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First year is the easiest

April 30, 1999

© Douglas E. Welch 1999

Once you get through all the resumes, all the interviews and all the paperwork, you might think that the hardest part of any job is behind you. You have your desk, your phone and a small amount of both job and financial security. While this might be true in many ways there is an interesting phenomena that occurs during your first year in any technical job. This phenomena can take a great job and turn it into a nightmare if you aren't prepared for it.

The Cavalry
When you first join a company, especially a small one, you will often be the first "real" computer person the employees have ever seen. It is like a movie western where the Cavalry arrives just in the nick of time. Before you were hired everyone relied on their own skills or perhaps asked the most computer literate person in the department or company.
These computer "volunteers" often want nothing to do with computer support. In fact, they are usually the happiest to see you. Finally, they can get back to their real job. This also means that while they are often the best source of information about the company's computers, they also want to make an exit from computer support as quickly as possible. It is your job to gather as much information as you can from them before they disappear.

Computer god
It is very easy to look good in this type of environment. There are so many problems to be solved that you can kill off two or more in a single afternoon. These problems have usually existed for so long that, when you solve them, people will come to see you as a "computer god" that has descended from on high. They will praise you to the ends of the earth. This can be a pretty heady experience. It usually means good relations with the computer users, praise from your boss and even big raises at the end of the year. Unfortunately, like all good things, this honeymoon period has to end sometime.

What have you done for me lately?
The longer you work for a company, the harder it is for you to maintain your high standing. This has little to do with your job performance and more to do with the realities of working in a computer career.
It is only natural that as you solve the little problems you will be faced more frequently with the more difficult and often chronic ones. There will be fewer chances to be a hero and more chances to fail. These problems require long-term solutions that don't generate the same quick results or good will. They often cost more, as well. The people you support will begin to forget about all the good things you did when you first arrived and begin to ask, "what have you done for me lately?" This could be the beginning of the end of your job if you don't handle it properly.

Be responsive and proactive
One method of preserving your reputation is to become even more responsive to your user's needs. Solving problems before they get out of hand will help assure your users that you are still on top of things.
Another good method is to start instituting programs that bring training and new technology into the workplace. Solving problems that don't yet exist should be part of every computer worker's job. It can be tricky to figure out exactly what your users might need but the best way to start is to ask and observe. It is often obvious to a fresh set of eyes where procedures or systems might be improved. A certain amount of naiveté can be helpful. You don't carry the preconceptions held by your users and you can often develop ways of making their work easier and more productive.

Don't let the "first year" bug cut your job or career short. While it may feel good, excessive praise can cause the best of us to rest on our laurels instead of working even harder. You always need to remember that while you may be able to solve the easy problems, the difficult ones are just around the corner. You need to start looking for those solutions today.

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: http://www.welchwrite.com/

He can reached via email at douglas@welchwrite.com

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