Professionally Speaking

Legacy Lament

Advice about when to stay at your job and when to jump.

I accepted a position in a large corporation about two years ago. Within the first year I became the “expert,” although I had to wait for my chance at the lead role. Since then, we’ve gone to newer technologies. Because I was deemed the expert on the old stuff, all my time is spent maintaining the legacy systems. I’ve expressed that I want to stay current. “Be patient,” I’m told. In a company with more than 50 business units, there are plenty of opportunities for me; however, something has kept me where I’m at—probably the perks (extra comp time, free dinners, relaxed schedule). I swear this field is like a roller coaster.
—Name withheld by request

Greg Neilson says: Mr. X, it’s difficult to understand exactly what your situation is as you don’t elaborate exactly on what the “old stuff” and “new stuff” are. For example, given the readership of this magazine, the “new stuff” may likely be Windows 2000, but the “old stuff” could be NetWare 3.x/4.x, Windows NT 4.0 or maybe even OS/2 Warp. In each of these cases, my response would be a little different depending on how related these two technologies are.

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The good news is that you’re seen as an expert on the older technologies. In a large organization such as yours, you have a great opportunity to build your reputation. Despite your fears, once your name gets established around the place as someone helpful and useful, it’ll transcend whatever technologies you’re working with. Once you’ve built this reputation, you’ll have enormous credibility in the company—people you’ve never met will know of you and be very interested in whatever you have to say. This is no small matter and something you may really miss if you change employers. For example, when I left my old job and started work in the U.S., one of the first things I missed was the reputation I had at my last employer. Instead of being the person people came to for advice, I was just another unproven employee that no one was particularly interested in listening to. This changed over time as I demonstrated my value to the new firm, but not quickly enough for me!

Here’s how I’d approach the situation. First, I’d make a plan to get educated on the “new stuff.” This might include self-study on your own time, working with the products in your home lab, as well as plenty of reading. This will keep your mind active and demonstrate your commitment to your employer that you want to move to this new area. Then, you need to meet with your manager to build an action plan. Of course, if your manager had his or her way, you’d probably be staying exactly where you are, as you appear to be very valuable in that area. However, if you tell your manager that you love working at the company but are finding yourself bored working with the same old stuff, then this is something you might be able to get together on. Otherwise, your manager risks not only losing you from the current team, but from the business entirely.

For example, it may take up to a year for someone else to be identified and trained up to a sufficient level to allow you to move on, so you need to be patient. There’s a possibility that your employer may not want to move you at all (in which case you have no choice but to resign to get to work with the “new stuff”), but given how well you appear to have been treated in the past, this seems unlikely. Your patience may be well rewarded as your current employer appears to be a great company and you seem otherwise happy.

So, by all means be patient, as your employer asks, but—at the same time—ensure that an approximate timetable is put in place to allow for your transition to the other technology area you have in mind. This type of compromise would probably be the best thing for both of you. You get to stay with an employer you like and soon will get to work on the technology you want. The company gets to keep a good employee and make use of your current skills until other arrangements can be put in place.

In the meantime, your time in the current role doesn’t necessarily need to be wasted. Look for opportunities to take a technical leadership position within the organization and get some exposure to non-technical areas such as project management and team leadership. But make sure these moves don’t just take you sideways, but also upward, so that you continue to progress in the profession as well as changing technologies to something exciting you want to work with. Good luck with your career!

About the Author

Greg Neilson is a manager at a large IT services firm in Australia and has been a frequent contributor to MCPmag.com and CertCities.com.

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