Professionally Speaking

The Last Waltz

Final thoughts on maintaining the IT career tempo.

This is the most difficult column to write, because it's our last. For about three years, Greg and I have been having a lot of fun responding to your questions and dispensing advice on all sorts of things, from deadly serious career issues to leisure time activities. The initial idea was that Greg would cover issues from an “employee” point of view and I’d reflect the “management” side, but for one thing, Greg became a manager and I no longer was. Most of the time, Greg and I found ourselves agreeing on most topics but with our different work and life experiences, I think we were still able to give you different perspectives.

All good things end, and we’ve come to the end of this line. So I want to use a little space reiterating some of the advice we’ve dispensed over the years. First, for those of you looking for a job, always remember that people hire people. As difficult as it is for most technical folks, you have to sell yourself—talk about your strengths, skills and knowledge. And you need to do that with as many people as you can. You need to become a networking expert--not the wires and gigabits kind, but the social kind. Never ask for a job; instead, ask everyone you know to evaluate your credentials and suggest someone who might be interested in someone like you. There are jobs out there, not nearly as many as when we started this column, but 80 percent of the jobs are never advertised. It’s a treasure hunt of the most vital kind and you have to be active.

Once you have a job, keep it. Again, when we started this column, job-hopping was common. People would stay at a company just until a better offer came along. We no longer have that luxury. Remember, the economy always works in cycles. It appears, however, that the cycles are getting longer. Be the best you can at what you do. Be the last person they think about when cutbacks come. Most of us technical folks are driven by ego and personal accomplishment anyway, but you can’t slack off. I know we’ve often told you not to chase after the next big thing, but you still need to keep your nose to the wind and follow solid trends. For example, although you may have job security right now (as you are the only ones of your species left), being a VAX/VMS specialist or an expert in FORTRAN is a certain dead end. Remember, however, that the next big thing is only big if your employer thinks it is.

Finally, have fun. Too many of us center our lives in our work. I’m not saying that work can’t be fun. In fact, if it isn’t fun, why do it with so much of your time? But don’t forget that there are other parts of your life that need attention also—your mind (active minds stave off Alzheimer’s), and your family and friends. Think about what you want to do five, 10 or 20 years from now and start moving in that direction. Who knows, you might find yourself on the kind of adventure I’ve found! Good luck to all of you.

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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