Professionally Speaking

Right Path, Going Nowhere

A reader who "followed the rules" is still having a tough time finding a job.

I’m a career-changer. I went to school at night and, eventually, found a job as a tech support specialist. The dot-com company I worked for in New York City liked my work and promoted me to data center manager. Unfortunately, I was laid off in July, along with 100 other co-workers.
   This market is really tough. Where recruiters used to call me, now they won't even accept my calls. Realizing a potential weakness, I went back to school. First it was MCP, then MCSE, then CCNA. Next week I'm taking the Citrix CCA exam.
   Much to my disappointment, my situation hasn’t improved. You should hear some of the questions I’m asked: "Do you know Unix/Linux?" "Do you have experience with PBX phone systems?" "Do you know firewalls?" "Do you know Citrix?" What am I doing wrong? Is the market that bad? Have I missed the boat? Should I start practicing air conditioning designs again?
—Going broke
Bloomfield, New Jersey

I really feel for you. Many of us still employed have a fear that we could easily find ourselves in your position. Steve makes some excellent points in his response, and there are a few areas I’d like to expand upon.

Recently I wrote a column (“The Good Ol’ Days”) for MCP Magazine’s sister site The article touched on many of your concerns. In the long term, things will pick up in IT, but I don’t think we’ll get back to the unsustainable levels of activity we had in the late ’90s. This reduced demand means lower salaries, as well as employers enjoying greater choice—which explains why you were asked about your PBX and Cisco experience.

However, being asked about Linux and Citrix skills seems logical to me, as they’re related to your current skills. When I’m hiring, I ask about these, too. In days gone by, senior technical people were expected to be familiar with both NetWare and Windows NT technologies; at the moment, those two areas are Windows 2000 and Linux. Along with these, Citrix builds on your Win2K knowledge, and the TCO of thin-client technology is currently exciting a lot of technology managers.

It sounds to me like you’re already doing all the right things. I’m afraid I don’t have a magic spell to give you that will quickly and easily resolve your situation. All you can do is keep your existing skills fresh, keep up-to-date on the latest technologies like Windows XP and Windows .NET Server beta, and—most important—keep plugging away day after day to find that next job. I’ve interviewed a number of people recently, and when I asked some basic technical questions I found that many had been out of work for more than a few months and have forgotten things that they probably would or should know. As a hiring manager, I need someone who can jump in and be productive the first day; I can’t afford to take a chance on how I hope someone might perform once they get back up to speed. I can’t say whether this is a problem for you, but it’s something to be aware of. It’s imperative you find ways to keep up your technical knowledge. For example, you might read the Windows 2000 Server Resource Kit from cover to cover (you’d be surprised what you learn and might have forgotten!) and, perhaps, experiment at home with some of the components within Win2K that you don’t know as well as you’d like. Make sure you keep up to date with the latest Microsoft security advisories and hot fixes.

Also, make sure your salary expectations are realistic with the current state of the job market. It’s likely you’ll need to accept less than you were making before, so don’t let this stop you from being considered for open positions. All too often we carry a mental picture of “I’m worth $80,000,” and expect that this salary will keep continuing to increase as we progress in our career. However, as hot skills become commodities or as the total demand drops, remember that we live in a market-based economy; we’re only worth what someone’s prepared to pay us. We shouldn’t get hung up on feeling that we have some intrinsic worth and believing anything less is an insult. I don’t think that this view is very palatable in the IT community right now, but the sooner we get over these barriers, the better for all. Of course I believe we’ll continue to do well in IT relative to other professions, but we probably won’t get back to the salary levels we became used to in the late ’90s.

About the Author

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

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Reader Comments:

Sun, Nov 10, 2002 AHardStruggle Anonymous

I aggree with the "whole cert process". The whole idea of certifications in the market is not to produce some talented brains out, but to make money. To get one certification like "MCSE", a person has to spend 5K - 10K for training and then the certification exam expenses and then comes the hard work and time spent. Its all useless and these certifications are just nonsense. I am a MCSE, CCNA, CNA, A+ , but still struggling for a decent job. I now advice all my friends and others that rather take some training in AC or Automobile repair industry then go into IT and these rubbish certifications.

Wed, Aug 14, 2002 joef SC

I see slaries so off the mark in the ads for Network engineers and Admins. Some are downright rediculous wanting not only the certs and the jack of all trades skills, but also just one to two years experience so they can pay you a salary of 30-40K. What kind of screwed up $%^$ is that? Recruiters are like the one good lookin' babe in the bar at closin' time. All the hound dogs are ready to go but she really isn't interested in any of them. She just wants to see whats out there.

I got my MCSE, MCSA at night and it took me 18 months of nights and weekends to get past the exams. That scrawny looking IT flavored carrot is losing its' appeal. It makes it real tough to go back to my home lab at night and study for the next cert, CCNA. It all reminds me of the guy's theory in "A Beautiful Mind". Fella's, we need to be chasing the brunettes. You have to find the unpopular niches in this poor economy. Linux might not be what I want to do but after the CCNA it is probably what I'll go for or something else where the demand is greater than the supply. I wish one of the guru's would write a article on alternative job choices in IT. It would help.

As for networking, most of the IT people I know technical enough to get their MCSE through anything but a boot camp are pretty soft spoken and don't come across as main stream personalities. I heard of one organization called Toastmasters that I'd though t I'd try this winter. its supposed to help you with presentation skills and talking to groups, something I think most IT people don't care to do. My thought is that it would have to help out with interviewing skills if I ever get an interview.

Sooner or later the economy has to change for the better. Location, location, location. I am going to do my best tobe there..

Tue, Aug 13, 2002 klpz Anonymous

To further understand the IT employment delimma you must understand the concepts of cost center and profit center. When times are rough companies cut the fat. In most cases IT is fat. It supports the people who make the money but it doesn't generate revenue. A lot of companies are operating under-staffed IT departments. I suggest that anyone in IT try to brush up on managerial or business functions. Just being a techie is no longer good enough. That's where a degree comes in handy.

Fri, Aug 9, 2002 bboothe IOWA

Employers against Ponytails and Smokers?? must you remember the FIRST PC gurus (GATES-JOBS-THE WOZ)
all had pony tails and most smoked..
probably more than ciggerttes..get your head outta your Certification buisness and get the hell to work...IVE turn down more of these certified (head in the clouds..Cant connect router's and hub's guys than i can throw a stick at..
heck most of my Guys have pony tails and i wouldnt trade for nothing..

Fri, Aug 9, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

In my opinion it takes a lot more than having a college degree, being certified and having work experience to make it in IT. Every company has its own "personality" in how they conduct business. Some have you running around like everything is a "mad dash/under the gun" mentality while others are at a much slower pace. I'd say most are the former. Some jobs require more effort than others, whether it be working early mornings, late nights, weekends, travel. Depending on what you are doing you have to conform to the nature of the job. I've seen people who cop'd attitudes because of being asked to come in early or stay late. If they are not willing to be flexible, they're gone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice. The way you present yourself is most important. I've been told by my supervisor that before meeting me he'd come across people who dressed poorly, wore earrnings, wore long hair with pony tails, or worst of all never showed up. That's a MAJOR turn off. You never know what to expect from the general public. I feel you can still be successful in IT as long as you work hard at presenting yourself properly. Dress conservatively. I see a lot of people out there who look like slobs. They don't know how to dress appropriately. You'll get nowhere if you don't take the time and effort to look good. Smoking is also a turn off. If I was an employer and I had people working for me who took cigarette breaks 3 or 4 times a day they'd be on thin ice. There's a lot of people out there who are unemployed right now. Granted, that doesn't mean they are all bad but I feel the IT industry has become flooded with a bunch of slackers who are just out for the buck. There's also a lot of BIG IT ego's out there. How many times have you come across people in IT who don't even know you exist when you walk by them ? They think their know it alls/inferior to others. Being obnixous is not uncommon either, or people who have attitudes. IT isn't easy. Especially when you have to deal with illiterate users who hound you left and right and management who expects things to be done ASAP. In the end it's hard to find good, honest help who has a high level of tolerance.

Thu, Aug 8, 2002 Dale Ft.Myers

This is good information for us, but if I could start over, I think I would go back being a mechanic.... I was making good money at the time. Now, after going to college and spending lots of money getting certified..... all I can say is, "I wonder if it was worth it"

Tue, Aug 6, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Here I am looking for job almost 1 year
after spending 15K on my MCSE
with 5 years of expireance in all Windows
OS. now they asking for CCNA or Unix

Tue, Aug 6, 2002 Anonymous kenya

your right!!

Fri, Aug 2, 2002 Christopher Anonymous

I have experienced the same thing. What do you know about Cisco routers? I felt like: do you see that on my resume anywhere?

Same question: What do you know about LinuX?

Thank god I already have a decent part time job as a tech.

Fri, Aug 2, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Anonymous (with one star), you can substitute "the whole cert process" for "a bachelors degree in computer science" - yes, there are many folks out there with hard-earned, expensive degrees lamenting their time in the unemployment line with the certified folks.

Tue, Jul 30, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

the whole cert process is a waste of money and time. I've a handfull of certs earned in long expensive hours of classes plus five years experience and I've donated my time since 10-2001 just to keep honed. Here in NC you won't get hired unless you either (1) are willing to work for $10 per hour or have (2) a BS plus 7 to 10 years and know someone inside. It isn;t just me - there are so many unemployed IT people I know it isn't even funny. By the time this economy recovers IT will have changed so much that it will be a whole new set of people hired. I saw the same thing as a child back in the late 60's when aerospace shut down and my friend's dads with engineering degrees ended up pumping gas just to put milk and bread on the table. Those of you who scour at this letter take heed - your hobs are next as the rest of the companies figure out they don't have to pay you like they used to.

Sat, Jul 20, 2002 Anonymous Knoxville,TN

Thanks for the encouragement.

Thu, Jul 18, 2002 Eric R-M Mpls

There are times we all need to take a step back to take two forward. It is not fun but what else can you do.

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