Professionally Speaking

Getting Your Mojo Back

This month, our columnists discuss what you can do when burnout strikes.

I can relate entirely to what Greg said. Generally speaking, I’ve been working in IT since 1972. That’s 31 years! I’ve never given you my personal history in this column so let me offer some now. See if you can learn from it or, better yet, improve upon it.

I started out wanting to be a high school history teacher but, at the end of my undergraduate education, two things hit me. First, I’d have to quit my full-time job (school at nights) and spend three months student-teaching. As I had a wife and a son, this wasn’t a good option. Second, I really didn’t want to work with teenagers. At the time, I was working for a bank, literally counting money in a vault all day. Banks love college degrees, and they’re not too picky about which ones, so I stayed there and waited for a chance to get out of the hole. When the telecommunications manager quit unexpectedly on a Friday afternoon, I stuck my hand up and said, “How about me?” They gave me a book to read over the weekend. I read it, didn’t understand most of it, but walked in on Monday and said, “Sure!”

Three years and a couple of major projects later, I went to work for one of our vendors, working with mini computer-based telecommunications systems. Eventually, I gravitated to the computer side of the company, learning everything by experience: operating systems, programming languages and applications software. I was a Microsoft professional before some of you were born, working with Multiplan, the long (and thankfully) forgotten predecessor to Excel on a Datapoint 1500 in the early 1980s. Eventually, I became regional systems engineering manager until the company collapsed in the late ’80s.

During the last few years there, however, the company had moved toward Unix and, although I was a manager, I learned as much as I could. That got me my next job, with an electronics distributor as a Unix expert helping to sell digital systems with ULTRIX—an uphill battle if ever there was one. While keeping my hand in the Unix world, I started working with the early versions of Windows and became the Microsoft expert for the company. I don’t have MCP card No. 1, but I was certified on Windows NT before the product was released. Again I became manager of systems professionals until the late ’90s economic downturn caught me in a layoff situation. I spent another year with a solution provider, then took some time off to figure out what I wanted to do. During that time, I realized that I was burned out in the vendor support business. So I got started in my third career—university teaching.

I love teaching, and it shows. I know what I’m talking about, so the students appreciate their courses and education more. I keep up with the latest news and versions, and I have a few clients on the side to keep my hands dirty. I owe that to my students; but, more important, I just need to know about the latest thing and why it’s important (or, more often, why it’s not). I try not to be too cynical about “the next big thing,” but after sitting through or giving hundreds of presentations on Blackbird or the ACE initiative or OSF or the dozens of other technological breakthroughs that never broke through, it’s a little difficult to get excited about new technology these days.

OK, what’s the point? It wasn’t the plan, but my career seems to take a sharp turn about every 10 years. Ten years in banking, 10 in telecommunications, 10 with Unix/Microsoft vendors, and now I’m in my third year of teaching. Like Greg’s co-worker, I have occasionally lost my mojo, but I’ve never spent a lot of time trying to find it again—I just get a new one. This requires some degree of risk taking, as well as some confidence that you can succeed in a new venture. Opportunity knocks—it doesn’t barge in. You have to be able to hear it and then get up to open the door.

About the Author

Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

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