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Archive: When you Can’t Help — From the Career Opportunities Podcast

February 14th, 2013 Comments off

Career Opportuntiies Logo 2012

As the world of technology becomes more complex, you as a high-tech worker or consultant will start to feel the effects of this complexity. In the past we may have prided ourselves on our ability to provide a solution to every client, but today the world is simply too complicated to allow that. Too frequently these days we find ourselves standing between two, finger-pointing corporations who insist to the end that the problem is not their fault. Despite your best effort, you will have to admit, sometimes, that you can’t help the client any further.


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This week I visited a new client to set up their DSL. Yes, even today there are still many people using a dialup modem to connect to the Internet. Normally, these broadband installations are simple and straightforward, as long as the telephone or cable company has activated the line. There are times I have to contact tech support to solve a small problem, but even these questions are usually handled quickly. In this case, though, while the connection was somewhat active, it was not stable. I had it working at one moment, only to lose it the next. After contacting tech support, they ordered an on-site visit to check the line and insure there were no problems.

Of course, the telephone company checked the line, only to say that the line was ok, but the modem that had been delivered by the ISP was faulty. Subsequent calls to the ISP resulted in a stonewall and a refusal to deliver a new modem. There we were, stuck between two companies. As of the writing of this column, we have not come to an agreement yet. I am sure it will take several more phone calls and hours of wasted time. In the end, though, there is little I can do for the client except act as an advisor and technology translator and help them navigate through the problem.

When faced with a problem such as this, you have to insure that you don’t become the focus of the client’s anger and frustration. I am very careful to insure that the client knows I am doing all I can. I will assist them with phone calls to vendors, even to the point of having them create a conference call if I cannot be on-site. I explain very clearly to them the responsibility of all the players and what we, together, can do to resolve the issue. You must be on their side or the vendor’s problem will quickly become yours.

Do everything you can to provide alternatives. In cases where DSL is unavailable or unreliable, I will help the client to investigate cable modem or wireless broadband…whatever might provide a solution. This can sometimes lead to several hours of unpaid work, but I believe that the potential earnings from a client often make up for these initial problems. That said, there comes a time when you simply have to throw up your hands and give in.

It can be very frustrating and disheartening for you when you realize that no adequate solution exists to a client’s problem. I am always reluctant to suggest the purchase of a new computer or a return to older technology, such as dial-up, but sometimes you have no choice. Circumstances such as the environment, utility infrastructure, uncooperative vendors and more can eventually put enough roadblocks in your way that a project is no longer feasible.

It can be difficult, so you must clearly explain to the client the realities of the situation. Carefully go over each step of the process and detail each problem. Next, do everything in your power to return their system to the basic functionality they had before. Make sure their dial-up networking is functioning or their older software continues to work. I do my best to fulfill the ancient Hippocratic oath in my own way and “do no harm.” I think this is the best standard possible to guide your work. Finally, let them know if there might be a time to re-visit the issue in the future. Perhaps they will be buying a new computer or moving to a new location. Let them know that you are still available for any other problems or questions they might have in the future.

There comes a time when circumstances, corporations and technology will conspire against your best efforts. Do the best for your clients and yourself by understanding when you simply can’t help them any further. Do all you can and then move on — and hopefully they will, too, once they understand the road blocks. If you do this correctly, you will retain your client and develop a good working relationship, even if you can’t solve this particular problem. If you handle the situation poorly, you will be lumped in with the creator of the problem and seen as part of the problem, not someone who is working in the client’s best interest. When this occurs, the damage to your reputation and your career will be dramatic.

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Who are you laboring for?

September 13th, 2009 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoWho are you laboring for?
By Douglas E. Welch

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[audio:http://welchwrite.com/career/audio/2009/career-op-20090911.mp3]

This week began with the US celebration of the Labor Day holiday, celebrating the labor that keeps our economy and our nation moving forward. Labor Day “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” according the US Department of Labor web site, but I think it is much more important to think of our own personal labor, and the benefits it brings us. The true meaning of our labor can get lost among the interlinked needs of company, employee, business and individual.

Everyone works for someone else, this is always true. Whether you are a traditional employee or a freelancer, we sell our time, our knowledge and our skills to someone in return for money. Too often, though, we only consider the effects of our labor on our employer or customer. Instead, no matter what your work arrangement, you must also consider the effect of your work on yourself. How does your work effect not only your monetary well-being but also your mental, spiritual and medical well-being?

The value equation of work doesn’t move in one direction. Yes, you must provide value to the person who provides your paycheck or pays your invoices, but you also need to be gaining something other than money. I am very fond of saying that money should never be the sole reason for doing — or not doing — anything. There are countless reasons and needs that surround any work decision. To reduce it to a simple matter of dollars and cents is a disservice to both you and your employer. If your job isn’t valuable to you, in a number of ways, then it is a clear sign that you need to find a way to increase its value or find a job that provides that additional value.

So, what are the other valuable items you should be finding in your job? First, and most important, is knowledge. Your job should be challenging in a variety of ways. You should be learning new things about a wide variety of topics as often as you can. Sure, over the years some tasks will become almost automatic, but this stable environment should provide you opportunities to stretch your skills and knowledge. If you aren’t learning more each day, your value to your company can actually decrease over time. At its worst, you can become better and better at a task that is needed less and less. If you aren’t learning about new methods, new needs, new changes in your company — and your industry in general — you could find your job has disappeared out from under you.

Next, the new skills, experience and knowledge you gain each day must be transferable to another job, another company, another industry. Certain jobs can be so specific that the skills you have are only applicable to a very narrow band of industries. Sure, there will always be some specific skills, but if the majority of your work is taken up with these tasks, you might find it very hard to find your next job. You must take every opportunity to explore all aspects of your job and find those skills that serve not only your current position, but whatever future position you might desire.

These two valuable items, knowledge and transferable skills are the driving factors in a long and successful career. By pursuing them, you are preparing for the reality that a career is made of many jobs over many years, not one job with one company. You have to prepare yourself for the dissolution of any particular company, or even an entire industry. Your paycheck may cover your expenses and allow you to buy the items you want for your house and family now, but expanded knowledge and transferable skills are the added value of any job that allows you to build the career you deserve in the future.



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Archive: Interview with David Jefferson of JPL – February 8, 2006

July 22nd, 2009 Comments off
[audio:http://welchwrite.com/dewelch/ce/2006/audio/career-op-20060208a.mp3]

This is the first in our on-going interview series with high-tech careerists of all types.

Today’s interview is with David Jefferson, senior engineer/navigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). We talk about how we got started in his career, how high-tech is integrated into his work and how you plan for projects that take 10 years or more to come to fruition.


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Archive: Sales is Everything – December 17, 2004

January 30th, 2008 Comments off

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

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[audio:http://welchwrite.com/dewelch/ce/2004/audio/co041217.mp3]

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Yes, that’s right, “sales” is everything. Business experts like Tom Peters preach it, industry pundits carry on the charge, even I know this is true, but taking it to heart and integrating this thought into my business is a troublesome task. I bemoan the past when…was it ever true?… there were sales people and everyone else. If you worked in development, technical support or any other aspect of business, you didn’t have to think about sales. It was something that the “Sales guys” did. This would be my dream world, but dreams don’t put food on the table.

This Friday: February 1, 2008: Without risk we all stagnate


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