Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

A Secret Weapon

June 11, 2004

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There is a secret to any high-tech career, and it isn’t in having an expensive computer, fancy software or a great cell phone. In fact, it is something you can’t buy, no matter how rich you are. This secret weapon can only be gained through time and attention. Furthermore, I believe that those high-tech careerists who cannot or will not develop this tool are risking a career of ineffectiveness and unhappiness. What is this secret? Simply this – good colleagues and friends who can back you up in your work and trust you to do the same for them.

Watch my back

This week, I got a harried call, very early in the morning (for me). My long-time friend and fellow computer consultant, Sam, had a crisis. Rather, one of his clients had a crisis, but this, of course, made it his problem as well. Sam recently started working full-time again and was unable to visit this client immediately. A quick call to me, though, and I was on my way to the client site. We established this reciprocal working agreement in a very ad hoc fashion over the years. We regularly fill in for each other whenever business or family calls us away from our clients for any length of time. There has never been anything in writing, or even a much-discussed agreement of duties or responsibilities. Rather, it has always been an informal agreement to help each other.

Why is this so important? Well, you can imagine the distress of some of your clients if they called, only to find that you were out of town or otherwise occupied. Some situations, like the one this week, come at a particular “crunch time” when clients are under great time pressure for a meeting or event. If you are unable to service the client, the client may, and probably will, look for help elsewhere next time. Having a backup helps to insure that your clients remain your clients.

We all get called out of town for family matters, vacation, conventions, trainings and a host of other reasons. Your life cannot, and should not stop, just because you have clients who need you. Having someone to back you up brings you a certain freedom to address other needs in your life without feeling that your work will disappear while you are gone. It is this peace of mind that helps you develop a healthy balance between work and home life.

Where are they?

So, how do you develop friends and colleagues like this? First, you become someone like this. If you help those around you, they will be much more likely to help you. You can’t just ask some new acquaintance to “mind the store.” You need to offer your assistance first. You need to invest the time and energy in developing a relationship with this person. Sam and I had it easy. We were friends before we were colleagues. We had already established a relationship before the need arose for mutual assistance. Still, you can start today in developing those around you in the quest for assistance. When someone is planning a vacation, offer to be the contact point for clients. Make it clear that you will not take these clients in any way, shape or form, only that you are helping out a friend. It is a simple fact that the more you help others, the more they will be willing to help, and trust, you.

As I said above, these sorts of connections can only be made over time and with the active investment of your energy. If you aren’t cultivating these relationships today, you are doing a disservice to your career and to your clients. These personal relationships are just as important, and even more important in some regards, than your technical skills. High-tech careers aren’t only about hardware, software and networks. People are the most important, and most fragile, commodity.

Freelance or Corporate

Even though I use the word “client” when talking about this issue, it applies equally well to those of you who are working within a corporate environment. The people you serve are your clients and you owe the same responsibility to them as you would to any external client. Leaving the accounting department without any support while you are off on vacation can damage your career. Make sure you develop those around you so that you can depend on them to “hold the fort” while you are away. This can go a long way towards retaining your position at a company, especially when times get tough.

Make sure you are developing the support structures you need in order to help you succeed in your high-tech career. Give of yourself and your time and those around you will be more than willing to do the same. Everyone needs a backup sometime. Now is the time to be developing this backup, not when you need it most. Your success at developing these relationships can have a dramatic impact on the success of your high-tech career.

Book of the week: The simplicity survival handbook : 32 ways to do less and accomplish more


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