Starting a high-tech career - Part 1
Though personal computers and networks have become the backbone of
corporate America, academia has consistently lagged behind in providing
the training necessary to leave college and become a microcomputer
or network manager. Unless you desire to be a programmer, usually
on mainframe or minicomputer systems, there are very few options for
you to study small computer systems. If you want to build a career
in microcomputers, you are almost on your own.
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.
In this layoff-happy climate many people are finding it hard to work
in their chosen profession. There is little more distressing than
watching the want ads and seeing an ever reducing number of open positions.
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.
It has often been said that first impressions are the most important
and this is certainly true when it comes to applying for a job. We
all need to put our best foot (or experience) forward when we make
that first knock upon a company's door.
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.
I recently returned, full-time, to the realm of the independent computer
consultant and I found the world to be a bit different from when I
took a hiatus a year ago. There has been a major change in the people,
equipment and connectivity that you face whenever you go to someone's
home or office. This week I will provide some insight to those of
you who might be considering computer consulting as an opportunity
to work for yourself.
Ten years into my computer career I found myself sitting in my cubicle
after going out on 10 straight support calls. The phone would not
stop ringing and my email continued to fill up as I watched. My frustration
grew with every new call. How was I ever to keep up with the level
of support my people wanted without driving myself crazy?
Researching companies is an important part of any high-tech job search.
The more information you have going in, the better prepared you will
I moved to Los Angeles in 1986 after living in a small Ohio town
(Pop. 2000) for most of my life. I had been to a slightly larger city
for college (15,000 people) and even lived in Cleveland (2 million
+) for a few months. While there was much that I would have to adapt
to in Los Angeles the biggest issue I discovered was community. Moving
into the high-tech job market can feel much the same as moving from
a small town to the big city. It is up to you to establish your own
If you haven't experienced what follows already, it is only a matter
of time before you do. If we all lived and worked in a vacuum it might
not occur but wherever people work together there will be conflict.
While the severity of the conflict can vary there tends to be one
main cause, insecurity. This can be insecurity about a boss, a co-worker
or a job, but it leads to the same results, an uncomfortable workplace
and sometimes-outright hostility.
If you have been offered any high-tech job recently you will have
noticed that it is becoming increasingly difficult to evaluate job
offers. There are so many issues involved today. Everything from health
care to retirement plans to signing bonuses to stock options. Too
often we are so happy to be offered a job that we fail to take the
time to thoroughly consider all the aspects of the offer. It is in
our best interest to understand an offer fully before we say "Yes."
While the majority of us have learned to conduct ourselves in a business-like
manner I can guarantee that every company you work for will have people
who ignore the basics of business to varying degrees. While the topics
below may seem commonsensical you only have to look at your current
company to see that common sense is not so common after all.
In the old days (which in the computer world means 5-6 years ago)
the main information an employer requested from you was your resume
and an interview. Today it seems that employers want to know more
and more about you from further and further in your past. I find this
a disturbing trend; one that threatens to make every minor indiscretion
of college and high school impact our ability to be employed as adults.
Ask people about the most stressful situation they have ever been
in and job interviews will be near the top of the list. There is so
much riding on a few minutes in someone?s office. You are trying to
put your best foot forward an, in some cases, you might even be a
little desperate. Maybe you need to make that next rent payment. These
realities can leave you open to subtle abuses of the interview process.
In the past I have written about analyzing your current job, your
job prospects and your career as a whole. You should always have some
idea where you are headed in both life and work. That said, It is
possible to focus on your ideal career so much that you are never
quite happy with what you have. Career planning can be more of an
oxymoron than you might first believe. People often end up in places
far different from their original plans, both better and worse. While
you can direct your career, controlling it proves to be another story.
As high-tech jobs become more and more important to the overall health
of companies and the economy, the restrictions placed on employees
increases as well. Over the last several months I have noticed an
increase in litigation over so-called "non-competition"
agreements between companies and their high-tech employees.
Those of you familiar with this column might be a bit confused
at this week's title. I often have people ask me how to get high-tech
experience when they are just graduating from college or changing
careers. For these people I recommend working for friends, neighbors
and relatives; anything they can do to gain experience for their resume.
Once beyond that level, though, especially after one or two paying
jobs, no one should work for free.
Are you willing to tell an interviewer how much money you are
making in your current job? Do you disclose your salary history as
a normal part of your resume? There has been quite a bit of discussion
about this topic both here in ComputorEdge and in many other publications.
While this information was once considered commonplace, today's job
market requires a re-thinking of what information you are willing
to disclose to a potential employer and when.
Get a job...or a better one...in the New Year!
If you want to help your own career you can start by helping others
There are a few common career mistakes that can easily be avoided.
Don't let an overly-specific advertisement dissuade you from applying
for any job.
We were all computer illiterate once. Treat new users accordingly.
Networking need not carry smarmy associations. There are ways to
network without being annoying.
The "perfect job" is a myth, but there are ways to find
the best fit for you.
To many high-school students don't understand the diversity of high-tech
careers available to them.
Pursuing a high-tech career can be a wild and woolly ride. Read any
of the industry magazines and you will find stories both fascinating
and horrific. Some people might think a high-tech career can be a
ticket to easy wealth and security, but it is always important to
remember that the big players in the game usually only have their
own best interests at heart. If you don't look out for yourself you
could end up just another casualty of the dot-com battlefield.
There is a myth in the high-tech industry about training. Everyone
promises it but very few actually deliver. This points up the fact
that while training is seen as an important aspect of any job, most
companies simply do not have the time, energy or wherewithal to actually
follow through. This is especially true of the small, startup companies
where many high-tech workers begin their career. The bottom line for
anyone looking for a job in today's market is, don't let yourself
be swayed by big promises of extensive training and mentoring. In
most cases, it simply doesn't materialize.
Everyone in every job and every life makes mistakes. There is no
way to avoid them. However, the success of your career can ride on
how you handle your mistakes and how you recover from them. Below
are a few guidelines on how to handle your mistakes to insure that
one small problem doesn't turn into a job or career ending monster.
Despite the fact that companies are trying to become more like a
family and less like a cold corporation, it is always best to remember
that there are certain aspects of your life that you shouldn't share
with your co-workers or your managers. The stories you tell now may
come back to haunt your career in the future.
When you are first getting started on your high-tech career you are
often looking for any way to break in. For some people this
might include an internship with a company where you are interested
in working full-time. In many cases, though, internships are unpaid.
While it is possible to gain a great deal of professional knowledge
in an internship, the lack of pay, and sometimes the lack of training
varies widely from company to company.
Is there any room within our work for self-respect?
Talk to anyone of the previous generation and you might find the answer
to that question is a firm, no! You are either employed or not. If
your employer takes advantage of you or provides a less than adequate
work environment, too bad. No one ever said work was easy.
In your high-tech career not only is it important to get the job
done you must constantly be checking that problems have not returned.
Nothing is more aggravating to a computer user than a problem that
seems to go away only to return at the worst possible moment. It doesn't
matter whether you work in a large corporation or as an independent
contractor, follow-up can take your career from average to excellent.
No one can deny that it is tough to find a job
these days. While I might disagree with the doom and gloom scenario
that the mainstream press paints, I will agree when the economy is
down, it is harder for everyone, high-tech workers included, to find
a job. I have been in the position that many of you are finding yourselves
in today. Sending out tons of resumes but receiving no response--searching
the web for jobs that matched my particular set of skills only to
find few--calling everyone I know to see if they have heard of a job.
After all of that, though, I learned a very difficult, even frightening
lesson, about getting a job. No one is going to get a job for you.
No degree or certification will guarantee you a job. You are the only
one you can count on to find your next job.
Chances are that you know at least one other high-tech worker
who is currently unemployed. When you finish reading this column,
I want you to call them up or send them an email, invite them to dinner
and ask them to pitch you the top 5 projects they always wanted to
work on. Maybe it's the next great information site, a new computer
game, a new service for doctors and nurses. Next, you should pitch
them your top 5 projects. Try and find a way to work together to take
something you both believe - and make it real. Now is the time!
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