Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

Describe Yourself

Sepember 26, 2003

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The success of your high-tech career may depend on how well you describe your expertise and the work you do. This became clear to me recently, when I visited the monthly San Diego WebDesign Meetup. (See for more information) During a quick set of introductions, I was happily surprised by how clearly and easily people described their work. In my past experience, people often stumble over these items, trying to invent something on the spot. If you haven’t spent some time thinking about your own “Description”, take the opportunity now.

Programmer, web designer, networking chief?

Regardless of your position, or the stature, of your high-tech career, you need to be able to clearly tell someone about your work, the expertise you have and even your future goals. Have you even thought about this before? Don’t feel bad. Most high-tech workers are so absorbed in the day-to-day issues of work that they often pay no attention to such things. This is your chance, and a bit of a push, to do just that.

Allow me to use myself as an example, if I may. After 20 years of working in high-tech I stumbled across a short phrase that sums up everything I believe in regards to high-tech work – I make computing clear! Regardless of whether I am training someone how to use MS Word, setting up a DSL/Cable router or writing about technology, this is truly what I am trying to accomplish. This motto appears on my business cards and my web site. It never fails to elicit a nod of comprehension or even a chuckle over its simplicity.

I hope it doesn’t take you 20 years to find your one-line description and in that light, here are some pointers about how to develop your own job description. I guarantee you that it will come in handy whether you are dealing with a job interview, meeting with a new client or building your own business.

What are your goals?

The best place to start in developing your description is to think deeply about what you are trying to accomplish in your career. Forget about your training, your certifications, and the programs you use. Concentrate on what problems you are trying to solve for your clients, whether they be the users inside your corporation or freelance clients.

A developer of back-end web software might have the goal of “letting the web designer think about design instead of the server” or “delivering important information through a designer’s custom interface.” A web designer might think about “presenting your (the client’s) best face to the Internet world.” A computer troubleshooter or trainer might think about “helping you get the most out of your computer, in business and life.” It matters little what you come up with at first. The goal is to get you thinking about your deepest career goals. You may start with one description and then slowly refine it over the coming years. More than likely, you will find that discussions with users and clients will elicit important parts of your description. Phrases will begin to jump out at you that describe your work in greater and greater clarity.

Think about the layman

Often in your high-tech career you will be dealing with computer laymen, someone who uses computers, but doesn’t do so as a living. They know a little about the system they are using, or perhaps a lot about a few programs, but they can often be confused by an overly-technical description. You want to make sure your description is tailored to those hearing it. While you might be able to talk to the high-tech clients in terms of PHP/SQL integrated database systems using XML to deliver non-system specific data streams, your average businessman will hear only gibberish.

It is always better to start off with the most general description possible, then adding specifics as you gain a clearer understanding of your client. “I make computing clear!” has been a great introduction to a variety of people. Everyone understands the frustrations of learning about computers. I then use questions to elicit more information from the client regarding their needs. Do they need a web designer? Is this a big project or a small one? Are they having difficulties with their computer system? As I gain more information, I offer up descriptions of the specific ways that I can assist them with their needs. You would be well advised to do the same.

Can you describe yourself and you work in 25 words or less? If not, its time to apply some deep thought to the issues. Developing a clear and concise description of the work you do is a sure way to network with other high-tech workers, gain clients and build your high-tech career.


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