Career-Op Main -- Career-Op 1997-1999 - Career-Op 2000
End and beginning
To say that this has been an interesting, confusing, and frightening year would probably qualify as the biggest understatement of the year. The coming New Year is always a time for reflection and contemplation and this year promises to be one of the most reflective in recent memory. That said, we have seen over the last few months that life doesnt stop for those of us not directly involved in tragedies. We continue to go to work, make dinner, pay our bills and perform all the assorted minutia of life. Some have even had to deal with losing their job on top of everything else. Regardless of what happens in our lives, we all must keep on moving. In an effort to help you look forward to the New Year, here are a few pointers.
Just say no...to upgrades
The endless procession of software upgrades is the bane of any high-tech careerists' life. Worse yet, clients that clamor for the latest, greatest upgrades without any understanding of the issues involved make life even more difficult. You only have to witness the clamor over Windows XP or Mac OS X to see the desire that software manufacturers can cause in your clients. In order to preserve your sanity, and your career, there are a few ways to help users say no to software upgrades, at least until any major issues get sorted out by others willing to swim the dangerous waters.
Solving the right problem
As a high-tech careerist, you will often be called upon to solve some intractable problems. In fact, these projects will often be the ones that will make your career. Nothing boosts your resume quite as much as solving a problem others may have found unsolvable. Of course, these same projects can also be the most troublesome. Sometimes you can find yourself trapped in a no-win situation that has very little to do with technology and a lot to do with human nature and the nature of business.
In the current environment, you maybe disinclined to trust many things you once thought true, but trust is exactly what your clients, your managers and your peers are looking for right now. The most successful high-tech careerist will always be the one that generates a feeling of trust in all their dealings. If people believe, for any reason, that they cannot trust you, your career will most assuredly stall.
Over the last few months I am sure many of you have been involved in detailed discussions about computer security and the protection of the computer systems and information under your care. I can also guess that you are feeling overwhelmed with the demands that are being made upon you. The trouble with constant vigilance is that vigilance is not a constant. It is only maintained by constant re-evaluation and re-dedication. That said, there are several ways that you can use technology and human nature to keep moving in the right direction.
Now is the time
Chances are that you know at least one other high-tech worker who is currently unemployed. When you finish reading this column, I want you to call them up or send them an email, invite them to dinner and ask them to pitch you the top 5 projects they always wanted to work on. Maybe it's the next great information site, a new computer game, a new service for doctors and nurses. Next, you should pitch them your top 5 projects. Try and find a way to work together to take something you both believe - and make it real. Now is the time!
It is more than likely that everyone will be a bit more circumspect this holiday season over what they request as gifts. Gone will be the Apple Titanium Powerbooks and 60 GB hard drives. Instead the focus will be more on family, friends and making friends of those we haven't yet met. While our technological consumption may fall a bit, there are still a few things you can add to your holiday wish list that can help you build your career in the coming year.
Looking only at the economy and the dearth of high-tech jobs available, you might think that your high-tech career is in for a rough ride. There are other important issues involved, though, that could actually help your career over the long term. As company budgets get tight, there will be less inclination to spend big on new software and hardware. Many companies will find that they need people who can keep their existing systems running as smoothly as possible.
With the release of the recent Nimda Worm/Virus and hints of more electronic vandalism to come, your role as a high-tech careerist is becoming that of protector, more and more. If you want to maintain your status and your career, you need to watch out for those people and companies you serve.
Those around you
In the past I wrote about the need to keep certain information, like your drinking habits and emotional problems, to yourself. There was no need to fill in the entire office on your lack of a love life or angry breakup, but there is some information that you can, and should, share with your co-workers, and they with you.
O Captain, my captain...
Throughout our lives, both personally and professionally, we look for a captain; someone to guide us through the storms and bring us safely to home port again. We want this captain to be ever vigilant, ever watchful and skillful beyond measure; someone to protect us and automatically know when the ship is off-course and in danger. Sometimes, though, serving under such a captain, either on-board or in your high-tech career can lead you to underestimate your own skills.
Getting things done
As a high-tech worker, you are well aware you always have more work than you can possibly ever complete. Without some sort of plan to attack this work you can often find yourself floundering around from one emergency to the next. What you need is an attack plan that allows you to be the most productive without burning yourself out.
No one can deny that it is tough to find a job these days. While I might disagree with the doom and gloom scenario that the mainstream press paints, I will agree when the economy is down, it is harder for everyone, high-tech workers included, to find a job. I have been in the position that many of you are finding yourselves in today. Sending out tons of resumes but receiving no response--searching the web for jobs that matched my particular set of skills only to find few--calling everyone I know to see if they have heard of a job. After all of that, though, I learned a very difficult, even frightening lesson, about getting a job. No one is going to get a job for you. No degree or certification will guarantee you a job. You are the only one you can count on to find your next job.
All as one
By the time you read this column, many days will have passed since the New York and Washington attacks. As I write, though, it has been only 48 hours. No one can ignore what happened on September 11, 2001 and I feel I cannot ignore it either. Trying to proceed with business as usual would be useless, as the world will never be quite the same as it was.
Company as Cult
As always, I can rely on the Internet to provide me constant fodder for this column. This weeks entry is a video clip of Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, jumping around like a crazy man, exhorting the Microsoft troops to bigger and better things. The first time I viewed it I had to stop after a few seconds. It brought back memories of high-school pep rallies where the coaches would do nearly anything to get the crowd worked up into a frenzy of "school spirit." On a second viewing, all the way through this time, it brought to mind more disturbing scenes, scenes of company as cult.
Recent accounts would have you believe that computer sabotage is on the rise throughout corporate America. There have been reports of deleted data, purposeful virus infections, passwords that are suddenly lost when an employee is fired. While I will not deny that some computer sabotage does take place, I think the press' focus on this issue overplays the occurrences. What is true, though, is that the current economic climate, and less than gentle methods of handling layoff notices are contributing to an environment where more sabotage can and will take place.
Share(ware) the wealth
As high-tech workers you are probably always on the lookout for tools to make your job a little easier. Perhaps it is that simple utility that saves you 10 minutes every time you have to update a report or a program that monitors your network and lets you know when there are problems. Often, these useful little programs are distributed as shareware, meaning you can try before you buy. Unfortunately, too few high-tech workers actually take the step of paying for the software they find so useful. I think we owe it to all the great programmers out there to find some way to ensure that they get the rewards, however small, that they deserve. In this way we can insure that these little software gems continue to be produced.
In your high-tech career not only is it important to get the job done you must constantly be checking that problems have not returned. Nothing is more aggravating to a computer user than a problem that seems to go away only to return at the worst possible moment. It doesn't matter whether you work in a large corporation or as an independent contractor, follow-up can take your career from average to excellent.
Helping them out
Look at any 10 small companies today, regardless of the industry they are in, and you will find 5 or more that have no full-time technology staff. Instead you will find someone who is probably regretting they ever told anyone that they knew something about computers. Too often these de facto technology workers want nothing more than to get back to doing the job they really love and leave the technology issues to someone else. As you might imagine, this can be a marvelous opportunity to jumpstart your career.
Stop! Three things to stop doing today
It can be very difficult to see the forest for the trees when you are involved in a day-to-day battle to maintain and develop your high-tech career. Layoffs abound. Project work is drying up. The computer industry is in turmoil. Who has time to worry about the rest of the world when you are just trying to keep your boss happy or your clients off your back? In truth, you need to make the time to constantly evaluate your position in your career and do those things that need to be done to insure that you are moving forward in your career and your life. As a way to jolt you into thinking more about your career and less about your current job, here are 3 things you need to stop doing today.
School technology advisors
August is a time for all of us to think about heading back to school, but for high-tech careerists, school has become a place to teach and assist, as well as learn. Computers and other technology are a major part of our schools and our society today. We who understand this technology owe it to ourselves and others to educate both students and faculty in the use of this technology.
As Californians have learned, and others will soon face, the electricity supply can no longer be taken for granted. For high-tech careerists, this is indeed a heavy blow. Your work depends on electricity for its very existence. It is a painful lesson to find that you are not in control of the most basic part of your industry. While there is very little you can do to prevent blackouts yourself, there are several ways to prepare for the disruptions they cause. You owe it to your clients and yourself to do everything that you can.
While training plays a part in all high tech careers, your high-tech intuition plays an important role, as well. Your ability to work a technical problem from start to finish, evaluate new technologies and apply them in new and different ways is something that can only be gained through "hands-on" experience.
Strange Days Indeed
This column marks the beginning of my 5th year writing Career Opportunities. It always seems hard to believe that you have been doing something so long when anniversaries arrive. I enjoy writing Career-Op and will continue to do it as long into the future as possible. I especially enjoy the emails from readers asking for advice or telling me when I am right, wrong or otherwise. Feel free to send me your comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to all for 4 great years and many more to come.
Sure path to project failure
A life in a high-tech career is a life of projects. Your work will be made of projects large and small. While there is no sure way of assuring a project's success, there are many specific ways of insuring its failure. In fact, sometimes it is possible to kill a project before it even gets off the ground. Below are some of the usual project pitfalls and what you can do to avoid them.
Using handheld technology to improve your career
It seems fitting that I am writing this column into my Handspring Visor as I sit at the airport waiting to pick up a friend. As a writer and a high-tech professional, this can be one of the most useful features, the ability to work almost anywhere at anytime without lugging around several pounds of equipment.
Is there any room within our work for self-respect? Talk to anyone of the previous generation and you might find the answer to that question is a firm, no! You are either employed or not. If your employer takes advantage of you or provides a less than adequate work environment, too bad. No one ever said work was easy.
There is a current of anger running through the high-tech industry today. Everyone -- high-tech workers, their clients, the press, the whole world -- seems to be angry that high technology has not proven itself the economic savior that some thought it would be. For you, the high-tech careerist, this can be a dangerous time. With so much anger floating around you are bound to be the target of someone's anger, even if it is misplaced. Keep your head clear and watch out for these typical scenarios.
As part of my daily routine I check out a wide variety of web sites and print publications to keep a handle on the concerns of workers in the US and abroad. This week I became involved in a discussion thread on the NetSlaves web site (www.netslaves.com) regarding how some high-tech employees might be devaluing themselves by working longer hours for lesser pay and basically putting up with work environments that are far from ideal. Along with this topic we also touched upon some related issues involving pay cuts and other austerity measures.
May 25, 2001
Even at the best of times, many high-tech careerists are looking for work. During the current economic downturn, this number is increasing everyday. While a job search is usually far from fun, there are ways to approach it to help insure success.
May 18, 2001
Where to, now?
Over the several years I have written this column I have had people ask me for advice about their high-tech careers. While I write about this topic every week I am somewhat hesitant about offering specific advice for an individual. So much depends on their life and the goals that they want to accomplish. So much depends on their skills, their interests and their desires. That said, I usually try to offer some helpful advice based on my own personal experience. Today's column gives you all a little insight into what I might say if you sent me a message like, "Where to, now?"
May 11, 2001
When you are first getting started on your high-tech career you are often looking for any way to break in. For some people this might include an internship with a company where you are interested in working full-time. In many cases, though, internships are unpaid. While it is possible to gain a great deal of professional knowledge in an internship, the lack of pay, and sometimes the lack of training varies widely from company to company.
May 4, 2001
There is a line in "The Big Chill" where Jeff Goldblum's character states, "Just try going one day without a big juicy rationalization?" With the current high-tech climate what it is, it seems a lot of people are cranking up the rationalization engine in an effort to either assuage their own guilt or deflect blame for their actions onto others. In either case, it is more and more likely that you may run into this situation so I wanted to forewarn you that these rationalizations often have little to do with the quality of your work.
April 27, 2001
A time to lead
I would guess that fraud has existed in society since the first caveman tried to convince someone that their new, improved rock would make their hunting safe and quick. It seems an integral part of human intelligence that we want things to be easier and cheaper so much that we are willing to believe almost anything if it is sold in the right way.
April 20, 2001
They did what?
A few weeks ago an Irvine, California-based Internet ad company suddenly had a light shown on its internal business practices. It seems that someone in the company, perhaps a disgruntled employee, posted the instant messaging logs from the CEO's computer on the Web. The logs seemed to show that the CEO, and other executives, were involved in a variety of schemes to defraud vendors, affiliates and employees. Regardless of the validity of these claims the entire incident points up several important rules that we all should keep in mind as we do business.
April 13, 2001
Regardless of what type of high-tech job you may have, you will eventually have to deal with an important career question your final career goal. High-tech workers start in all different areas, programming, support, networking, but as your career progresses you will be moved closer and closer to some eventual decision. Do you follow a management track? Do you want to continue in a hands-on technical role? You might even decide to move outside the typical corporate environment and work for yourself. Regardless of the choice, you will either make these decisions for yourself or someone will make them for you. This is why it is so important to look towards the "end game" of your career, even if you are years, if not decades, away.
April 6, 2001
Cynical or Smart?
For whatever reason, a successful high-tech career has always involved a bit of cynicism. Whether you are questioning the reality of a manufacturer's delivery date or the actions of your own boss, it can be healthy to keep a questioning mind about the actions of others. They might not be truly "out to get you" but, unfortunately, they might not be telling you the whole truth, either.
March 30, 2001
Yes, no, maybe
When you work in a high-tech career you get used to dealing in absolutes; the bit is either on or off, the data is either there or not, the program runs or crashes. Having a successful high-tech career, though, involves cultivating a sense of ambiguity and being able to develop the best solution for your clients in a world filled with shades of gray. The right answer one day may be the wrong answer the next. It is up to you to keep an open mind.
March 23, 2001
Have you ever felt the rain?
The Southern California winter may not bring much snow, except in the mountains, but it is our rainy season, with large storms rolling in out of the west. This year we are also experiencing a similar Winter in the high-tech world. Storms of company failures and associated layoffs are rolling in. You cannot control when you might suffer a layoff any more than you can control the weather, but you can control your reaction to a layoff to insure that you keep your career headed in the right direction.
March 16, 2001
In your travels through the high-tech world you have probably all encountered a fair amount of computer "whiz kids." These up and coming high-tech careerists will be the ones who guide the way to our technological future. They will take what we have built and enhance it in ways we never imagined. This is why it is so important for all high-tech workers to take a moment out of their busy careers and offer a helping hand to these "new kids on the block." While they may have dazzling technical skills, in some ways we have abandoned their social education. We need to get involved today to insure that the future they build for us is one where we will want to live.
March 9, 2001
The "New Economy is dead! Long live the New Economy!" Despite the flurry of recent layoffs and the trouble this will cause high-tech workers, I am honestly pleased that the Internet bubble has finally burst. Disillusion is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as "1. To free from illusion 2. To take away the idealism of and make bitter." Despite its usual negative connotations, I believe it is much better to woken from our illusions so that we can make our career reality better. There is no need to be bitter, though. I consider it much more of an epiphany. Suddenly I understand that the Internet boom was an aberration, like so many before it. Yes, we have seen the dreamland that might be possible, but our work can only be done in the real world.
March 2, 2001
Don't Say It
Some days, your life as a high-tech worker can seem to be an endless parade of people who want nothing more than to make your life difficult. I am here to remind you that not everyone is out to treat you this way. While you may run into a few difficult people in the course of your career the majority of your customers and your peers will be decent folk who suffer from the same problems you do. Sometimes, though, we can forget all that and begin treating everyone as the enemy, regardless of their actions.
February 23, 2001
Keep it to yourself
Despite the fact that companies are trying to become more like a family and less like a cold corporation, it is always best to remember that there are certain aspects of your life that you shouldn't share with your coworkers or your managers. The stories you tell now may come back to haunt your career in the future.
February 16, 2001
The water cooler
In the past, when employees wanted to "dish the dirt" about their company they would congregate at the water cooler. Today, though, this water cooler has expanded to the size of the world. You only have to casually search the Internet to find a host of people talking about a host of companies -- and not everything they are saying is fit for polite company.
February 9, 2001
As the Dot-Com industry, like all new industries, suffers from its inevitable realignment many high-tech workers are finding themselves transitioning to new jobs or out of work altogether. What seems out of place, though, is the hostility towards these workers in the press and from other workers. Many high-tech workers are being treated with the same disdain as striking sports professionals or actors. The public seems to be confusing your average high-tech worker with the millionaire founders and owners who employed them.
February 2, 2001
How to make mistakes
Everyone in every job and every life makes mistakes. There is no way to avoid them. However, the success of your career can ride on how you handle your mistakes and how you recover from them. Below are a few guidelines on how to handle your mistakes to insure that one small problem doesn't turn into a job or career ending monster.
January 26, 2001
Whether you are designing a new payroll system, web site or a point-of-sale system for a new cash register, as a high-tech careerist you will have to face one issue again and again. Too often high-tech projects are instituted and managed by those people who will use it the least. If you want to develop truly useful products and systems, you have to dig down into a company's structure and find out what the workers really need, not what management thinks they need.
January 19, 2001
Make a difference
Many people make New Year's resolutions and most of them are already broken by this time. I would like to challenge you with a different type of resolution this year. While others may worry about making more money, making that big promotion or even starting their own company, I would challenge you to make a difference, instead.
January 12, 2001
There is a myth in the high-tech industry about training. Everyone promises it but very few actually deliver. This points up the fact that while training is seen as an important aspect of any job, most companies simply do not have the time, energy or wherewithal to actually follow through. This is especially true of the small, startup companies where many high-tech workers begin their career. The bottom line for anyone looking for a job in today's market is, don't let yourself be swayed by big promises of extensive training and mentoring. In most cases, it simply doesn't materialize.
January 5, 2001
At your peril
While it may seem a bit odd, among the many lessons learned from the recent election fiasco is an important wakeup call for all who work in high-tech careers. Any system, if ignored, will fail at the worst possible moment with potentially disastrous consequences. Every system, be a paper punch ballot or high-end database system, must be constantly monitored to insure that when a crisis occurs, the system will be up to the challenge. If you do not take the time to monitor systems then it could be only a matter of time before you have no career at all.