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December 15, 2000

The trail ahead

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

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The end of the year always brings a deluge of predictions for the coming one. Of course, as this entire year has proven, we have little idea how anything will work out in 2001. In many people's eyes this was to be the year of disaster, with catastrophic failures in everything from your toaster to the entire power grid. Thankfully, very little actually went wrong and the year has continued much the same as others. Of course, in non-technology areas the world remained as unpredictable as ever. That said, I will offer a few words on what 2001 might bring to you as a high-tech careerist.

A little more respect

One trend I see, and one I would highly encourage, is the growing respect for technology workers. In the past, many companies held a "dime-a-dozen" mentality in regards to their tech staff. One programmer was little different from another. One network manager could be easily replaced with another. The last few years have shown, however, that not everyone has the ability to create the type of web sites, e-commerce systems and computer software required in the changing economy in which we find ourselves.

Surely, there will continue to be horror stories about bad management and bad companies, but, overall, I see a growing respect for tech workers who can deliver on what they promise when they are given a chance to excel. More and more frequently I am seeing the blame for failures laid where it belongs instead of using tech workers for scapegoats in front of investors and stock holders. In part, this is due to tech workers standing up for themselves and offering their own side of the story when a company fails.

All high-tech workers must strive to build on this rise in respect by not only developing their technology skills, but also their business skills. If you continue to deliver on your promises and develop an understanding of business itself, your reputation will continue to rise. On the other hand, every tech worker who over-promises on what they can provide, be it services or software, reduces the reputation of everyone else in the industry. Respect for all tech workers should be an important thought for everyone. A few bad eggs can end up making it harder for everyone.

A dichotomy

On one hand, the number of high-tech companies formed over the next year is almost sure to drop. Concerns about the profitability and management of Internet companies in particular have already started making venture capitalists much more realistic about the chances of any specific company making it big. They are taking a much harder look at companies before investing.

On the other hand, this process of re-evaluation should mean that the companies that do get funded are a bit more stable and long-lived. While there may be fewer jobs overall, those that exist should be of a much higher quality.

As much as those involved hate to profess it, Internet businesses are still businesses like any other and subject to many of the same rules. We can chose to ignore these rules now, but they will eventually catch up with anyone who hopes to run a profitable company far into the future. I think the injection of some traditional business practices into Internet companies is exactly what is needed in this coming year.

It's over

Finally, as much as we might hate to admit to ourselves, the days of the "instant" Internet millionaire are over for now. It was a fantasy that many of us willingly indulged in and it is only this fantasy that has sustained it so far. This year will be the year we all wake up from our Cinderella evening to find that there are many hard years ahead. We can envy those that made their fortunes while the fantasy prevailed, but that time will never come again in the same form. There will be future technologies that generate as much interest as the Internet initially did, but we will all be a little older and wiser; maybe too wise to be fooled into believing the fantasy again. This new fantasy will be fueled by the young people who will be as idealistic and willing to believe as we once were. It is time for us to fully wake up from our fantasy and start developing a career based on reality. Just as they will have to do in their own time.

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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