Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Yes, No, Maybe

March 30, 2001

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When you work in a high-tech career you get used to dealing in absolutes; the bit is either on or off, the data is either there or not, the program runs or crashes. Having a successful high-tech career, though, involves cultivating a sense of ambiguity and being able to develop the best solution for your clients in a world filled with shades of gray. The right answer one day may be the wrong answer the next. It is up to you to keep an open mind.

Simple vs. complex

One of the most ambiguous situations you will deal with is when to apply technology and when to look elsewhere for solutions to your customers problems. Most everyone has heard the old saying, "if you give a child a hammer and everything becomes a nail." The same could be said for high-tech workers. Too often the initial response to any challenge is more technology. You need to resist this initial impulse and spend at least a few minutes analyzing the problem first.

From personal experience I know that problems are often the product of human nature and not a lack of technology. For example, perhaps someone isn't tracking inventory closely enough. You can create the best inventory system in the world, but it will all be for naught if the company culture allows anyone to move inventory around at will. In fact, some people will actively rebel against the additional burden the system places on them. The unfortunate result is that you will be blamed for the failure of the inventory system, not the company culture.

In this case, if the human issues aren't dealt with first, no amount of technology will solve the problem. Each and every time you start a project you need to look carefully for these human factors that could spell disaster.
There are also situations when non-technological solutions to problems are the best choice. Does a warehouse worker really need a Palm Pilot when a pencil and well-designed paper form will be easier to use and less likely to be damaged or lost? It may sound like heresy, but there are just as many reasons to avoid technological solutions as to apply them.


One of the most important reasons to carefully evaluate each technology project you work on is your own reputation. You do not want to be seen by either management or your customers as someone who applies the "hammer" to every project. The moment that occurs you will find your budgets are scrutinized more carefully, your projects denied more often and a subtle suspicion in your dealings with management. Instead of someone who is working towards a common goal, you become some who needs to be "reined in"; someone who needs to be watched; someone who doesn't "understand the business."

As you might imagine any of these opinions can stunt, if not stop, your high-tech career dead in its tracks. Working in high-tech already makes you a bit of an outsider in any company, since some people are threatened by your abilities. It only takes a few failed technology projects to make management wonder why they are spending all that money. Technology is an easy scapegoat, and you along with it, whenever human issues get in the way. By carefully evaluating each project, and sharing that evaluation with management you can help to diffuse thoughts that you approach every challenge in the same fashion. This won't entirely protect you from being a scapegoat, but it can offer a first line of defense.

Overall, it is important that you keep an open mind about any technology projects and that the people around you see this. We all might like business to be unambiguous, but the simple fact is it is controlled more by human frailties than we would ever like to believe. You must recognize this fact in order to keep your high-tech career moving. It is too simple to have your work dismissed or minimized if your management and your clients believe that you are building technology for the sake of technology instead of building solutions that help the company grow larger. Look for the shades of gray in your work and you will go far towards dispelling any such thoughts.

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