Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

All the same

June 23, 2000

** Listen to this column on your computer, iPod or other audio player **

Listen | Listen (Backup)

Make a name for yourself at

After having worked for a variety of companies, both large and small, I have noticed that regardless of the market, the position or the profitability of a company, they all tend to have very similar problems. Despite high flying reputations of employee empowerment, unique projects or amazing perks, the daily reality for the rank and file employee is much the same no matter where you go. In fact, you find more similarities than differences whether you are working in computers, shoes or entertainment.

Outside and Inside

It is often the best and worst of a company that gets publicized to the outside world. You may hear about company cars and large bonuses, or conversely, the long hours with no overtime or the lack of opportunity for advancement. When it comes to the day-to-day realities, though, little is said.

When I was working at Walt Disney Imagineering I often had friends and family express their thoughts that it must be wonderful to work there. They knew of the free admission to the theme parks and the high profile projects the company developed. They often wanted to work at the company a great deal.

I couldn't deny the fact that there were some excellent perks, but some of them where reserved for only portions of the company. Hourly workers usually did not participate. Creative departments were often accorded benefits far above those of traditional "overhead" departments such as finance and Information Services.(IS). Creative departments were often given dramatically designed offices with state of the art furniture while others, myself included, worked in an seemingly endless sea of carpeted cubicles.

There were, of course, interesting projects that I might not have been exposed to otherwise, but again, the participation is usually limited to fairly traditional support roles. All said, the work I performed was much like the work I would have performed at any other large company.

Also, as with any large company, there is a certain amount of bureaucracy no matter where you work. No matter what the reputation of the company, size breeds complexity. It is foolish to ever assume that you will be free of this bureaucracy. It only changes in quantity, complexity and burden.

If you are planning on moving to a new company it is very important to get a feeling for the day-to-day environment. Talk to both current and former employees if you can. While former employees might lean towards the extremes in their assessment, their input can often be useful. Talk to enough people that a clear picture emerges of the workplace, the people and the company.

High-tech in particular

There are several issues that are endemic when it comes to high-tech positions in a company. Even though certain positions have gained a higher profile, such as web designers and programmers, the overall reality for most high-tech workers remains the same.

Most companies dislike, even resent, the increasing amounts that must be spent on technology year after year. Tech staffing is often seen as an overhead item that is not directly chargeable to a specific project. Instead of adding to the bottom line, it reduces it. Hiring is often kept to an absolute minimum and open positions can remain unfilled for long periods of time.

Budgets for equipment are also watched very closely. In some companies, the justification process for new equipment is purposely kept as cumbersome as possible to dissuade spending. In many cases, IS staffers are using equipment that is far inferior to that of the people they are supporting. In one of my jobs it was a constant battle to keep both an Mac and a Windows PC on my desk, even though I supported users of both on a daily basis.

Even though high-tech positions are gaining more respect, these functions still tend to exist outside of the usual project structure no matter how much management professes to integrate them. Too often, projects are designed with no input from the various high-tech departments. They then have to work around problems that might have been avoided had they been included in the project from the start. Unfortunately, it can sometimes feel that you are working for 2 different companies.

As you can see, regardless of the differences between them, most companies have similar issues with their high tech workers. By knowing these issues it is possible to use them as touchstones when you're deciding to move to a new position with a new company. Look beyond the usual criteria used to evaluate a company and look for the more important day-to-day actions that can impact your experience - and your success in job - more directly. RoundTable
Live Event

Sept 3rd 1:30pm (Pacific)

So Exactly what are we going to be covering
A trick on how to use the Microsoft Word / Blogger editing tool plug-in with any Weblog
We will show you how to use Dave Winer's new OPML Editor in a collaborative way
We will show you some tips and tricks using FeedBurner, Pubsub and Technorati to make you more productive
We will also highlight and cover a variety of RSS News Aggreators in ways, that we think will save you time
We will also demonstrate some publishing tools that you may not be aware of.

Signup Today

We will be using Windows PC based GotoMeeting WebConferencing tool and can accomodate 200 people.

We want to thank GoToMeeting for sponsoring the event and would encourage you to try the product for free for 30 days.

Podcast Feed

Subscribe with iTunes 4.9