Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

Beyond Troubleshooting

February 20, 2004

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I would guess that 95% of your work, day in and day out, is spent on problems. This printer won’t print. That program is crashing. IT DOESN’T WORK! While these problems can insure a regular workload for consultants like me, they can also lead us down the road to ruin. At the end of the road lie disgruntled clients, stagnant careers and simple, garden-variety burnout. If you want to keep your high-tech career cruising along, you need to move beyond troubleshooting and start helping your clients do “neat things” with their computers.

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In fact, one of my professional focal points this year to actively find ways to help my clients create some wonderful things with their computers. After we have solved the most pressing problems with their computers, I ask them, “What neat things do you want to do…and how can I help you get there?”

Even when you are working your way through a series of problems with a client, take a few moments at the end of the session, even if you haven’t solved every problem, and show them something neat. Teach them how they can fax directly from their computer, print envelopes, create greeting cards, send digital photos to the family, or a host of other, neat things.

There are both altruistic and self-interested reasons for doing this. I really do want my clients to accomplish great things. Like any good teacher, I want to see them succeed. That said, I also want to do interesting projects. These are the projects that allow me to grow and remain interested in high-tech topics. Without them, I get bored, surly and quickly become worthless to almost everyone. I need to be challenged and interested in what I do.

If you want to be energized in your work, you may need to go out and find clients that want great things. While this can be a bit more risky, it is an important part of your career growth. Even if the monetary returns aren’t as great, you should also judge each client, each project on several other factors. What will I learn on this project? Is this project “seriously WOW” as author/speaker Tom Peter’s might say? Will I meet and work with neat people? WILL I HAVE FUN? If you career is feeling less than fulfilling, you should be asking these questions more often.

Necessary evil

Another reason for focusing on computer fun has to do with your client’s perceptions of you. Too often as consultants, we become harbingers of woe and a necessary evil. We are someone that the client would rather not call (and not pay) unless they absolutely must. We become associated (unfairly) with computer troubles even though we are the people who solve them.

When we actively engage clients’ imagination and teach them how to make their computer do their bidding, we are changing the client’s perception of us. You want to be greeted warmly when walking into an office, not immediately burdened with this problem and that. It is a simple truth that the work we do can often become who we are, if we allow it. Do everything you can to insure that your clients see you not only as a troubleshooter, but also as a fun person to have around the office.

Does this mean you stop solving problems? Of course not. What it means is that you need to strike a balance. You need to solve as many problems as possible, but also bring something new to the table every time you meet with a client. Perhaps they might be interested in a new “whiz bang” presentation tool, or a new method of monitoring their server farm. Develop a collection of neat ideas, neat tools and neat toys that you can share with your clients, especially when they are suffering the slings and arrows of computer misfortune.

If you want to move beyond the typical role of head computer geek for your clients or company, you have to take an active role. You have to break out of “firefighter” mode and find ways to engage your clients, co-workers and companies in the “neat things” that computers can do. You need to bring out the good side of computers so that you become more than just the “fixer” that shows up when called. You need to become the person that can always be counted on to have new, fun ideas when they are most needed. This has become one focus in my high-tech career and I think it should also be one of yours.

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