Career Opportunities 2002
A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

December 2002

A Crystal Ball

Making technology predictions for the New Year is simple. Computers will get cheaper while getting faster. Microsoft will own the world. Apple will go out of business…no they won’t…yes they will. Then, of course, there are the usual predictions that technology will either save or kill us as a society and a race. Regardless of where you come down on any of these issues, though, there are a few important issues to be aware of in 2003. I don’t profess to have a crystal ball in my Macintosh, but I know I will be watching the following issues carefully.

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Review, Reflect, Renew

The end of one year is always a great time to spend a few minutes reviewing the last, reflecting on the good and the bad and just taking some time to renew yourself for the coming year. This year, I am taking this yearly review a step farther and developing similar reviews for all of my major clients. In this way, not only am I generating further business for myself, I am hoping to help my clients solve some of their technology problems before they ever occur.

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Who are you talking to?

After writing this column for six years, I have received my share of email from readers. This email has come from both local readers and those farther afield, sometimes even outside of the United States. This has shown me just how far my words can travel and it also drives home the importance of thinking about what you are saying before releasing it "into the wild." This is true whether you are writing for publication or just sending email to a colleague across town. The global nature of the Internet insures that your words might be available to readers far beyond their intended audience.

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November 2002

Tempus Fuget

No matter how good your high-tech work or how complete your technology procedures, time erodes all good practices. Just like water on stone, the effects of time may work slowly, but they can effect your technology projects in small, yet destructive ways. No matter how much work you put into establishing your "best practices", without constant attention, they can fall into disrepair quickly and completely…possibly damaging your high-tech career as well.

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Playing well with others

With more and more companies reducing high-tech staff, the use of consultants continues to grow. This has led to an interesting, if somewhat disconcerting, reality where you must work closely with other high-tech consultants, almost as if you were all employees of the company. Unfortunately, this can lead to situations where you might find yourself stepping on each other’s toes, with few methods of resolving conflicts when they arise.

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Moving to Broadband

The computer world has come far since I booted my first Apple IIc back in 1985. Floppy discs held around 140K of data and bulletin board systems ran at a whopping 300-baud, allowing only a single user to use them at one time. Today, you and other high-tech careerists, work in the realm of gigabytes, terabytes and bandwidth approaching multi-gigabits per second. The great computing distance between our past and today can sometimes make it difficult to understand when yet another leap is required. Such is the case with broadband today. Your high-tech career requires an understanding of the benefits that broadband -- and any future leaps -- can provide your clients so that they and your career can benefit.

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Other People's Problems

It can be a hard lesson to learn, but when you succeed in your high-tech career, or life in general, there will be those around you who are less than enthusiastic about your success. Call it fair-weather friends or simple jealousy, but it can be difficult when those who supported you in the past suddenly show a different side,. Worse still, these people can cause you to doubt your own actions, even when you think you are doing what is best for you. Pressure from friends and acquaintances should never drive you to make career decisions that aren’t in your own best interest.

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Everyone Needs A Computer Coach

When I first saw the theme for this weeks issue, I was taken aback. Who needs computer techs? Everyone needs computer techs, or as I call myself, a computer coach. I know the theme is meant to depict a user’s feeling of self-sufficiency in using their computer. In fact, this is something that I try to instill in my clients. That said, there are times when nearly everyone could use a computer coach. The trick is knowing when they need them and what services a coach can provide.

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October 2002

Scary Things

As we approach Halloween, it might pay to reflect on some of the scary things you might be facing in your career in the coming months. Although some of these thoughts might make you more scared than a 3-year-old on All Hallows Eve, you should always remember that with a little planning and preparation you won’t suffer any more than the usual post "Trick or Treat" sugar hangover.

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Prying Eyes

The longer I work in high-tech, the more distressing I find the environment in which we are all forced to work. In this case, though, I am not talking about a bad work environment and bad managers. I am talking about a high-tech environment where all computer systems, large and small, are under constant attack from both inside and outside. Instead of spending your time developing new ways to increase productivity and profits, you are engaged in a running battle against viruses, crackers, worms and a host of other problems. It seems certain that if you decide to continue to work in high-tech you will be spending even more of your time on these issues.

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That's a FAQ!

People who are good at their high-tech career, like all of you, know that sooner or later your clients come to think of you as the font of all (or most) high-tech knowledge. They bring you their most intractable problems and pepper you with countless questions. Thankfully, you usually have the answers to their questions -- or you know exactly where to look. In today’s world, though, it is just as important that you share the information you have gathered before they ask for it. In the spirit of this week’s theme, below are a few ways to "share the wealth" while helping both you and your clients.

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September 2002


Career Choices

Throughout my years writing this column I have often heard from readers who were contemplating changing to a high-tech career. The fast growth of Internet-related companies led some to believe that high-tech was the career "promised land." As we have all seen, though, high-tech jobs are no guarantee of future career success. In fact, so many people have sought out work in high-tech that we are now experiencing a glut of workers in some areas while jobs requiring specialized knowledge remain open for months. If you are looking to work in high-tech, either as a first career or a career change, you would be wise to consider the reality of the market and where you might find a fit.

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Always thinking, always watching

Due to the events of the last 12 months, business ethics, especially in high-tech have been on my mind quite a bit. We have seen ethical lapses approaching the level of those in 1929, but the effects of these lapses has gone far beyond those of the notorious stock market crash. As companies have become larger, the effect that they have on the economy, both good and bad, grows tremendously. Worse still, small lapses in ethics can grow exponentially. There is no telling the damage you might cause if you aren’t constantly vigilant of your ethics, especially when regarding your high-tech career.

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Not without you

The high-tech career market is a rough place to be right now. There is no denying it. Jobs are scarce and those that are mainly entry-level or low-paying contract jobs. Tech workers who were making six figure salaries are now scraping by, trying to pull together enough clients and projects to stay afloat. It may seem that the bottom has dropped out of the high-tech market, but there is hope. Regardless of how much money is spent on flashy technology, it is worthless without you. Technology does nothing but sit in a corner until you and your skills make it do something amazing. Don’t let the hard times get you down.

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Blogging for business

As a high-tech careerist you are probably familiar with weblogging, a growing trend on the Internet. Weblogs, or blogs as they are usually called, are popping up on every conceivable topic, from quilting to quantum physics. While many of these blogs take on the appearance of an electronic personal journal, blogs can also be used as a business tool to help you build your high-tech career.

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August 2002


As if your high-tech career wasn’t difficult enough, it seems your governmental representatives want to make your work even harder. Recently passed laws and several proposed bills are destined to make it more difficult to keep your systems running, your work productive and your high-tech career on track.

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Technology, not computers

Embroiled in your high-tech career, faced with a litany of one computer problem after another, you might begin to think that computers are what it is all about. Unfortunately, computers are only a small part of your problem. The bigger problem is an overall lack of understanding about all technology, not just computers. Technology has seeped into nearly every aspect of life, from the electric/sonic/pulsating toothbrush in the morning to the microchip controlled electric blanket at night. If you want to build your high-tech career to greater and greater heights, you would do well to teach technology to your clients, not just computers.

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While it may not seem that way at times, you all have lives outside of your career. In fact, there are events in your lives that often impact your ability to do your work. When these events intersect with your work life, it can be extremely stressful. You might be worrying about losing your job or you might be feeling guilty for disappointing your boss or co-workers.. Regardless, everyone requires time away from work to handle these large steps in their lives and you should never have to worry about taking the time for yourself when you need it.

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Many of you have been working in high-tech careers for so long that you might not be able to imagine what other careers you might have pursued. In some cases, you might even be wondering how you developed the career you have. We all have interests beyond our careers (or should have). Maybe it is time to find an outlet for the other interests in your life. Reviewing what career you might have chosen can often lead you to new areas of your high-tech career.

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Privacy and You

These days, privacy seems as quaint a concept as a horse and buggy. Everywhere we go, everything we do, especially online, is being tracked by someone. While most of the data can be useful for online retailers, most of this information is simply a free-floating opportunity to snoop. Even worse, we, high-tech careerists, are the makers of this privacy invasion. We create the tools that allow these invasions of privacy and we are often the ones to suffer the most. Maybe the time has come to reduce the amount of data we collect so that everyone can benefit from some slim slice of online privacy.

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July 2002

Web Stars

Finding neat, new web site is a large part of the fun of surfing the web. That said, many of the sites that I find most useful are those that have been around the longest. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun locating new sites, only that you shouldn’t forget the old standards. For a high-tech careerist, the web is probably the best source of information to keep your work, your life and your career on track.

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As odd as it might sound, you will find times in your career, and your life, when waiting will be the best action you can take. Let me be clear, though, that I am not talking about being inactive, only that you might find yourself waiting for the best combination of events and effort so that you can move to the next level. In many cases, waiting can end up being very productive.

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Keeping track

As a freelance computer consultant it is very important that I keep a complete record of my work. I need to be able to present a detailed and accurate bill to my client if I expect to get paid in a timely manner. When you are working as a high-tech employee, though, it is too easy to become lax about keeping track of your time and actions. Even if you are required to prepare regular status reports, these are often general in nature. In today’s business climate, you will find that manager’s are requesting more and more detail about "what you do for us." While sometimes it can appear to be an added and unnecessary burden, tracking your work can help you to protect and build your high-tech career.

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Workers Beware

As if there weren’t enough problems facing high-tech careerists today, some companies have taken it upon themselves to create several new pitfalls. Each of these "policies" shows a consistent disregard for employees, their careers and their lives outside of the workplace. Despite recent gains in developing a balance between profits and employee well-being, all workers are facing a new set of challenges.

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June 2002

Willfully Ignored

Recent news stories have questioned the leadership of the FBI and analyzed their handling of intelligence reports prior to the September 11th attacks. It seems that information provided by various FBI field offices was never passed on to those in charge and then to the decision makers in Washington, DC. In reading these news stories I had the strange feeling that I had heard it all before. In fact, I had. Every employee, especially those in high-tech fields, knows that management is not always receptive to their new ideas. Sometimes they willfully ignore the information and talent they have in their own backyard.

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Making your mark

There are times, in the day-to-day trials of a high-tech career, when you may begin to wonder what your career is all about. How did you get to this point in your life? You might be questioning your choice of career. You might even be wondering if your work makes any difference in the world around you. While it can be an unsettling feeling to doubt yourself and your work, I can assure you that it is an important part of your life.

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Crisis Computing

There is an old saying about the ability to "keep one's head when all about are losing theirs." While this saying was forged in war, it applies quite well to the success of a high-tech career. You will often face clients and co-workers who don't always keep their heads in a crisis. Worse still, they can spread their sense of panic to yourself and others, which is a sure fire way to keep from focusing on finding a solution to the problem.

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MS-ing Around

Yet another security patch. Yet another bug fix. Yet another day of downloads. Are you as fed up with Microsoft (and other software manufacturers) as I am? I would estimate that more than 1/2 of my billable hours are spent installing patches or working around flaws in commercial software. It amazes me that we have let the state of computer software get so out of hand.

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May 2002

A Better Place

A few weeks ago I wondered aloud how some of our high-tech peers could allow themselves to become involved in annoying, abusive and even illegal behavior based around their high-tech careers. Keeping with this week’s theme I want to focus on some of the ways high-tech careerists can help make the world a better place.

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Benign Neglect

Visitors to my home often make note of the gardens, which replace lawns on my property. While I can take some credit for the gardens, I must confess that my theory of gardening mainly consists of benign neglect. If a plant can’t survive on its own then it doesn’t belong in my garden. I provide regular water and a little fertilizer, but I only address issues as they arise and sometimes, even that is long delayed. Unfortunately, I have seen that many high-tech workers apply the same benign neglect to their career. They only worry about their career when in the middle of a crisis. If you want to develop a career you love, you need to actively engage your career and your life.

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Rise above it all

Fraud is everywhere, from the city streets to the corporate boardroom. Lately we seem to be swimming in an ocean of fraud. Worse yet, some of us in the high-tech world are aiding and abetting it, if not committing fraud outright ourselves. Any career is built on developing a level of trust with your clients. Any connection to any business with even the appearance of being fraudulent will eventually bring your career to an end. Sure, it might have short term benefits; expensive houses, flashy cars, etc., but you will find it hard even remembering these items when the whole thing goes bust. Steer clear of participating in anything that smells of a scam, whether perpetrated by an individual or a large company. You owe it to yourself, your career and your family to stick to the straight and narrow.

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As I write I am listening to the news. Arthur Andersen, mired in its relationship with Enron, has just announced that it will lay off around 7,000 employees. While the case against Andersen, Enron and others will take years to sort out, the effect on employees at the companies is quick, painful and, I hope, instructive. Sometimes, the best thing you can do with a bad situation is learn all you can from it.

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On the inside

Working as an independent consultant for small companies has many benefits. The work is varied and you get to deal with a large variety of people. One downside, though, is that the company may not have anyone on their staff that can monitor and manage systems between your visits. This can often lead to confusion and crises when systems don’t work as planned. If you want to keep your client relationships on a good footing you need to have someone on the inside who can be your eyes and ears, even when you are far away.

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April 2002

Write your own book

As a writer on career issues I read a lot of books about job searching, management, creativity and other career issues. As I am sure you have found, these books can range from the good to the bad right down to the ugly. Yet, hundreds of thousands of these books are sold every year. There is a great desire from workers, especially high-tech careerists, to gain an understanding of their careers and their lives. Unfortunately, it is a rare book that provides more than a few good ideas within its covers. In fact, I consider a book a success if I can take away one important concept that can help me in my day-to-day life. While this is an extremely low bar for a book to jump, few do it.

Young and old

It is a simple fact of life that the longer you remain in your high-tech career, the more likely it will be for you to work for people younger than yourself. This is true whether you are an old corporate hand with a new "up and coming" manager or working as an independent consult for hip, new high-tech startup firms. This discrepancy in age, and other related issues, can lead to problems unless you know how to recognize and avoid them.

A Word on the Web

Many of you probably have your own personal web site. You might even have developed a site about a specific topic that interests you. It might be a very popular site. If you are like other successful web site owners you might have wondered if there is a way to help defray some of the costs of running your web site or even turn it into something that could become the focus of your high-tech career. While earning a living doing what you love is a highly sought after goal, turning your web site into a commercial enterprise might not be the route to take.

Building a community

A high-tech career can be lonely. Whether you’re working on some programming problem, installing gigabytes of software, updating web sites or trying to solve some intractable computer problem, it can often feel as if you are all alone, with no one to praise you, no one to help you and no one to watch your back. Spend enough hours in "heads down" mode, as I call it, and you can find yourself yearning for a little human interaction. There are ways, though, to help you stay focused on your career by developing your own personal support group.

March 2002

Starting to surf

A few years ago, I was a volunteer at my local library. What started out as a few introductory Internet classes turned into a 5 year stint helping anyone who came to open up the wonders of the Internet. I gave this class to over 2000 people over this time and each and every class was enlightening. It is often said that in teaching you learn as much as you teach. I learned about people and how best to communicate high-tech topics to even the most novice computer users.


Whether you are working as an independent consultant or for an in-house, IT department, helping users help themselves can be an important part of improving your career. It may seem odd, but giving the users the tools to solve common problems themselves frees your time for the more intractable issues that always appear. If you approach self-support in the right way, as an improvement in service instead of extra work for the users, you can begin to build a cooperative arrangement that can help everyone be more productive.

Maintaining the relationship

Time takes its toll on everything, including long-term working relationships. There is some truth in the old phrase, "familiarity breeds contempt." Too often, consultants and clients can begin to take each other for granted. There is usually no dark purpose behind this, just the simple casualness that results from knowing one another for many years. There are ways, though, of counteracting the effects of time. Below are detailed a few ideas that can help you keep your long-term relationships on track.

The Independent

Working as an independent computer consultant certainly has its benefits. I get to make my own hours, pick my clients (to some extent) and generally have more control over my career than your average Joe/Jane in the corporate IS department. Sure, I have to worry about health care, taxes and other assorted business issues, but I find it preferable to working in a 9-5 (or more likely 9-9, without overtime) office environment.

In the end...

Regardless of how the current Enron debacle works out, there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose lives and careers will be directly affected by it. Worse yet, it appears that a small portion of these people will have brought on their own demise through a variety of unethical, if not illegal activities. If you take anything away from the Enron situation, now and in the future, remember this…small actions on your part can have dramatic effects on you and those around you.

February 2002

Friends and Clients

If you work in a high-tech career long enough you are bound to develop relationships. Work for your clients long enough and you will probably make a few friends among them. In some cases, your friends might even become your clients. This has been the case with more than a few of my friends and clients and vice versa. Whichever way these relationships occur, it is important to remember that, friends or not, it is still a business relationship. Here are a few guidelines that can help you walk the fine line between friend and client.

A Time of Rest

When I am not out doing my high-tech work I can often be found working in the extensive garden I inherited when I bought my house 6 years ago. This is a typical combination of my high-tech and high-touch life where I get as much enjoyment from hiking the local mountains as scaling the heights of Windows XP. I often find that wandering around in my garden can give me a new perspective on the high-tech side of my life, especially when it comes to balancing your work with the rest of your life.


The Crystal Ball

Depending on your company, budgets are either gospel or fiction. There seems to be little latitude between. Regardless of how budgets are viewed, , they can be a very powerful tool in building your high-tech career, if you know what to look for and how to plan for the future. While it may seem you are trying to gaze into a crystal ball each time you create a budget, there are ways to make the entire process easier.

Piracy or Expediency?

There is a major problem that every high-tech worker faces eventually ? software piracy. Too often you are called upon to install software which your company or client does not legally own. This can include installing software on more than one computer or installing software "borrowed" from a friend. While most companies characterize this as the expediency of doing business, software manufacturers look upon it as stealing, plain and simple. Worse yet, you, and your career, are often the ones caught between expediency and piracy.

January 2002

Driving or Driven?

When you go to work each day, whether for a large corporation, a small company or as an independent consultant, you have to decide how you are going to approach the technology decisions you will face. Do you feel like you are constantly trying to keep up with all the new technology available or are you in control of this information and making well-informed decisions that help support your company and your high-tech career?Stated more simply, are your driving technology choices or being driven by them?

More than computers

In your high-tech career it may seem that your job is merely making computers work or helping others make their computers work. In fact, your job can be much more. Your clients, especially the smaller companies, could use a good source of business information, as well as computer savvy. You could expand your career by becoming the source for this information, especially at the point where business knowledge and computer knowledge intersect.

A Moral Dilemma

This year is sure to bring some interesting moral dilemmas to high-tech workers. The call for increased security, both of the nation and computer systems, is sure to put you in the unenviable position of monitoring the actions of those around you in ways never imagined in America before. As the point person on computer security, many of you will find yourselves having to decide between your career and your own ethics.

Not to be trusted

A quick read of nearly any high-tech publication today will give you a host of articles about protecting yourself, your equipment and your company from attack. The focus on security is a welcome one. Too many systems have little or no security installed, leaving them open to attack and exploitation. That said, there is a more insidious undercurrent to these calls for security ? it seems no one, not even your employees, your friends, your relatives is to be trusted.



Updated August 5, 2003

Professional Development

Getting Started in a High-Tech Career

Career-Op Suggested Reading List

A growing collection of books that I have found useful in forwarding my high-tech career.

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September 18, 2003



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