Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Guilt by association

July 15, 2005

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Over the years of my high-tech career, a disturbing trend has appeared. More and more potential clients have started to treat me as an adversary with which to negotiate rather than a partner in their success. They question my motives; my estimates and my hourly rate from the first meeting and continue to treat me with skepticism in the early stages of our relationship until such a time as we all get to truly know each other. Despite my efforts to deal fairly and honestly with clients up front, I find that I often have to spend days and weeks breaking through this wall and convincing new clients that I am not trying to “take them for a ride.” I am sure you have experienced the same. Even worse, though, I know exactly who to blame for this increasingly common problem...the incompetent, unscrupulous and unworthy high-tech workers of the world.

Once bitten, twice shy

The fact is, the reason that so many clients are skeptical of our work, is that many have indeed been “taken” in their past dealings with technology. The faulty computer that never worked right. The web site designer who disappeared without finishing the site. The high-tech snake oil salesmen who promised millions in sales and delivered nothing. Nearly everyone has a story about how technology and those who sell and service it have let them down.

I can’t count the number of clients who have brought me in after they have given up on other consultants. I have been treated to the horror stories of inept people losing data, damaging computer and printers and even, perhaps, stealing from their homes. While their bad experience can make them even more appreciative of my services, initially there is a wall that must be broken down between us.


One of the most striking effects of this trend is that all technology workers are treated with disdain and skepticism. No matter how well we might perform our work, there is a level of “guilt by association” that must be overcome. Human beings tend to paint the world with a very large brush and even good technology workers are caught in this trap. We are forced to jump through the same hoops and survive the same tests that unscrupulous technology workers face even though we have done nothing to deserve it. In the worst cases, you may lose a client because there is no way you can ever prove to them that you are not unscrupulous in some way. They will ignore your recommendations or develop “analysis paralysis” over the smallest technology questions. They will vacillate between this option and that, never making a decision. They are trying to assure themselves that no one will ever take advantage of them again, but in doing so, they push away the very people that could help them.

What to do?

The most troubling fact is, if you want to build your high-tech career, you will have to deal with many people like those described above. You will find them everywhere -- as your clients and in your companies. If you want to be successful, you will have to deal with these issues.

Of course, being aware of the issues is a good first step. Someone who is just getting started may wonder why potential clients are so skittish or seem combative. They don’t have an understanding of the technology workers who may have preceded them in the job. They don’t know how these clients were treated.

My own favorite tactic is to be painfully honest in every dealing with a client, even if it means delivering bad news. Don’t sugar-coat the situation and don’t attempt to conceal its gravity. You might worry that this would drive clients away, but I can assure you that it will, instead, go a long way towards dismissing their skepticism and fear. If they get the sense that you are willing to lose them as a client in order to tell them the truth, they will appreciate it and your relationship will grow.

You should also state your motives clearly and concisely. I often talk to my clients about the vision I have for them in the future. I don’t try to tie them tightly to my services, forcing them to call with every small problem. I seek to build them into self-sufficient technology users who call me when they want to learn something new, not because I purposefully hid information from them.

The fact is, there are too many unscrupulous high-tech workers in the world today and we all suffer for their failings. The only way to combat this trend is to be aware of it, understand it and do everything we can to show our clients that we are a step above the people they may have previously encountered. A successful high-tech career requires more than just technological skills -- it also requires integrity.

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