Career Opportunities 2003
The High-Tech Career Handbook
|A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch|
A high-tech career is not an easy path. It is fraught with pitfalls and a somewhat dubious record for great success. You can find yourself struggling with bad technology, bad people and bad companies. Worse still, you can find yourself struggling with your own thoughts, hopes and dreams. Despite my immersion in high-tech for almost 20 years now, I would be the first one to tell you, it is ok to give up. It is ok to walk away from a high-tech career. It is ok to find something more meaningful, more rewarding and, hopefully, more lucrative.
As I write, California has recently recalled one governor and elected a new one. Regardless of your politics, these events are sure to bring some large changes to the state. These events are a good reminder to be prepared for whatever business eventuality you might face in the coming months. Whether the news is good or bad, the economy up or down, you need to have a plan that allows you, your company, and your high-tech career to thrive.
So now that you are on your way developing an excellent high-tech career, you’ve either accrued a group of steady clients or snagged a solid corporate position, how do you ensure your continued success? Last week, I talked about the benefits and problems of specialization. Today I want to discuss the best method of keeping your career fresh in an ever-changing world.
As you continue in your high-tech career, you will naturally find that there are some tasks, some systems, some software that you prefer. This is natural and is an important guide in choosing the future direction of your career. Continually having to perform undesirable tasks and work with systems you don’t like is a sure road to job, and perhaps, career, burnout. That said, it is also important to continue developing your generalized knowledge so that you are not left at the mercy of any one, obsolete technology.
Last week I talked about the importance of direct experience in building your high-tech career. This should not lead you to believe, though, that formal training is not necessary. An education in high-tech concepts will allow you to expand your horizons beyond your direct experience. They can also lead to ways to garner even more experience by applying this newly acquired knowledge.
Since I wrote my column about Apprenticeship a few weeks ago, (See I want an apprentice, September 12, 2003) I have received several questions from readers wanting to know what they should be studying today to build their high-tech career tomorrow. While it is impossible to predict the future, there are several ways of preparing for a high-tech career that will serve you well, regardless of where the industry might find itself down the road. Over the next several weeks I will explore the ways you can, and should, develop your own customized high-tech education.
Get your copy today!
In association with Amazon.com
While I certainly don’t like to dwell on computer horror stories, there are always lessons to be learned from the mistakes of others. Whether you are protecting your own computer, or those of your clients, it pays to be aware of the computer problems that can arise on a daily basis.
In a high-tech career, it is too easy to get caught up in the technology while losing sight of its real purpose. If you are still fighting the Mac vs. PC war, Linux vs. Windows, or a host of other technology battles, it is time for a wakeup call. It is not the technology that matters, but how people use it. If you forget this simple rule, your high-tech career is going to suffer.
If you are considering starting a high-tech career, or are already involved in one, you are on the front lines of today’s economy. Whether you are developing new hardware and software or supporting the use of technology in your company, there are some basic responsibilities that fall upon your shoulders. The future will bring more reliance on technology than ever before and your work will become more important than ever before. If you plan on riding the technology wave into the future, I would call on you to pay close attention to the areas detailed below. Your career and the welfare of those around you could depend on it.
I wrote a few weeks ago about taking the initiative and not waiting for other people to assist you with your career. This week I will expand on that a little farther. There are times when pushing for promotions, new clients or big projects might not be the best action to take. Sometimes you need to pull opportunities and clients towards you. In fact, this is often the way to find your best career opportunities.
Every high-tech worker can and should work on improving their “people” skills. These are the skills that allow you to communicate clearly and effectively with your customers. This means more work, more revenue and a better high-tech career. While there are many ways to work on your people skills, I have found one that combines this with the excitement of thinking on your feet, all while helping computer users get the most out of their systems.
The success of your high-tech career may depend on how well you describe your expertise and the work you do. This became clear to me recently, when I visited the monthly San Diego WebDesign Meetup. During a quick set of introductions, I was happily surprised by how clearly and easily people described their work. In my past experience, people often stumble over these items, trying to invent something on the spot. If you haven’t spent some time thinking about your own “Description”, take the opportunity now.
As anyone in high-tech knows, the MBLAST Worm program made a shambles of many PCs and servers over the last month. Despite promises from Microsoft to increase the security of their software, people continue to find, and exploit these flaws to greater and greater effect. Among the hue and cry that is raised with each new attack, high-tech professionals can be heard disclaiming any culpability. “Microsoft is to blame for lousy software.” “Hackers and script kiddies are to blame for writing the exploits.” “Users aren’t bright enough to protect themselves from attack.” While I don’t deny the truth behind any or even all of these statements, I have some difficult news for high-tech workers. Despite all these problems, protecting your systems is your responsibility. Regardless of the culpability of any of the above parties, when you let your systems become infected, and, even worse, infect others, you have failed in one of the basic missions of any high-tech job. Failing to patch for known flaws, especially when you know an attack will be forthcoming, makes you part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
Yes, that’s right. I want an apprentice. Not some Dickensian, child in forced-labor kind of apprentice, of course, but someone who wants to know what I know about technology. Someone who wants to begin their career with all the advantages that weren’t available when I was starting mine. Even more, I wonder why no one has sought out myself (or any of you readers) to help them start their high-tech career.
In the old days, a newly minted high-tech worker had a clearly defined road to follow for their career. They would take an entry-level job at some large corporation, do all the menial labor they could stand and either get promoted or take whatever they learned to some other company. Repeat this as necessary, until the person found a niche where they could settle in for the long haul. In today’s workplace, though, I would like to offer an alternative. One that I think might better serve the high-tech careerist and the people for whom they work. Wouldn’t it be better to try out other avenues if employment and other career paths before locking yourself into something that may not serve you well? I have come to believe that starting everyone off in a typical corporate job may do more damage than good.
Stretching yourself, both professionally and personally, can be a bit painful. It can also yield some of the best improvements in your life. Just like you may be sore the day after starting a new exercise routine, your ego and intellect might emerge a little bruised, but your body will be better for the effort.
One of the most frustrating positions at work or home is when you want to say “I told you so”, but can’t. In business this usually occurs when you warn against a problem only to have the problem occur anyway. While you are probably wise enough to not say it out loud, the chorus of “I told you so” echoing in your head can sometimes become deafening. As you can imagine, though, expressing those thoughts could lead to your marginalization, if not to the outright loss of your job. While this can be an ugly situation, there are a few ways to help ease the pain, both to your psyche and your high-tech career.
Repeat after me…I will stop waiting for other people to help me out of my career problems and address them myself, every day, in every way possible. That was easy, wasn’t it. I am sure you are wondering just what I am talking about, though. What I am describing is the way many high-tech careerists, myself included, who allow the world, the computer industry and the marketplace to push them around from job to job, instead of “taking the bull by the horns” and directing their own career. It is a simple fact of life that it is much easier to let fate dictate your job choices, but it is no way to develop the career and the life you want.
It is a simple truth that people in high-tech careers often spend entirely too much time staring at their computer screens, when, in fact, they should be dealing with the people using computers. It is all too easy to lose yourself in the minutiae of programming, debugging the Excel spreadsheet or tweaking that PowerPoint presentation. If you really want to make a difference in your company and your career, you need to take the Grand Tour on a regular basis.
There are times when I dismiss possible column ideas because I think they are too commonsensical. I figure that everyone has learned how to do the basics in their companies. Almost immediately after such a thought, I am proven wrong, sometimes in dramatic fashion. You would think that a company that hires thousands of people over its lifetime would know what is involved in the process. Unfortunately, whether the company is large or small, this doesn’t seem to be, Hence, this week’s column addresses an issue important to many of you — how to have a great first day at a new job. Feel free to pass this column on to friends in management. Perhaps it will then become as commonsense as I once thought it was.
This column marks the beginning of my 7th year writing about high-tech career issues for ComputorEdge. In those years I have seen some things change, but, for better or worse, even more remains the same. The Internet bubble burst and reminded us all that business, work and career are about developing value over time, and not some mad sweepstakes gamble. High-tech workers still struggle for respect despite their ability to create new commercial markets out of nothing but their own creativity. It seems that, despite the clear benefits of technology, and those that make it work, high-tech workers have to justify their existence nearly every day on nearly every job.
I hear it all the time; “You must be crazy to turn down that job.” “Take a month’s vacation, are you crazy?” “You would be crazy to quit your job now!” The truth is, a little craziness is something to be cultivated, not quashed. If you don’t have a little craziness in you, you are in danger of locking yourself into a life and career of staid boredom. Is that what you really want?
For most people, summer reading lists include Judith Krantz novels or the latest spy thriller from Len Deighton. If I might be a little odd, let me suggest you look to some other areas for your summer reading list. If your business tends to slow down in the summer, this could be a great time to catch up on some interesting business reading. No matter whether you are a front-line support tech or a high-level executive in your company, I believe you will find the books below very interesting. While they may lack love, murder or intrigue, they can allow you to boost your high-tech career while sitting on the beach.
While you often spend a lot of time focused on getting a new job or landing that next client, all good things must come to an end at some point. It is important to remember that how you leave a job is just as important has how you start one. If you have problems at the end of a relationship, it can damage your reputation and your entire high-tech career.
In work, as in life, there is a certain amount of conflict that naturally occurs. Even when the results of conflict are good, engaging in it can be stressful and tiring. That said, trying to ignore or avoid conflict in your work can actually make it worse when it does occur. Often, the best way to address conflict is straight on, before it has a chance to develop into something more difficult or troubling.
Every day in your career is truly a new day. The speed of change is running so quickly, the work you do today, tomorrow and certainly, next year, will not be the work you are doing today. This is especially true of high-tech careers. Tomorrow might bring a new technology that will make everything you do obsolete. Are you ready for it? Are you constantly looking and adopting new methods and types of work or are you trying to hold on to old ways of doing business – falling further behind with each passing day?
In today’s world, it might seem best to be a cold-hearted cynic about everything you do, but especially about your career. While it might feel like you need to protect yourself from any variety of people out to use, abuse or mislead you, the truth is, if you succumb to cynicism you will be blocking yourself off from opportunities that could be the dream of your high-tech career. While you certainly don’t want to be naïve about your career choices, you do want to remain open to new ideas and projects.
America is often seen as the country of the big deal. Everyone seems to be looking for the big score, the winning lottery ticket or, in the case of the computer careerist, the one big project that will make enough money that you won’t have to work for the rest of the year. While you all probably know the fallacy of this thinking, you can be caught up in the search for the big deal, to the great detriment of your high-tech career. While you can and should continue looking for the big deal, you need to fit it in and around the day-to-day work that keeps you solvent.
Despite the fact that your job may seem like a chaotic jumble of unforeseeable events, there are certain recurring ones that directly impact your ability to do your job. Managing these events can be a way to exercise some control over your day-to-day work, opening holes of time in which to deal with the unforeseen problems that always arise. Take some time, today, to look into the near future and start planning for some of your recurring events today.
I get many questions from readers regarding how they should continue their education as a way to begin or further their high-tech careers. Most often their questions are about which technical school or technical training to pursue and where. It may seem counterintuitive, but my usual recommendation doesn’t involve further technical training, but, rather, the pursuit of traditional educational outlets such as bachelor, master and Ph.D. programs.
As with life in general, high-tech life is fraught with scams and scammers. These people are always on the prowl for people they can confuse and con. Along with all your other responsibilities as a high-tech worker, you should be aware of these scams and do everything you can to protect your clients. It can only take an unwary moment or a bit of confusion to allow their computer to be compromised in ways large and small. You owe it to yourself and your clients to help and educate them long before they have to face the consequences of a scam.
One high-tech career challenge you will face almost daily is the migration of resources; moving new computers in and old computers around your company or client sites. In order to make the best use of the technology available, you will find that you are constantly reconfiguring old computers for new users and new uses. There are a few rules that can assist you in getting the most from technology while still keeping your productivity, and that of your users, as high as possible.
If you have been reading this column for a while, you may have visited my web site on occasion. While my site is far from ideal, it does provide me a space to share my past columns as well as other information about my writing, my work and my life. The web site certainly is not as busy as most commercial web sites, but I do receive visitors from all over the world; people who might otherwise have never heard of me or my writing. This, though, is only one reason why I would recommend that you have your own web site, no matter how small. You never know who might stumble across your “front door” and what effect they might have on your high-tech career.
Hi, my name is Douglas and...I’m a Mac user. It isn’t just a fling either. I have several Macs and one is even running (gasp) OS X. If you were to ask my clients, though, many would have no idea that I am a Mac user. More importantly, this is exactly the way I want it. If they saw me only as a “Mac Person” they might question my ability to solve their Windows problems. A successful high-tech career depends on being flexible and having the ability to deal with as many different computers and operating systems as possible. Identifying yourself too closely with any particular piece of hardware or software can diminish your employment opportunities.
One of the biggest challenges of a high-tech career is planning when you cannot plan. You spend your days trying to predict the future without enough budget, enough time or enough information. This doesn’t mean you can’t plan, though. It means you have to plan in new ways.
Like movies, television and theater, working in high-tech is a collaboration between a wide variety of people. Even if you work for yourself, you have to deal with the needs of clients, the limitations of software and hardware manufacturers and a host of others. When collaborating with others, one of the most important skills to master is the handoff.
Every day of your high-tech career, unless you are hopelessly embedded in a never-varying position, there will be a certain amount of fear involved. While it may not be as frightening as some of the other fears in your life, there can be the fear of failure; fear of losing your job; your livelihood; your career. Sometimes, fear such as this can be even more oppressive, as there is no definite end to the pressure. It simply ebbs and flows from day-to-day and week-to-week.
You might not think you would learn something about high-tech at the local Chuck E. Cheese franchise, but this is exactly what occurred the other day. Due to some technical difficulties at this particular branch, I was reminded of a basic truism of technology – little things mean a lot.
An important part of any high-tech career the ability to answer any technical question as quickly as possible. Of course, as you know, it is impossible to keep the million different solutions to a million different problems in your head at the same time. This is why it is so important to make use of the tools you have. In fact, your own knowledge, combined with that of your high-tech friends and various Internet tools, can sometimes make your level of technical expertise seem almost magical.
Among everything else I do, I am also an amateur artist. As is often the case, something you learn in one area can often be useful in other aspects of your life. One useful technique I have learned from my art is squinting. When you are first looking at a scene you want to draw or paint, you purposely unfocus your vision in order to get an overall impression of the light and dark areas. Sometimes in order to see things more clearly, you have to get the big picture first.
Having just celebrated my 39th birthday (really, not like Jack Benny), I find myself looking at the world, and my high-tech career, a little differently every day. Little by little, I have realized that no matter how much I love my work, I probably don’t want to be toting computers and climbing under desks when I am in my 50’s. From now on, any evaluation of my career will involve thinking of what I need to do in the next 10 years to make sure that I am not trying to have the career of a 30-year-old when I am 60. Maybe you are only in your 20’s or 30’s today, but you would be wise to consider, even in the smallest way, where you might want to be in 20 years
Did you know that the computers at my local bank, and the entire Federal Reserve, were “crashed” by a virus a few weeks ago? Neither did I, until I was told just that by the teller at my local bank. Of course, the teller was wrong, but imagine the response a less tech-savvy patron might have upon hearing such news. It probably wouldn’t cause a “run” on the bank, but in this era of fear, uncertainty and doubt, such broad pronouncements about technology can cause big problems for your company and you.
Over time one of the most troublesome parts of any high-tech career can be the routine that is a large part of any computer job. Day in and day out, you punch the same buttons, change the same tapes and answer the same support calls. You might think that routine is killing any affection you might have had for your job. In fact, if you use routine in an appropriate way, you will find that it can give you the freedom and flexibility to rise above the day-to-day humdrum realities of your job and reach for something more.
When dealing with your clients in the high-tech world it is so much easier to say “No” than “Yes”. I am pretty sure it has something to do with my years in corporate IS/MIS/IT departments, but, over the years, I have found myself becoming more and more of gatekeeper, determined to keep new technology from complicating my job and my client’s life. Despite whatever noble intentions I might have had, though, this year I am more determined to say “Yes” to my clients as often as possible.
As much as you and your clients might dislike the fact, computers do not last forever. Even the fastest system will seem slow after a few years of operating system upgrades and growing software requirements. It is in your best interest, and of your client’s, to insure that the computer systems under your care are keeping up with user’s needs, while still watching the bottom line. Learning to balance computer needs against financial concerns is an important part of any high-tech career.
Regardless of where you pursue your high-tech career, there are a number of pitfalls that can make your work more difficult and your career less secure. One of the most common of these pitfalls happens to be unreliable technology systems and the effect they have on your clients. Computer users have long memories, especially when it comes to technology that fails regularly and with sometimes damaging results. Even worse, they will remember, and often refuse to use, systems in the future, based on these bad first impressions.
Of all the issues facing the high-tech careerist in the coming year, security, in all its forms, should be the top priority on everyone’s list. I am not just talking about Internet firewalls, VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and encryption, though. While all these are important, security involves the entire company, not just a few pieces of computer equipment. As a high-tech careerist, it will be your responsibility to convey the importance of technology security to everyone. This is simple self-preservation. Regardless of who might be at fault, if security is breached at your company, you will quickly find that everyone will hold you responsible.
Reader letters over the last year have had me thinking about the exact definition of a high-tech career. Just a few years ago it would have been easier to describe. If you worked in high-tech you were either a programmer, in network management or tech support. Today, though, as technology has crept further and further into our everyday lives, high-tech workers might show up anywhere in a business, with titles not necessarily reflecting their high-tech work. These "hybrids" have combined their technical skills with other talents and created an entirely new group of high-tech workers. Even more, these new hybrid jobs might become the future of all high-tech work.
Programming has never been an easy high-tech career path. Whether you are working in a corporate cube farm or on your own, the technical issues of programming languages, data architecture and accessibility issues are trouble enough, but the people issues can be even more challenging. If you are planning on striking off into the programming field, you would do well to consider the following issues.
Every time the calendar rolls around to a new year, it is your opportunity for a fresh start. While New Years resolutions are much ridiculed, the concept is still sound. Take the time to evaluate the past year and make plans for the next. You may not keep your resolutions, or plans may fall short of your expectations, but the power is in trying. Merely by reaching a little farther, reaching a little higher, you can bring new energy to your career and your life.
Back to current