|Career Opportunities 2002|
|A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch|
Making technology predictions for the New Year is simple. Computers will get cheaper while getting faster. Microsoft will own the world. Apple will go out of business no they wont yes they will. Then, of course, there are the usual predictions that technology will either save or kill us as a society and a race. Regardless of where you come down on any of these issues, though, there are a few important issues to be aware of in 2003. I dont profess to have a crystal ball in my Macintosh, but I know I will be watching the following issues carefully.
The end of one year is always a great time to spend a few minutes reviewing the last, reflecting on the good and the bad and just taking some time to renew yourself for the coming year. This year, I am taking this yearly review a step farther and developing similar reviews for all of my major clients. In this way, not only am I generating further business for myself, I am hoping to help my clients solve some of their technology problems before they ever occur.
After writing this column for six years, I have received my share of email from readers. This email has come from both local readers and those farther afield, sometimes even outside of the United States. This has shown me just how far my words can travel and it also drives home the importance of thinking about what you are saying before releasing it "into the wild." This is true whether you are writing for publication or just sending email to a colleague across town. The global nature of the Internet insures that your words might be available to readers far beyond their intended audience.
No matter how good your high-tech work or how complete your technology procedures, time erodes all good practices. Just like water on stone, the effects of time may work slowly, but they can effect your technology projects in small, yet destructive ways. No matter how much work you put into establishing your "best practices", without constant attention, they can fall into disrepair quickly and completely possibly damaging your high-tech career as well.
With more and more companies reducing high-tech staff, the use of consultants continues to grow. This has led to an interesting, if somewhat disconcerting, reality where you must work closely with other high-tech consultants, almost as if you were all employees of the company. Unfortunately, this can lead to situations where you might find yourself stepping on each others toes, with few methods of resolving conflicts when they arise.
The computer world has come far since I booted my first Apple IIc back in 1985. Floppy discs held around 140K of data and bulletin board systems ran at a whopping 300-baud, allowing only a single user to use them at one time. Today, you and other high-tech careerists, work in the realm of gigabytes, terabytes and bandwidth approaching multi-gigabits per second. The great computing distance between our past and today can sometimes make it difficult to understand when yet another leap is required. Such is the case with broadband today. Your high-tech career requires an understanding of the benefits that broadband -- and any future leaps -- can provide your clients so that they and your career can benefit.
It can be a hard lesson to learn, but when you succeed in your high-tech career, or life in general, there will be those around you who are less than enthusiastic about your success. Call it fair-weather friends or simple jealousy, but it can be difficult when those who supported you in the past suddenly show a different side,. Worse still, these people can cause you to doubt your own actions, even when you think you are doing what is best for you. Pressure from friends and acquaintances should never drive you to make career decisions that arent in your own best interest.
When I first saw the theme for this weeks issue, I was taken aback. Who needs computer techs? Everyone needs computer techs, or as I call myself, a computer coach. I know the theme is meant to depict a users feeling of self-sufficiency in using their computer. In fact, this is something that I try to instill in my clients. That said, there are times when nearly everyone could use a computer coach. The trick is knowing when they need them and what services a coach can provide.
As we approach Halloween, it might pay to reflect on some of the scary things you might be facing in your career in the coming months. Although some of these thoughts might make you more scared than a 3-year-old on All Hallows Eve, you should always remember that with a little planning and preparation you wont suffer any more than the usual post "Trick or Treat" sugar hangover.
The longer I work in high-tech, the more distressing I find the environment in which we are all forced to work. In this case, though, I am not talking about a bad work environment and bad managers. I am talking about a high-tech environment where all computer systems, large and small, are under constant attack from both inside and outside. Instead of spending your time developing new ways to increase productivity and profits, you are engaged in a running battle against viruses, crackers, worms and a host of other problems. It seems certain that if you decide to continue to work in high-tech you will be spending even more of your time on these issues.
People who are good at their high-tech career, like all of you, know that sooner or later your clients come to think of you as the font of all (or most) high-tech knowledge. They bring you their most intractable problems and pepper you with countless questions. Thankfully, you usually have the answers to their questions -- or you know exactly where to look. In todays world, though, it is just as important that you share the information you have gathered before they ask for it. In the spirit of this weeks theme, below are a few ways to "share the wealth" while helping both you and your clients.
Throughout my years writing this column I have often heard from readers who were contemplating changing to a high-tech career. The fast growth of Internet-related companies led some to believe that high-tech was the career "promised land." As we have all seen, though, high-tech jobs are no guarantee of future career success. In fact, so many people have sought out work in high-tech that we are now experiencing a glut of workers in some areas while jobs requiring specialized knowledge remain open for months. If you are looking to work in high-tech, either as a first career or a career change, you would be wise to consider the reality of the market and where you might find a fit.
Due to the events of the last 12 months, business ethics, especially in high-tech have been on my mind quite a bit. We have seen ethical lapses approaching the level of those in 1929, but the effects of these lapses has gone far beyond those of the notorious stock market crash. As companies have become larger, the effect that they have on the economy, both good and bad, grows tremendously. Worse still, small lapses in ethics can grow exponentially. There is no telling the damage you might cause if you arent constantly vigilant of your ethics, especially when regarding your high-tech career.
The high-tech career market is a rough place to be right now. There is no denying it. Jobs are scarce and those that are mainly entry-level or low-paying contract jobs. Tech workers who were making six figure salaries are now scraping by, trying to pull together enough clients and projects to stay afloat. It may seem that the bottom has dropped out of the high-tech market, but there is hope. Regardless of how much money is spent on flashy technology, it is worthless without you. Technology does nothing but sit in a corner until you and your skills make it do something amazing. Dont let the hard times get you down.
As a high-tech careerist you are probably familiar with weblogging, a growing trend on the Internet. Weblogs, or blogs as they are usually called, are popping up on every conceivable topic, from quilting to quantum physics. While many of these blogs take on the appearance of an electronic personal journal, blogs can also be used as a business tool to help you build your high-tech career.
As if your high-tech career wasnt difficult enough, it seems your governmental representatives want to make your work even harder. Recently passed laws and several proposed bills are destined to make it more difficult to keep your systems running, your work productive and your high-tech career on track.
Embroiled in your high-tech career, faced with a litany of one computer problem after another, you might begin to think that computers are what it is all about. Unfortunately, computers are only a small part of your problem. The bigger problem is an overall lack of understanding about all technology, not just computers. Technology has seeped into nearly every aspect of life, from the electric/sonic/pulsating toothbrush in the morning to the microchip controlled electric blanket at night. If you want to build your high-tech career to greater and greater heights, you would do well to teach technology to your clients, not just computers.
While it may not seem that way at times, you all have lives outside of your career. In fact, there are events in your lives that often impact your ability to do your work. When these events intersect with your work life, it can be extremely stressful. You might be worrying about losing your job or you might be feeling guilty for disappointing your boss or co-workers.. Regardless, everyone requires time away from work to handle these large steps in their lives and you should never have to worry about taking the time for yourself when you need it.
Many of you have been working in high-tech careers for so long that you might not be able to imagine what other careers you might have pursued. In some cases, you might even be wondering how you developed the career you have. We all have interests beyond our careers (or should have). Maybe it is time to find an outlet for the other interests in your life. Reviewing what career you might have chosen can often lead you to new areas of your high-tech career.
These days, privacy seems as quaint a concept as a horse and buggy. Everywhere we go, everything we do, especially online, is being tracked by someone. While most of the data can be useful for online retailers, most of this information is simply a free-floating opportunity to snoop. Even worse, we, high-tech careerists, are the makers of this privacy invasion. We create the tools that allow these invasions of privacy and we are often the ones to suffer the most. Maybe the time has come to reduce the amount of data we collect so that everyone can benefit from some slim slice of online privacy.
Finding neat, new web site is a large part of the fun of surfing the web. That said, many of the sites that I find most useful are those that have been around the longest. This doesnt mean you cant have fun locating new sites, only that you shouldnt forget the old standards. For a high-tech careerist, the web is probably the best source of information to keep your work, your life and your career on track.
As odd as it might sound, you will find times in your career, and your life, when waiting will be the best action you can take. Let me be clear, though, that I am not talking about being inactive, only that you might find yourself waiting for the best combination of events and effort so that you can move to the next level. In many cases, waiting can end up being very productive.
As a freelance computer consultant it is very important that I keep a complete record of my work. I need to be able to present a detailed and accurate bill to my client if I expect to get paid in a timely manner. When you are working as a high-tech employee, though, it is too easy to become lax about keeping track of your time and actions. Even if you are required to prepare regular status reports, these are often general in nature. In todays business climate, you will find that managers are requesting more and more detail about "what you do for us." While sometimes it can appear to be an added and unnecessary burden, tracking your work can help you to protect and build your high-tech career.
As if there werent enough problems facing high-tech careerists today, some companies have taken it upon themselves to create several new pitfalls. Each of these "policies" shows a consistent disregard for employees, their careers and their lives outside of the workplace. Despite recent gains in developing a balance between profits and employee well-being, all workers are facing a new set of challenges.
Recent news stories have questioned the leadership of the FBI and analyzed their handling of intelligence reports prior to the September 11th attacks. It seems that information provided by various FBI field offices was never passed on to those in charge and then to the decision makers in Washington, DC. In reading these news stories I had the strange feeling that I had heard it all before. In fact, I had. Every employee, especially those in high-tech fields, knows that management is not always receptive to their new ideas. Sometimes they willfully ignore the information and talent they have in their own backyard.
There are times, in the day-to-day trials of a high-tech career, when you may begin to wonder what your career is all about. How did you get to this point in your life? You might be questioning your choice of career. You might even be wondering if your work makes any difference in the world around you. While it can be an unsettling feeling to doubt yourself and your work, I can assure you that it is an important part of your life.
There is an old saying about the ability to "keep one's head when all about are losing theirs." While this saying was forged in war, it applies quite well to the success of a high-tech career. You will often face clients and co-workers who don't always keep their heads in a crisis. Worse still, they can spread their sense of panic to yourself and others, which is a sure fire way to keep from focusing on finding a solution to the problem.
Yet another security patch. Yet another bug fix. Yet another day of downloads. Are you as fed up with Microsoft (and other software manufacturers) as I am? I would estimate that more than 1/2 of my billable hours are spent installing patches or working around flaws in commercial software. It amazes me that we have let the state of computer software get so out of hand.
A few weeks ago I wondered aloud how some of our high-tech peers could allow themselves to become involved in annoying, abusive and even illegal behavior based around their high-tech careers. Keeping with this weeks theme I want to focus on some of the ways high-tech careerists can help make the world a better place.
Visitors to my home often make note of the gardens, which replace lawns on my property. While I can take some credit for the gardens, I must confess that my theory of gardening mainly consists of benign neglect. If a plant cant survive on its own then it doesnt belong in my garden. I provide regular water and a little fertilizer, but I only address issues as they arise and sometimes, even that is long delayed. Unfortunately, I have seen that many high-tech workers apply the same benign neglect to their career. They only worry about their career when in the middle of a crisis. If you want to develop a career you love, you need to actively engage your career and your life.
Fraud is everywhere, from the city streets to the corporate boardroom. Lately we seem to be swimming in an ocean of fraud. Worse yet, some of us in the high-tech world are aiding and abetting it, if not committing fraud outright ourselves. Any career is built on developing a level of trust with your clients. Any connection to any business with even the appearance of being fraudulent will eventually bring your career to an end. Sure, it might have short term benefits; expensive houses, flashy cars, etc., but you will find it hard even remembering these items when the whole thing goes bust. Steer clear of participating in anything that smells of a scam, whether perpetrated by an individual or a large company. You owe it to yourself, your career and your family to stick to the straight and narrow.
As I write I am listening to the news. Arthur Andersen, mired in its relationship with Enron, has just announced that it will lay off around 7,000 employees. While the case against Andersen, Enron and others will take years to sort out, the effect on employees at the companies is quick, painful and, I hope, instructive. Sometimes, the best thing you can do with a bad situation is learn all you can from it.
Working as an independent consultant for small companies has many benefits. The work is varied and you get to deal with a large variety of people. One downside, though, is that the company may not have anyone on their staff that can monitor and manage systems between your visits. This can often lead to confusion and crises when systems dont work as planned. If you want to keep your client relationships on a good footing you need to have someone on the inside who can be your eyes and ears, even when you are far away.
As a writer on career issues I read a lot of books about job searching, management, creativity and other career issues. As I am sure you have found, these books can range from the good to the bad right down to the ugly. Yet, hundreds of thousands of these books are sold every year. There is a great desire from workers, especially high-tech careerists, to gain an understanding of their careers and their lives. Unfortunately, it is a rare book that provides more than a few good ideas within its covers. In fact, I consider a book a success if I can take away one important concept that can help me in my day-to-day life. While this is an extremely low bar for a book to jump, few do it.
It is a simple fact of life that the longer you remain in your high-tech career, the more likely it will be for you to work for people younger than yourself. This is true whether you are an old corporate hand with a new "up and coming" manager or working as an independent consult for hip, new high-tech startup firms. This discrepancy in age, and other related issues, can lead to problems unless you know how to recognize and avoid them.
Updated August 5, 2003
A growing collection of books that I have found useful in forwarding my high-tech career.
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