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December 1, 2000

Not a game

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

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Pursuing a high-tech career can be a wild and wooly ride. Read any of the industry magazines and you will find stories both fascinating and horrific. Some people might think a high-tech career can be a ticket to easy wealth and security, but it is always important to remember that the big players in the game usually only have their own best interests at heart. If you don’t look out for yourself you could end up just another casualty of the dot-com battlefield.

Stability and Security

If you work for a high-tech startup firm, one of the first pieces of information you want to glean is the financial security of the principals of the company. In most cases you want them as hungry to succeed as you are. If the principals are coming off the success of a previous company they might not be as aware of the day-to-day financial issues that concern you most.

For example, I once worked for a company where paychecks would arrive 1-2 days late every few weeks. Worse yet, the principals could not understand why it was such a big issue. Since they no longer had to live paycheck to paycheck they had forgotten what havoc a missed paycheck can involve for their staffers. Even though my finances were fairly secure at the time, a delayed paycheck would disrupt my plans to pay certain bills. Sometimes this would make me draw on my savings in order to keep my own financial plans in order. It seems a small issue, but often the richer the less they understand the financial needs of their workers.

Another important issue for you is that of risk. Money can often make any of us reckless in both life and business. A company that is flush with cash can suddenly find itself filing for Chapter 11 if the risks outweigh the benefits. While you may be interested in establishing a long-term career with a company, they might be contemplating "make or break" decisions that could put you out of a job. Once again, too much money can cloud people’s risk monitor. The principals might not flinch at betting the farm on one particular partnership or agreement, but they often don’t think about the consequences to those around them. Perhaps they lured a top-flight Chief Financial Officer (CFO) from a big company, replacing his or her’s large salary with stock options. This person is going to have a much more conservative opinion about business than someone who has already made a small fortune. If the company goes under it is going to have a much more dramatic effect on the new CFO than the principals.

Not a game

Finally, too many CEOs and Presidents of startup companies fall into the thinking that the whole business is nothing but a game. You will often hear game metaphors being bantered around offices. Talk of teamwork and "making a touchdown", etc. are found almost everywhere. It is always important for everyone to remember, though, that business is not a game. In a game of softball everyone shakes each other’s hands and then goes home to a life that is unchanged by the results of the game. In business, winning or losing directly effects your standard of living. Wealthy company owners can sometimes forget this fact. They will take their money and move on to the "Next, Next Thing" but you will be the one looking for the next stepping stone in your career without the stability that such money brings.

The next time you are talking with the principals of your company or interviewing for a new job listen carefully to how these people present themselves and their company. If they seem to lack understanding of the day-to-day needs of their employees or are betting the whole company on one risky venture you might want to consider looking somewhere else. Looking for clues in behaviors such as these is just as important as the technology or service the company is selling. In fact, bad management can often destroy a company that has superior technology. Always remember that what might be a game to some people is actually your livelihood. Don’t let their roll of the dice leave you the biggest loser.

about this column.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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