Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Start and Stop

January 7, 2005

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It is a rare high-tech project that progresses neatly from beginning to end. Most project schedules change dramatically over the lifespan of the project. Along with this, many projects can go on hiatus for days, weeks or even months at a time. You probably already know that the ability to move from task to task is an important quality in your high-tech career, but learning how to put a project “to bed” and awaken it later can help you move up the career ladder.

Everything in its place

The most important aspect of putting a project on hold is the ability to quickly gather all supporting documentation, all files (electronic and otherwise), notes, etc into one simple package. When the project is awakened again, you want to be able to get right back to work. Too often, important information is lost or destroyed because those involved didn’t take the time to safeguard their work. Who knows how many great ideas or hours of work might be lost? Projects take long enough to complete, you don’t want to create even more work for yourself down the road. In some cases, it may be impossible to re-create lost data. Employees may have moved on or technology may have become obsolete. That unique mix of people and circumstances that created these great ideas might not be available, in exactly the same form when you need to return to them once again.

Once you have gathered all your information, you need to find a secure place to store it. In the case of a small project, this could be a simple folder in a file cabinet. For larger projects, you may need storage lockers, specialized art storage, and archival level packaging. If you are generating lots of projects, you may need to hire someone experienced in archival services to assist you in maintaining and accessing your archive as needed. These special workers understand the vagaries of acidic papers, document storage and the cataloging of archival information.

Even if you are storing your own, small projects, take the time to find a safe area, away from moisture, heat, insects and sunlight. Then, create an index of each project so that you can easily find it in the future. You don’t need any fancy computer programs to do this. A small box with index cards is more that enough if you maintain it well.

Two examples

In previous columns I have mentioned the archive at Walt Disney Imagineering, one of my old haunts. This important resource collected nearly every piece of information from every project ever created at the company. Designers of the second Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Walt Disney World were able to use not just the finished attraction at Disneyland, but also investigate unused ideas, storyboards and technology from the original. I can imagine that this helped speed the creation of the second POTC and even the third in Tokyo.

In some cases, entire abandoned projects were later used elsewhere in the Disney system. Country Bear Jamboree was originally created as part of a ski resort project for Mineral King, California. While that project was abandoned, the bears later found a home a Disneyland. These are only a few examples of how collecting and protecting your project information can be important to your future.

Most everything is important

Don’t under-estimate the worth of your information. If you do, there will come a time when you deeply regret it. Ideas are fragile things and easily lost. It may be the idea you had 10 years ago that takes your career to the highest level today. You will find architects who have drawings, models and other information from abandoned projects . To this day, Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are being created, based on the original plans of the master. You can never tell how you, or others, might be able to use these projects in the future.

For high-tech careerists, your past projects might include interesting programs or algorithms that were ahead of their time, or technology. Looking back on these earlier ideas can help to spur new ideas, often quite different, that can lead to grand projects. Even if the project is not resurrected in exactly the same form, the ideas, thoughts and techniques you created could serve your high-tech career well.


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