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The Ingredients for Career Success

Searching for hot new jobs in IT? Look no further than the food and beverage industry.

By John Edwards

When it's time to make the donuts, Dunkin' Donuts relies on its IT infrastructure to make sure that all of the necessary ingredients are at the right places at the right times. Griffen Yeung is glad that technology plays such a major role in the company's operations. That's because Yeung is an IT support analyst at the company's Easthampton, N.J., regional distribution center. For Yeung, donuts are more than a tasty treat-they're the basis for his job. "A good job," he adds.

Few technical grads begin their careers with the intent to carve out a career in the food and beverage industry, but once they're in the field, most discover that it's a business with plenty of interesting challenges and opportunities for advancement. While other fields may be more exciting, the food and beverage business offers something at least equally important-stability. Even in the worst of times, people need to eat and drink, and food and beverage companies will always require IT people to keep their businesses running efficiently.

Talking Techies

"We're probably not the sexiest type of business segment for grads, but there's a tremendous amount of technology involved," says Ed Holloran, vice president of U.S. business development for Filterfresh Coffee Services, a Westwood, Mass.-based office coffee service company that serves caffeine addicts at major businesses from coast to coast.

Holloran notes that grads who work at food and beverage industry companies can expect to encounter a wide range of IT technologies. Filterfresh, for example, operates everything from sales ordering and inventory databases to handheld data collection systems. "We also have Web site and e-commerce system development and maintenance needs," says Holloran. "Even our coffee roasting is computer driven."

With all of its various systems, Filterfresh wants IT job candidates who have a background with multiple technologies. "We typically look for folks who have experience with the off-the-shelf systems we're using around the country," says Holloran. "Some handheld technology experience would be good, too." The company also seeks people who know how to communicate with business managers and who don't mind tackling difficult problems head on. "We really have a need to find people who can communicate extremely well," he says. "Sometimes we focus less on their technology background and more on their ability to explain a problem and educate the people they talk to."

Room to Grow

Dunkin Donuts' Yeung is a 2003 Drexel University graduate with a B.S. in information technology. He didn't plan to enter the food and beverage field, but after spending his first year post-graduation looking for meaningful employment, he was glad to accept an employment offer from the company.

Yeung has spent the past year learning the ropes at Dunkin' Donuts' mid-Atlantic warehouse, which serves some 22,000 stores. He's now responsible for knowing the IT systems-and business requirements-of each of the distribution center's departments. Yeung appreciates the fact that the distribution center is a new facility-only about a year old-and packed with up-to-date IT systems. He has become so proficient with the facility's various business process and logistics-oriented systems that he's routinely called upon to serve as a troubleshooter for problems at all difficulty levels. "They come to me for help when things get out of hand," he quips.

Tony Iamurri, the distribution center's IT director, says the facility's lack of glamour actually helps beginning IT workers, since it's not the sort of operation that attracts seasoned professionals from other companies and industries. Additionally, the franchise operators who own the warehouse keep a tight reign on the IT budget. Therefore, Iamurri doesn't have enough money to hire IT pros with years of experience. For recent grads, the situation provides an ideal opportunity to gain IT and management experience-if not big paychecks. "What we do is hire lower level people and let them grow in the position," says Iamurri.

Like Filterfresh's Holloran, Iamurri says he looks for problem solvers with basic IT qualifications. "Everything else can be learned," he says. "Personal traits are more important to me than existing skill sets."

Wearing Different Hats

The food and beverage industry is unique in that it spans a wide range of businesses, from Global 500 corporations down to neighborhood stores and restaurants. Working for a small- to mid-level company is far different from toiling at a multinational food and beverage conglomerate, says Eric Pyszka, senior Web developer at Hobarama, a Miami-based company that manufactures the BAWLS energy drink and related products. "It means wearing different hats at various times," he says.

"I handle pretty much all of the Web development work, plus I also wear the IT hat often," says Pyszka. While Hobarama outsources most of its IT work, tasks that need immediate attention often default to Pyszka. "That's the way things often happen at a company this size," he says.

But don't tell Pyszka that the food and beverage industry is stodgy or boring. He says he enjoys working for a business that aims to be on the cutting edge in both products and marketing. "I try to help the company out with ideas on new technology and how we can use technology to improve our marketing strategies," he says. "There are no cubicles to be found here."

Pyszka also appreciates the freedom and flexibility of working for a rapidly growing company with only 30 employees. "I get to look for ways to automate business processes, like installing an automated fax ordering system or planning a company intranet," he says. "You simply don't get these kinds of hands-on opportunities in so many different areas at a giant corporation."

Dunkin Donuts' Yeung notes that a food and beverage career can provide a solid background for a move into another kind of businesses, should the desire or opportunity arise. "There's not much of a difference between working in food and beverage or, say, at a technology company," he says. "The same problems arise, the same technologies-it's just the details that are different."

John Edwards is a technology writer based near Phoenix. His work has appeared in CIO Magazine, Wireless Week, Mobile Computing, IEEE Computer and numerous other publications.

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