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Archive for November, 2008

Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2008 Comments off

Be thankful for what DID happen this year, not just what DIDN’T

Career Opportunities podcast logoThanksgiving
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Thanksgiving

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It’s the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US and many families are tucking into huge holiday meals and suffering the ill effects of too much food, too much wine and, in some cases, too much family. Others are less fortunate, though, and Thanksgiving Day becomes a source of sorrow instead of joy. The world is made of such dichotomies and we should all be reminded that even the smallest of our successes are sometimes denied to others. In the end, appreciating those things we are thankful for requires thinking about how thankful others would be to have achieved the same successes. We fail to appreciate our successes exactly because they are ours. Having achieved these successes, they no longer mean anything.

Despite the go-go-go nature of life today, time must be spent looking back over the previous weeks, months and years in order to be truly thankful for what we have received. There are times when looking forward only yields fear and confusion. What will the economy be like in 2009? Will I still have a job next year…or even next month? What crises will we face in the next few months? The fact is we don’t know and not knowing can be one of the most frightening feelings to us. We want the illusion of knowing the way — the right way — to proceed. We want to feel that everything is in order and under control no matter how often life proves us wrong. Instead of looking into an uncertain future, we must turn to the past for comfort.

What better proof of our future success do we have than our past successes? How much more secure can we feel then when we look back and see that we have survived several trials and challenges? How much more hope can be generated than when we bask in the glow of our successes? We can’t be thankful for events that haven’t yet happened. We can only be thankful for the successes we have had and this is exactly where we should turn our gaze this week.

Typically, when people make up their Thanksgiving lists, they are thankful for a lot of things that didn’t happen. Their family is still intact and happy. They still have their job and maybe even a job they like. They are thankful they are still financially solvent and haven’t lost their house to foreclosure. They are thankful that there isn’t more war in the world this year than last, even if there can’t yet be peace.

…I would ask you to be thankful for the things that did happen.

Along with these typical items, this year, I would ask you to be thankful for the things that did happen. Be thankful for the success you achieved, both large and small. Be thankful for the people you met and the work that you did. Be thankful even for the possibilities that each day provided. Be thankful for the children that arrived, the marriages begun, the sunny days and star-filled nights. Be thankful for all that life has to offer, even if it is sometimes tinged in sadness. Be thankful for knowing those people who are no longer with us. Be thankful for their love and wisdom which survives long after their time with us. Be thankful for the lessons you learned, even if you didn’t want to learn them.

So this year, between the football and the parades and the meals and the family, think about what you are thankful for this year. Be careful to celebrate your own personal successes and allow them to show you the way into the New Year. Remember, life is not just something that happens to us, it is also what we make of it. Even if life wasn’t perfect last year (and when is life ever perfect), there were lessons learned and successes gained, no matter how small. No matter what life might throw at you in the coming year, your success this year proves that you can create even greater success in the new year.


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Archive: Balancing Act – October 21, 2005

November 25th, 2008 Comments off

Balancing the needs of your IT department and your internal customers is paramount

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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Many years ago, when I was still working in a corporate IT department, there was one pernicious problem that seemed to have no solution. Each day was a constant battle to balance the needs of the department workers, our clients, with the mandates and requirements of corporate IT. It is a fairly typical situation where clients want the opportunity to test and implement every new piece of technology that comes along while the IT department is doing its best to standardize and leverage the use of technology throughout the entire operation so that departments and divisions can communicate and work well together. In my particular case, it was a simple matter of fact that the biggest issues I would face each day were somehow related to this almost impossible balancing act. Unfortunately, the passage of years has not made the problem magically disappear. It is still with us today.

All to blame

There is no single cause of this out-of-balance situation. In fact, there is enough blame to go around for everyone involved, no matter how large the company. Both sides contribute to the problem. IT departments can become draconian in their control over technology, putting standardization and compliance before all else, even when it harms productivity. Clients can become enamored with highly specialized hardware and software that defies integration into the corporate workflow. In some cases, data can become “trapped” by the system and rendered unusable elsewhere.

Nearly all these problems arise from a lack of understanding between these competing elements. Neither one listens to, nor particularly cares about, the needs of the other. They are focused on their own needs and how they can best achieve them. Unfortunately, it is only by working together that the company can thrive. Sure, many companies can limp along with IT departments that conflict with their clients, but I don’t think these companies, or their employees, can ever reach their true potential.

What IT can do?

So, as an IT staffer for an IT client, what are you to do? Regardless of where you stand, you need to try and think of those around you and how you might best calm the roiled waters.

As an IT staffer, you need to fulfill your role of standardization, maintenance and control, but you also need to use every opportunity to embrace new technologies that can bring productivity gains to your company and research how they might integrate into your current systems. This is not to say you immediately adopt every new technology, but you must remain aware of change in the tech industry and the industry of your company. Ideally, you should be introducing your clients to new technologies long before they feel the need to develop their own solutions. If you are constantly feeling “railroaded” by your clients, it is a clear sign that your standardization/innovation scale is out of balance. Providing exceptional service is the one sure way to keep your clients on your side.

What can clients do?

If you are a IT client in a large corporation, there are a couple of ways of improving your relations with the IT department. Firstly, if you want to bring a new technology into the company, you will find that a little “selling” can go a long way. Once you have identified a useful technology, you need to spell out the benefits to your own individual department, but also to the company as a whole. Do this research early, so that you have a good case when you finally try to bring IT into the loop.

Even with a bit of selling, though, you are bound to experience a certain amount of “pushback” from the IT department, even when the benefits might seem clear to you and others. There are several reasons for this. IT staffers might feel that this will increase their, already heavy, workload. They might be embarrassed that they didn’t discover or present this possible solution first. These human nature issues must be taken into account and addressed or they will be taken out on the technology.

Create ways to partner with IT on new technologies. Make sure they are on your side before you try to make the technology a critical part of your business. Give them an opportunity to share the glory and they can smooth your path dramatically.

Of course, sometimes you may be working with an IT department so rigid that they will put roadblocks in your way. If you are faced with this type of situation you need to make some difficult decisions. If you believe you have the political power to go toe-to-toe with IT management, you might be able to force your wishes. Whether you succeed or fail, though, you will be dealing with the consequences for years to come. It is so much easier to seek out some sort of common ground with the IT department, in most cases. Sure, it might still be a bit difficult, but the benefits to all will be worth it.

Balancing the needs of IT departments and their clients is never easy and often fraught with animosity, but these obstacles can be overcome. Cultivate understanding between these two groups at every opportunity. Involve them in all technology decisions so that everyone, the IT department, the clients, the company, benefits.


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Shattered and Re-formed

November 22nd, 2008 Comments off

Some industries need to be shattered before they can be reformed into a new whole.

Career Opportunities podcast logoShattered and Re-formed
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Shattered and Re-formed

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I have spent the last four weekends speaking at conferences, and speaking with many people, in California and Arizona. Despite being a bit tired from the long drives and long hours, I am also energized. It is amazing how exciting and enlightening it can be to talk to people outside your normal area of expertise. Too often, we find ourselves in an echo chamber where we hear the same thoughts, the same advice, the same voices again and again. If you want to build your career, it is important to step outside your neighborhood and see what others may be doing.

Over the past few years, I have thought that various industries in America were overdue for a “reboot”. Sometimes the only way for an industry to recover and grow is to dismantle — to shatter them — and then reform the bits into a new, and hopefully more robust whole. While I am sure it sounds frightening, I also see it as a requirement. We can continue plodding down the road to failure or take the future into our hands and create something new. How does this destruction and recreation effect you, the careerist, trying to develop the career you deserve? In some fundamental ways you can often only react to the changes that are coming, but you can also do your part to adapt and prepare for this change. As is always the case with this column and podcast, your career is about you, your decisions and your success. That said, changes in the industry often start with changes within ourselves.

First, there are several industries that are ripe for shattering. The banking industry has led the way in this area. It is fundamentally different today than it was only 6 months ago. It has been shattered to a large degree and reforming it is likely to take years. More importantly, it gives us a road map of what might be to coming for other at-risk industries such as automobile manufacturing, airline travel and manufacturing in general.

If you are currently employed in any of these industries, you should be spending a great deal of time investigating new opportunities. As an industry changes, layoffs are one of the first steps. We are already seeing hundreds of thousands of people being put out of work in the last several months. You might even be one of those people. Despite the past stability and relatively good earnings of these industries, their futures look bleak. Your future may still lie in these industries but it as just as likely that you will need to find another job, perhaps even another career, in another industry. You need to deeply look at other opportunities you might have and especially any chances for re-training. In some cases, this might even mean re-training yourself, if other resources are not available. If you work in these at-risk industries, you simply cannot count on your job or your career being around over the course of the next 5 years. You need to find a way out today, before you find yourself competing with the thousands of others who will wait until their industry shatters to take action.

Let me be clear that I am not suggesting you abandon a job or career you have today to go on a wild goose chase for another one. Rather, you need to build your knowledge and skills and start planting the seeds you will need when finally forced to make a decision. You owe it to yourself and your family to be prepared. Sure, you can ignore the changes happening in your industry, but this will make the shock all the more severe when it comes.

One way in which you can build a new career is to seek out areas in your current industry where the reformation will first occur. In automotives, it is very likely that we will see a resurgence of small automobile manufacturers grow from the remains of the Big 3. With so many people, with so much talent, out of work, that talent will naturally look for a place to be expressed. Watch your industry and follow closely those people and companies who seem to be at the forefront of the reformation. It is very likely that you may be able to develop a career with these smaller companies and continue along your existing career path.

You can also seek out ways your unique talents and skills can be used by another industry. Manufacturing skills can translate between industries. Design skills even more so. You have a unique set of skills that could be in demand elsewhere, if only you take the time to look. Don’t limit yourself to your current industry. In fact, I would recommend starting your research as far from your industry as possible. Break new ground. Blaze a new trail. I guarantee it will be enlightening and very possibly build an even better career.

If your industry is in danger of shattering, you must do what is best for you, your family and your career. No matter how many years you have spent learning your craft or building your career in that company or industry, there will come a time when change will be thrust upon you. Don’t wait to be forced into action. You can see what is happening around you. You have the power within you to find a new path through the career forest. You have the power to build the career you deserve if you only wield it.


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Archive: Traits of a Good Leader – October 14, 2005

November 20th, 2008 1 comment

Learn what a good leader is so you can follow good leaders or become one yourself.

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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What makes a good leader? You need to know — not only so you can become a good leader yourself — but so you can work for good leaders. When you are just starting out in your high-tech career, finding someone who can give you the benefit of their experience should be one major factor in your job decisions. Working for a bad leader might be instructive, as well, but the experience is sure to be much more painful.

Communication

I believe the most important skill of any leader is the ability to communicate. All other traits flow from this. Regardless of whether a leader is communicating the overall vision of the company, the agenda for a regular weekly meeting or the menu at the company cafeteria, it should be clear, and more importantly, concise. No one likes to be confused and a leader that communicates badly creates confusion. Even more, confusion directly effects productivity in drastic ways. How can a leader expect you to carry forth on their vision if they have given you no clear idea what the vision is?

So, when you are interviewing for your next job, pay close attention not only to what the person says, but how they say it. Is their description of the company, job and departmental goals clear? Are there measurable criteria of what denotes good job performance? Is their presentation about job requirements and other issues laid out in an organized fashion? If not, this might be the first sign of a bad leader.

A good leader should also be capable of communicating the concerns and accomplishments of their staff up the chain of command. If they can’t communicate with you there is no reason to believe they will miraculously be able to communicate with their executives. If they can’t communicate well, it puts everyone on their staff at a disadvantage.

Every one in their place

Next, a good leader should have a knack for putting the right person in the right job. Too many times I see people hired for one position only to be shunted off to do work for which they have neither aptitude or desire. Sure, perhaps the work gets done, but job quality and the person both suffer. A good leader needs to “lead” their staff into higher levels of productivity, not attempt to “push” the proverbial square peg into a round hole. Hiring is an art form and one that good leaders need to master.

Sure, we all sometimes experience moments of tedium and difficulties in our jobs, but that should not be standard operating procedure. If your management can’t find a place for you, or help you to find the right place, it is probably time to take more drastic action.

Responsibility

Finally, a good leader, and more importantly, a great leader, needs to take responsibility for their decisions and actions. Any leader who allows the consequences of their failures to “roll down” the organization chart will soon find themselves out of a job. Leaders should celebrate their successes and admit their mistakes with the same aplomb. Mistakes are part of work and life. A good leader should be concerned with learning from such mistakes, rather than blaming other managers, or even worse, their own staff. If a staffer has failed, it is due, in a large part, to a failure of their management. Leader and staff are in the fight together and the burden is carried by all. A leader should accept praise for the good work of their staff, but they also need to accept the responsibility when something goes wrong.

Accepting responsibility shows staffers that the leader is willing to commit to the goals of the company and to them. This goes a long way towards developing a staff that is willing to work harder and better for the leader. Both leader and staff accept responsibility for each other and each is enhanced in an ever-growing cycle.

Whether you are looking to work with a good leader, or perhaps searching for ways to become a better leader yourself, you should concentrate on these three areas. Developing good communication skills, hiring the right people for the right job and taking responsibility for your decisions will put you on the right track for a great high-tech career.


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Get out of your neighborhood

November 17th, 2008 Comments off

You can get your best ideas when talking with people outside your business or area of expertise.

Career Opportunities podcast logoGet out of your neighborhood
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Get out of your neighborhood

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I have spent the last four weekends speaking at conferences, and speaking with many people, in California and Arizona. Despite being a bit tired from the long drives and long hours, I am also energized. It is amazing how exciting and enlightening it can be to talk to people outside your normal area of expertise. Too often, we find ourselves in an echo chamber where we hear the same thoughts, the same advice, the same voices again and again. If you want to build your career, it is important to step outside your neighborhood and see what others may be doing.

126My first stop on this travel session was right here in my own backyard, BarCampLA-6. This freewheeling unconference covers amazingly wide-ranging topics. I heard talks on the Dunbar number, the history of the pixel, hosted an acoustic music jam and a meeting of my own technology group, New Media Interchange. While BarCampLA attracts technology folks, it also brings in experts from all areas of life. Every time I attend BarCampLA and rub shoulders with scientists, musicians, activists and entertainment industry folks it expands my thinking in some amazing ways.

PodCampAZ Opening Day 2Next on my agenda was PodCampAZ, a new media conference that is quickly becoming the premiere conference in the Southwest. While PodCampAZ is more focused on New Media, I still met people from all walks of life. They were all there to see how New Media can help them in their businesses and their lives. This included massage therapists, artists, programmers, writers, retail store and service owners and more. As I talked with each of them, new ideas began to form over how New Media might be used. I was constantly making notes which I hope to put into action, now that I am back home. I might not have ever captured these ideas had I not been exposed to all these different people and thoughts.

In San Jose for DevLearnEarly this week, I drove from my home in Los Angeles to San Jose to attend the Adobe Learning Summit and speak at DevLearn2008. These conferences were dedicated to e-Learning professionals, people who are responsible for creating training for small companies and large corporations. I haven’t previously had the opportunity to learn much about the e-learning world, even though it is heavily immersed in technology and education, two areas in which I am deeply involved. Once again, learning about the unique challenges and theories surrounding e-learning gave me a huge amount of new material to mull over. While your own work might be quite different, there are always lessons to be learned from other worlds.

New Media ID Seminar, Palm Springs, CAFinally, just a few days ago, I presented another New Media seminar along with my sister, a fellow computer consultant in the Palm Springs area. This New Media ID seminar is the commercial side of my New Media Interchange group which is designed to bring the power of New Media to everyone. Talking with these shop owners, hotel and B&B managers, restaurateurs and others challenged me to find ways to make New Media effective for them and their businesses. Speaking with them, adapting existing ideas and developing new strategies kicks my thinking into high gear and drives my thinking for days after.

From these examples, you can see how “getting out of my neighborhood” really helps to drive my thinking and helps me to develop new and hopefully great ideas. It can do exactly the same for you. Take every opportunity to attend conferences, meetings and other events that introduce you to new people, with new goals, new work and new thoughts. It can be the conferences that seem peripheral to your work or in entirely different areas that can actually be the most useful to you. While attending conferences in your area of expertise can be useful, in many cases you have already heard the messages and information being delivered. Expanding your view can help you develop entirely new ideas for your line of work that others may have missed.


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Sometimes we deserve to be fired

November 7th, 2008 Comments off

Should major failures lead to dismissal? I think so.

Career Opportunities podcast logoSometimes we deserve to be fired
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Sometimes we deserve to be fired

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I will ask you to forgive me in advance if this column rambles a bit, as I am still coming to grips with the topic, even as I write. Firing someone, and being fired, is always an emotional event. Still, I believe that today we have forgotten that there are times when we deserve to be fired, especially when we show that we cannot complete even the most fundamental tasks of the position. Instead, we allow ourselves or people in our departments to continue in a role long after proven incapable of doing the job. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “Insanity (is) doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While failure is a part of every job, shouldn’t complete failure be a clear indicator that someone else needs to be given a chance?

Let m e be clear that when I say failure, I am not talking about the average, everyday failures we all experience. This isn’t about the lost contract or client, the failed project, the marketing misstep. This is about complete failure, like not being able to accept or accurately count the votes in your precinct, county or state or being unable to produce accurate paychecks for your workers like the LA County Schools recent problem. These are failures of both the highest and lowest degrees. These people are unable to fulfill even the most basic tenets of their job and this, unfortunately, has the most dramatic effect on their clients and customers.

For myself, if I was to experience such a complete failure, and I can tell you that I have experienced them over my 25 year career, I would expect to be fired. I would expect my management to look to someone more capable, or barring that, simply someone else. In my world, this is usually manifested by a client never calling again. It happens to all of us, especially as the years mount. It is simply a matter of odds in some cases. The more work you do, the more chances for a complete failure. That said, I also know that that failure is mine alone.

Many people, when faced with a complete failure, immediately to try to blame it on others or on the surrounding circumstances. While the failure might indeed have been precipitated by an outside force, as the sign on Harry Truman’s desk read, “The buck stops here.” It is often a clear sign of complete failure when people don’t understand this fact. If you have failed, then you need to accept that fact and also accept the consequences that arise from that failure.

Looking from the outside — as a constituent, customer or client — I feel even more strongly about the need to fire people. When I see someone fail repeatedly, it makes me wonder if anyone is paying attention. It calls into doubt the abilities of their managers and executives and may even point to deep dysfunction within a company or governmental department. Failure to acknowledge failure simply compounds the damage already done. It erodes our faith in the company and allows one person to have a dramatic effect far beyond the original failure.

What do you think? Are people too often given a pass when they fail dramatically? Are there times when people deserve to be fired for their failures? Would you resign from a job, or take a demotion if you failed in some basic and fundamental way? Would you feel ill served if your company decided to fire you after such a failure? I’d love to know what you think. Please add your comments to the web site, send email to careeer@welchwrite.com or call the reader/listener line at 818-804-5049.


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Archive: Entry Level or Dead End – October 7, 2005

November 5th, 2008 Comments off

Are companies keeping employees on the help desk forever instead of letting them grow?

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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We all had to start our high-tech career somewhere. The usual entry point within most companies was. and still is, the help desk. It is here we learn our craft, creating solutions out of research, hard work and our own creativity. After spending some time “in the trenches”, we move out into different areas of the organization, creating specialties and building our knowledge further. Of course, this is an idealistic view and one that is being threatened by companies who seem intent on keeping help desk staff on the help desk instead of helping them grow.

Stick to the script

If you have had any reason to call a help desk lately, you have probably experienced “the script”. Despite your attempts to solve your question quickly, the person on the other end of the phone takes you through a step-by-step process, most of which you have already tried. I can’t blame the support person, though. This is clearly company policy. The focus on help desk managers is to get as many callers off the phone as quickly as possible. In most cases, though, this is a dis-service to both the caller and the help desk staffer.

Spending your day working through troubleshooting rubrics created by someone else is no way to improve your high-tech career. In order to move into jobs that offer better pay and are more satisfying you need to be learning something every single day. In the old days, this education was built into the job. You simply had to learn in order to solve the problems. You had to create the script before you could think of using it and failing to solve a problem was not an option. In such an environment, either you learned or you found another job.

It might seem a bit far-fetched, but keeping people “on script” might have another purpose. Help desk operations have notoriously high turnover rates. In the past, it was expected that you would move up and out of the help desk department, Today, though, if you find yourself on a help desk, your supervisors and managers might be doing everything they can to keep you there. In some operations, there might be an active policy to keep workers from learning too much and then taking that knowledge elsewhere. Instead of facilitating learning, companies are starting to see the help desk as the final destination.

Move up or get out

As you might imagine, if you are starting your career in a help desk operation you will want to carefully choose the company. Investigate their operation thoroughly. Talk with existing and past employees and try to gain some understanding of how the company views its help desk workers and procedures.

Is education an important part of every day? Do they attempt to script every possible situation with the callers? When finding a solution for the customer is creativity rewarded or punished? Is there a clear career path for help desk employees? I would be wary of any help desk operation with too many 5-6 year veterans in the department. Occasionally, there will be some people who have found their specialty in the help desk environment but spending an entire career there should not be the norm.

Above all, you must remember that the goals of help desk management might not necessarily be your goals. If you are looking to build a long and prosperous high-tech career, you need every opportunity to learn and grow. Sometimes you will do this with the assistance of your management and, at other times, without. Be particularly aware of any overt disapproval of your attempts to learn more. No one should ever make you feel that a help desk position is the end of the line. This is a sure sign that some thing is wrong.

A position with a high-tech help desk operation was once the birthplace of many a high-tech career and it can be still, if you find the right company. Seek out those companies that maintain a policy of growing their employees from within, allowing them to move from entry-level positions up through the IT ranks. If you find yourself in a company where the help desk is the beginning and the end you might find that your entry-level job has become a dead end.


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