Career Opportunities

A ComputorEdge Column

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Futuretripping (Parts 1-4)

© Douglas E. Welch 1998

Judging from the questions I have received via email, many of you are just starting out in a technology career. While you may not be in charge of your own department or division today, you probably will be in the future. Being aware of some common pitfalls can give you a head start on your future. Keep an eye on your current boss and you just might find some good (and bad) examples.
Even if you are currently in an entry level position, keeping the following issues in mind can keep you pointed in the right direction as you journey through your career. Your current boss may not care about these issues, or even be aware of them, but this doesn?t mean that you can?t be developing ideas and solutions for the day when you are elevated to a position of more responsibility.

Y2K and beyond
The press has latched onto the Year 2000 problem with the tenacity of a badger. While there is some good involved in computer problems being part of the mainstream news it can lead to hype, paranoia and hyperbole. Surely, there will be many problems associated with the Year 2000, but as a technology worker, you should be thinking beyond this problem, as well.
Every computer system under your control should be examined with an eye toward the future. What is the life span of the current system? Is the system operating as designed or is it merely a series of Band-Aids applied over many years? How are old systems retired and new ones put in place? It is issues such as these that you will need to be addressed year after year. American business is notorious for only thinking as far ahead as the next quarter. You can give yourself a tremendous advantage by breaking out of this mold. You will still have to deal with less forward-looking people, but you will have an added advantage.

Get involved
In almost every company, technology workers are excluded from project groups, regardless of how useful their input and insight might be. This often leads to situations where projects come close to failure because of previously unknown issues that could have been addressed by technical staff. Worse still, technology workers are then saddled with the support and training for a project that could have been better if only they had been includedat the starts.
To combat this sense of frustration, always be on the lookout for opportunities to have your opinions heard. Develop ways of including technical staff on every project that is organized. This often means helping other staffers understand what you do and what skills you can offer to a project. Whether people understand it or not, there is a technology aspect to every project whether it is designing a house, a new dress or a new payroll management system. Offering helpful ideas and opinions where you can will help you bridge the gap between project teams and technology.


Last week I talked about looking beyond the Year 2000 problems and looking for the next technology crisis that could be brewing in your company. I also mentioned the issue of involving technology people early in the life cycle of any project. This week I will address a few more issues that deserve to be remembered as we build our careers.

Status Symbols
One of the silliest, and yet destructive issues of many corporations is the evolution of computers into a status item instead of a tool. Little is more disheartening to a technology worker than an executive who has a state-of-the-art computer system and never even turns it on. We have all seen them. Nineteen inch monitors covered with paper Post-It Notes instead of spreadsheets. Millimeters of dust on the expensive, ergonomically correct keyboards. All the while, technology workers are trying to get their work done with 2-3 year old computers that require them to take 2-3 times longer to complete their work. While the absurdity of this is clear to technology workers, getting an executive to give up his or her computer system (or swap with his secretary!) is worse than pulling teeth without anesthesia. It could even jeopardize your job. The best way to solve this problem is to avoid its occurrence in the first place
I have no simple answers for this problem, nor does any other technology worker. It requires patience, finesse and constant vigilance. Do what you can to make sure that people use the tools they are given instead of using them as desktop decoration.

The Right Tools
There is another problem related to the one mentioned above. Often, technology workers are not given the tools they need to do their best. Crippling your technology workers with outdated technology is a waste of company money and productivity. A company cannot expect to grow if it chronically under funds its technology departments and still requires them to perform the usual miracles expected of every technology department.
Poor tools can generate high levels of employee dissatisfaction and result in higher employee turnover than might be expected. No one wants to be constantly fighting their tools instead of addressing the problem at hand. A good woodworker doesn?t use dull tools and a technology worker shouldn?t be expected to make do with the technological equivalent.
In one personal example, I was supporting both Windows and Macintosh computer users. Every budget cycle, myself and my fellow support workers had to defend the right to have both a Windows and a Macintosh computer on our desks. Managers looking for budget cuts always targeted those with more than one computer, regardless of the scope of their job. Every year we would have to demonstrate the lost productivity that would result if we didn?t have the ability to easily talk users through basic functions on both computers. We won every year but the time and energy devoted to this battle could have been better used elsewhere.
Look for ways that you can bring in new technology with as low cost as possible. Will a manufacturer offer a demonstration unit for a short time? Once a technology is demonstrated to be useful it is easier to justify additional expense. It is all a game but one you must play well in order to insure you and your future staff have the tools they need.

Next week: Cocooning


Keeping in mind the issues of the past 2 weeks columns can help you develop your career by maintaining a future focus. We all operate better when we can see where we are going. It also helps to identify issues so that we know how to react when they present themselves for the first time.
This week, I will talk about a few things you can do for yourself and the people you may manage in the future.

Nurturing and Cocooning
A common practice in companies that use artists and other creative people is that of nurturing and cocooning those employees so that they have the freedom to create without the pressures and annoyances of everyday bureaucracy. I recommend that this practice be applied to every employee of a company and not just those seen as ?creative.?
Truth be told, the bureaucratic abuse that most of us suffer as a worker is far above any reasonable level. Arbitrary and punitive rules are used more to keep workers in line the promote productivity. We often spend more time justifying our jobs than actually performing them.
When you find yourself moving into higher levels of responsibility one of your roles will be shielding your staff from excessive bureaucracy, petty people and budget cuts. Remember what it feels like today when you are on the receiving end of this behavior and use that to balance your management style.
Cocooning your staff away from such behaviors can have a dramatic impact on worker morale, turnover and productivity. You may have to take some ?heat? yourself over your actions but productivity will always outweigh bureaucracy.

Planning Ahead
While you might think the benefits of planning ahead goes without saying, many companies do not see any further than the next few hours into the future. It seems amazing that they get through the day, let alone the next quarter. While it sometimes might seem difficult to bear, always keep looking into the future.
Despite our best efforts to warn companies about the ?oncoming trains? in their future, we can never stop noticing them and pointing them out. Even if the companies do not pay attention, our skill at seeing these problems increases our skills and our abilities to adapt to new conditions.
It can be frustrating to warn about problems and be ignored but we can keep some small satisfaction from the fact that we were aware. We can also do our best to prepare and protect ourselves from the consequences even if the company does not heed your warning.

Find ways to cocoon yourself and your future staff. Use your time in the trenches to prepare and develop your skills and understanding of the way that business works. Reward planning ahead in both yourself and others. Even if others do not recognize the importance, you will be placing yourself far ahead in the technology worker game.


There are many issues that you will be facing as you continue your technology career and I hope that introducing you to a few of these this month will assist you. We can sometimes lose sight of the future when we are in the trenches of the corporate world, but we should always be thinking about the future. The future of our company. The future or our career. The future of our lives.

Baling Wire and Duct Tape
Walk into any company today and you will find a large share of technology systems that look like they are only kept running through the creative use of baling wire and duct tape. The Band-Aids applied nearly obscure the underlying system. Pressure, poor management and under funding leads to such systems and eventually it will all come tumbling down. The Year 2000 problem is only one example of what can happen when we defer addressing a true problem and only treat the symptoms. What we need today is a re-dedication to the concept of elegance in our technology operations.

Stressed by time pressures and other factors technology workers are often forced to perform miracles out of thin air. Rather than taking the time to do something right, we are happy to merely have it done at all. What we are ignoring, at our peril, is the future problems we are creating for ourselves and those that come after us. Elegant systems are self-maintaining and correcting because we have planned ahead, envisioned the future and shot for the moon instead of settling for an earthly solution. We may not reach our goal but we are better for attempting to reach it.
Take a few minutes with each task, no matter how small and no matter how rushed you are. Ask yourself, ?How could this be better? How could I make it more functional today and in the future? Am I truly providing a solution or only placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound??
We owe it to ourselves to provide elegance in our lives, our careers and our businesses.

Lead, follow or ?
Whatever you do in your technology careers, never become an obstacle in the search for higher productivity. I have seen too many good technology people succumb to the fallacy that only they know what is best for the a company and its computer users.
We all have something to learn and we need to embrace new concepts and new technology as they present themselves. We can sometimes be afraid of the changes brought about by new technologies or the additional work they will require, but we should never stand in the way of something just because it is new or different.

Never stop looking to the future and never stop looking for the elegance in your career or your life.

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