In the AIM program we offer a finance course to prepare students to justify projects, work and speak with finance professionals, and understand and execute budgets. I think it is important that all professionals understand financial calculations and are able to determine whether the project or new equipment they are proposing will truly add value to the organization in the long term or short term. I want to share with you some ways that financial training has helped me in my career and my life.
Speak The Language
For at least two decades I have heard IT professionals exclaim “if only I could get a seat at the table, things would be different!” They contend that if only they could sit with high-level managers or sit at the “big kids” table then they could make them understand the value of IT. I contend that in order to sit at that table, one needs to speak and comprehend the language. When the other managers start talking about cap-ex or op-ex or accelerated depreciation, you need to know what they are talking about and how it affects you, your department, and your budget. That is why we offer a finance course in AIM, to prepare our graduates to engage in a meaningful conversation with other managers. We want our graduates to have a seat at the table.
I took four accounting courses as an undergraduate and one as a graduate student—one in investment accounting, plus the standard run of beginning, intermediate and advanced accounting. The first has proven invaluable in evaluating investments, both in the corporate world and for my own personal finance. To be able to assess a company in terms of earnings and profit or loss makes the difference between a losing investment and financial success. The other three courses were also valuable, although at the time I had doubts. This was before the days of Excel or QuickBooks so we did double entry accounting and wrote numbers in left columns or right columns; debits to the left, credits to the right. I can still hear the mantra in my head. While I questioned the benefits of the exercise and how I might apply it to my job as a systems administrator, I was fortunate to be able to see the big picture value of dividing expenses up into long-term capital expenses and short-term operating expenses and uniquely accounting for both of these. I also saw the value in calculating return on investment in order to justify a project or purchase. I saw how it gave me legitimacy and a seat at the table.
My financial education has helped me to become a successful professional and I am grateful that I had early exposure to the fundamental principles of accounting. Although it is a language of its own, it is important to be able to speak and understand it in order to get ahead, and it is part of a well-rounded graduate education.
Has an education in accounting principles helped you in your work and profession? Are there any other “languages” that you have found important in order to move to the next level? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.