Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch


August 29, 2003

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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.

You want to do what?

My most recent learning experience started with a visit to the yearly Open House at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with my 5-year-old, Joe. He has always liked the Battlebots television show and robots of all sorts. Along with all the million-dollar Mars Rovers and other high-tech exhibits, there was also a demonstration by kids from area high schools involved in the FIRST program (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). They had various large-scale robots engaging in a practice competition. Joe was fascinated and every day since that visit we have had some talk about robots and how he wanted us to build one of our own. So, it was time for me to do the “Dad-thing” and figure out how to do it.

Outside the comfort zone

If you are really engaged in your career, you know that there are times when you will be pushed outside of your comfort zone. Perhaps you are dealing with a new technology for the first time. Maybe your company is instituting a new program or a new process. When you work for yourself, as I do, you can sometimes get too complacent – performing the same tasks again and again – and not stretch yourself too much. Joe’s request was a timely and welcome reminder. Learning new stuff is not only necessary, but fun.

If you are not being challenged enough in your job, you need to take the initiative and challenge yourself. You need to push your comfort level as far out as possible. By doing this, you will expand your mind, your opportunities and your career. Sure there will be bumps and bruises along the way. You might even look a little silly, but this is all part of the learning process. Making mistakes means you are challenging yourself to learn something new.

I have a few burns from the soldering iron, and have “let the magic smoke out” of a few transistors, but I also have developed a few small, working robots. Better still, I am feeling really good about myself and my abilities. While this project has little to do with computers, the sense of accomplishment translates to other parts of my career. When I am facing new challenges in my career, I can think back on my new successes and remind myself that good things are possible.

So, what have you learned today?

Have you actively reached out to learn a new skill, a new program, or any other new technology in the last week? If not, you are shortchanging yourself and your career. Not only that, the longer you continue in this mode, the harder it will be to ever pull yourself out. Inertia is a dangerous thing. It can bring you to a complete stop, if you let it.

Unlike my robots, however, your new project doesn’t have to be computer-related. Learning anything new from flower arranging to tai-chi to skateboarding is a way to expand your mind and fight off inertia. Take up wood working or something as far from high tech as you can get to offer your life a balance.

If you are looking for something that particular to your high-tech career, though, you can’t go wrong in some of these starting places:

• Learn a new operating system.

If you are a Windows user, learn something about Macs and vice-versa. Even better, dive into Linux or Palm OS or something even more esoteric.

• Learn a new program

If you are an expert in Microsoft Office, try out a few of the competitors. Jump into a new genre and try out Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop or other graphics program. You could even hit the books and start programming again — or for the first time.

• Work with different people

If you work inside a corporation all day, try getting out and working with some other types of people. I work with a lot of seniors who are often using a computer for the first time in their lives. This really opens your eyes to the confusion computers can sometimes cause. Work with kids. (You could get involved with the local FIRST program and help them build their robots!) Work with scientists. Work with anyone and everyone. It can really help to expand your understanding about how computers are used.

“Starting here, starting now”, as the song says, start stretching yourself intellectually, personally and professionally. You have everything to gain. The stimulation you receive will carry over into all aspects of your life and could be just the thing to jumpstart your high-tech career.


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