Career Opportunities

A ComputorEdge Column

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Looking Back, Looking Ahead (Parts 1-4)

© Douglas E. Welch 1997

Over the last 6 months, this column has discussed the various trials and tribulations of starting and maintaining a high-tech career. While it isn?t always the easiest career road to travel, it can be one of the most rewarding. We only need to look around us to see there are far more troublesome jobs out there.
The New Year is always a time of reflection and planning for the future. We reflect on what we have and have not accomplished and attempt to make new plans. You can call them resolutions, but I like to think of them as goals. They are not rules you are trying to follow but important milestones for which to strive. You may not fully reach them but the target they provide helps steer both our personal and professional lives.

Where do you want to go today?
While Microsoft might have you believe that Windows 98 is a destination in itself there is a whole world out there that needs to be explored. Are you preparing to graduate from college this year? Do you think there is a better job, out there, than the one you have? Do you want to start your own business?
You can?t figure out where you want to go unless you know where you are. Take some time this month defining where you are and what you would (or should) change about your career. Do you really want a high-tech career or do you secretly long to be a painter, a writer, or a musician? Spend a few quiet moments and think about it.
Once you have discovered the direction you want to take begin to think about the steps necessary to get there. Break it down into small, easy-to-complete, tasks instead of one gigantic change. Do you need to take a training class? Do you need to start lining up outside clients? Do you need to start looking for a new job?
Start putting your career "ducks" in a row by working on your resume, making a few phone calls or even writing your letter of resignation. You don?t have to send it. The act of writing it down will be enough to start you on your way.

A word of warning. Don?t go into a high-tech career because it pays well. Don?t try and use it as a springboard into the career you really want. Don?t do it unless you really like computers.
There are several reasons for these warnings. You really need to enjoy working with computers if you are going to do it for a living and do it for a long time. You need to be able to find solace in the system when the other trials of your job intrude.
Most people can take quite a bit of stress if, despite the bureaucracy, they love the actual work they are performing. If you find no joy in your work, what will you do when the angry user calls or the boss assigns you a 3 month project with a 1 month deadline? It is important to remember that you probably wouldn?t work with horses if you didn?t like them.

Next week I will explain why high-tech careers can define you as a person, regardless of any other interests you might have.

Part 2

We all have dreams. We dream of being a famous conductor or opera singer. We dream of being in the Olympics. We dream about being president of a large corporation. Whatever the dream, it is important to remember that a high-tech job is not always the best springboard to another career.

Mark of the Nerds
There are few careers that mark a person as deeply as one in computers or other technology. Whatever your true personality or calling, people around you, especially your boss will assume that computers are your only interest in life. It can be very difficult, if not impossible to change that opinion.
This observation comes from personal experience working for a large entertainment organization as a senior microcomputer analyst. Despite my interests in other aspects of the creative company, and some demonstrated skills, nearly everyone thought of me as a computer person and little more.
I started my writing career during this time and began to achieve some success, but even this did little to change the perception. I went out of my way to learn more about various departments in the company, hoping one day to move out of computer support and into a more creative position. I certainly wasn?t the only one to experience this. Even people who worked in one creative aspect could not seem to move into another. You were branded with the first job you had.

Moving out to move up
One solution to this problem is the concept of moving out to move up. Unable to achieve promotions or lateral moves due to preconceptions or staffing freezes, many employees move to another company. This often allows them to achieve a higher title, higher pay and higher job satisfaction. The final irony is that some of these people can and do return to their previous company a few years later in the new position. Once they left, people forgot about their previous history and accepted them in a new role.
This is what makes a high-tech career a bad springboard you plan on staying in the computer field. If you want to expand into some other career later, you will face the same problems as those above.

Giant Steps
If you find yourself in any of the above situations, there is no better time to start than now. Once you have a clear idea of your future, make a few moves in that direction. Build some new contacts both inside and outside of your current company. Find out the requirements of your new career. Talk to those people who are doing the job today. You might change your mind about a new career but, at least, you will be thinking about and exploring new opportunities.

Part 3

Whether you are just starting out in a high-tech career or are a veteran, you need to continue your education. The computer industry waits for no one. There are two questions you need to ask yourself about 1998: what do you need to learn and how will you go about learning it?

Starting out
If you are new to a high-tech career you will quickly find that you are responsible for your own education. No one is going to offer you classes or books. You will need to take the digital "bull" by the horns and wrestle it to the ground.
Now is the time to see if you can turn an internship or volunteer opportunities into a paying job. Carefully note everything you have absorbed from your own learning sessions. You may not have a CNE (Certified Netware Engineer) certificate, but perhaps you learned how to add users and print queues on the job. This is not to say that you should stop volunteering once you have a job. Volunteer positions are good for networking and gaining even more skills you might not be exposed to at your full-time job.
Continue to help your friends, your friend?s friends and anyone else who needs computer assistance. Who knows, these people could become your first clients if you decide to move out on your own. It helps to expose you to even more technology and, more important, teaches you a certain amount of people skills.
People skills should never be underestimated. In some cases they can even be more important than technical skills, especially in technical support positions. You will always have resources to turn to for product specs and troubleshooting info, but dealing with people, is almost an art form. Cultivate these skills and you will increase your marketability a hundredfold.

On the company dime
If you are lucky enough to get a job at a large company you may have some allies in your education. Most corporations have some form of tuition reimbursement program. This usually allows you to attend college courses appropriate to your job while the company picks up some portion of the cost. Take advantage of these programs. Not only will you be learning but it can also improve your standing in the company.
In some cases, companies will pick up the full cost of attaining a technical certification like a CNE or MSCE (Microsoft Certified Engineer). They will often let you attend classes on company time. Companies are "requiring" these certifications more and more, but if you can demonstrate skills with these products they might be willing to hire you and send you through the program themselves.

Plot out your education course for 1998. What products do you want to learn about? What skills do you need to improve? Who can help you?

Next Week: What technologies are the most important in the coming year?

Part 4

I am often asked, what new technologies should I be learning? Where should I be dedicating my attention in order to get a better job or improve my current position? At the risk of sounding foolish over the next 12 months, I have listed below those technologies and areas that will generate the most interest in 1998. The computer industry doesn?t stand still, so there may be new unannounced technologies that will change the entire picture. This is merely my best guess.

The Internet
The Internet is probably the most obvious choice for important technologies in 1998. I believe the clamor for Internet-savvy people will continue to grow at even a higher rate than the last 2 years.
It is important to remember, though, that the Internet is not one technology, but it is thousands. One aspect to focus on is the use of database driven web sites. Major web sites are abandoning static pages, where each page is hand-coded, in favor of a database system that allows for dynamic presentation of data. This allows them to build customized pages "on the fly" for any user or group.
Graphic design for the Internet is another important area. Web site producers are quickly learning that it requires a graphic designer to build a truly attractive and useful web site. If you are a computer graphics designer, make sure you understand the concepts of effective online design.
Finally, employees that understand the vagaries and secrets of UNIX systems and other Internet hardware and software are in great demand. You cannot go wrong by mastering DNS, SMTP mail systems, RealAudio/Video servers and other software that provide high-end services.

Training and Support
Unlike other technologies, computers have become harder to operate instead of easier. This opens the door to professionals who can train and support computer users on the myriad of hardware and software products on the market today.
Profitable companies can be built on providing exceptional training services in either a home or office environment. The most effective method seems to be one-on-one training on the user?s own computer. Telephone and on-site support are an important adjunct to these training services.

Remote access
The explosion of telecommuting and home offices has increased the demand for people knowledgeable in installing and maintaining remote access systems. This requires a deep knowledge of the various connection alternatives, phone lines, ISDN, cable modem, ASDL as well as the software available for each computer platform. The need for these employees is sure to continue growing for the foreseeable future whether as consultants and full-time employees.

It is impossible to say what 1998 will bring for both the computer industry and those of us that work within or around it. The only constant is change and our most important skill is the ability to adapt to this change, even if it means reinventing our skills, our careers and even ourselves.

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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