Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Up and Out

January 23, 2004

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As your high-tech career matures, you will have less and less desire to climb under desks, pull cable through ceilings and experience the mind-numbing stupor of watching software install. As the years pass, you will want to find new ways of using your knowledge and experience, while still maintaining a quality of life and career. While it might not be easy, here are few thoughts that can guide your journey from technology installer to technology manager.

Behind the desk, not under it

While most of you might think that a position in IT management might be the only way out of the trenches, there can be other opportunities that might serve you better. Don’t let your current job dictate your thoughts about where you might end up. That said, if you find yourself with the proper sensibilities for IT management, pursue it, by all means. It is a hard transition for many people to move from the trenches to supervisor, but it can be fulfilling for the right person. More importantly, there is no reason you have to be like every other IT manager you have ever known. The IT world could do with some “shaking up” and you might be just the person to do it.

If you decide you don’t want to pursue the traditional management track, there are a few options that you might not have considered. These roles might include some standard management tasks, but I consider them a step above the usual, since they have levels of freedom that you won’t find in most corporate jobs.

The main goal in maturing your career is to find, or make, a position in which you spend less time installing technology, pulling cables and installing software and more time thinking, planning and designing how to make the best use of technology. Sure, you may want to spend some of your work hours doing hands-on work, but that should be your decision, not your boss’.

Development and Design

An excellent job to build for yourself is that of network designer. I know from experience that many networks, even those in the largest corporations, develop in an ad hoc fashion. The demands of business often dictate action over planning, so systems are installed quickly without much thought to their eventual use. I am sure you have experienced this issue in your own work. Your day-to-day experience gives you a unique insight into network design. As you work in your career, you should find opportunities to design networks as well as install them. Then, down the road, you can hire others to do the actual installations of your design, getting your hands dirty only when you wish.

Similar scenarios can be developed for almost anyone, whether you are a software developer, database administrator or end-user tech support. Basically, you take whatever work interests you most and develop your knowledge to the highest level. That knowledge then becomes your stepping stone up the career ladder. I consider those people who have risen up through the ranks as carrying a level of knowledge that cannot be gained in any other fashion. This gives you a unique way of looking at design and development projects, while also understanding the issues of the people who will actually build the system.

Finally, as you might already see, you can also develop your career into your own business. In many cases, companies that might not consider having a network or database designer as a full-time position might be looking for a freelance consultant to assist their in-house staff. This is especially true of small companies who need a large system in order to grow. You should be on the lookout for these opportunities. You may find that working for yourself allows you to meet your career goals in ways that a traditional corporate position cannot.

Depending on your career goals, moving out from under the desk, even in a small way, may be the best path to a mature and successful career. Finding new ways of applying your knowledge, without requiring yourself to perform every step in a project, can lead to a future where you can better control your work, your life and your career.


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