to cultivate one, a number of companies offer certification programs. Microsoft is a good example. The software giant offers training and exams you can take to gain certification as a systems engineer, solution developer or product specialist for Microsoft products. The training is offered throughout the United States, or you can utilize self-paced or online learning programs. To find out about Microsoft training, visit the company's Web site at http://www.microsoft.com or contact Sylvan Prometric, a Baltimore-based firm that administers certification for Microsoft and 59 other firms, at http://www.sylvanprometric.com You can find other information technology trainers by contacting the Information Technology Training Association Inc. at (512) 502-9300 or by visiting its Web site at http://www.itta.org .

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