A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch



WelchWrite Main -- Douglas E. Welch -- Rosanne Welch

"Getting Started in a High-Tech Career" Mini-Seminar

Updated August 5, 2003

Starting a high-tech career - Part 1 2 3 4

Though personal computers and networks have become the backbone of corporate America, academia has consistently lagged behind in providing the training necessary to leave college and become a microcomputer or network manager. Unless you desire to be a programmer, usually on mainframe or minicomputer systems, there are very few options for you to study small computer systems. If you want to build a career in microcomputers, you are almost on your own.

Looking back, looking ahead

Over the last 6 months, this column has discussed the various trials and tribulations of starting and maintaining a high-tech career. While it isn't always the easiest career road to travel, it can be one of the most rewarding. We only need to look around us to see there are far more troublesome jobs out there.

A new career

In this layoff-happy climate many people are finding it hard to work in their chosen profession. There is little more distressing than watching the want ads and seeing an ever reducing number of open positions.


Judging from the questions I have received via email, many of you are just starting out in a technology career. While you may not be in charge of your own department or division today, you probably will be in the future. Being aware of some common pitfalls can give you a head start on your future. Keep an eye on your current boss and you just might find some good (and bad) examples.


It has often been said that first impressions are the most important and this is certainly true when it comes to applying for a job. We all need to put our best foot (or experience) forward when we make that first knock upon a company's door.

First year is the easiest

Once you get through all the resumes, all the interviews and all the paperwork, you might think that the hardest part of any job is behind you. You have your desk, your phone and a small amount of both job and financial security.

On the beat

I recently returned, full-time, to the realm of the independent computer consultant and I found the world to be a bit different from when I took a hiatus a year ago. There has been a major change in the people, equipment and connectivity that you face whenever you go to someone's home or office. This week I will provide some insight to those of you who might be considering computer consulting as an opportunity to work for yourself.

Users are people, too

Ten years into my computer career I found myself sitting in my cubicle after going out on 10 straight support calls. The phone would not stop ringing and my email continued to fill up as I watched. My frustration grew with every new call. How was I ever to keep up with the level of support my people wanted without driving myself crazy?

Researching people and companies

Researching companies is an important part of any high-tech job search. The more information you have going in, the better prepared you will be.

Find a community, find a job

I moved to Los Angeles in 1986 after living in a small Ohio town (Pop. 2000) for most of my life. I had been to a slightly larger city for college (15,000 people) and even lived in Cleveland (2 million +) for a few months. While there was much that I would have to adapt to in Los Angeles the biggest issue I discovered was community. Moving into the high-tech job market can feel much the same as moving from a small town to the big city. It is up to you to establish your own community.

Insecurity breeds contempt

If you haven't experienced what follows already, it is only a matter of time before you do. If we all lived and worked in a vacuum it might not occur but wherever people work together there will be conflict. While the severity of the conflict can vary there tends to be one main cause, insecurity. This can be insecurity about a boss, a co-worker or a job, but it leads to the same results, an uncomfortable workplace and sometimes-outright hostility.

Taking your time

If you have been offered any high-tech job recently you will have noticed that it is becoming increasingly difficult to evaluate job offers. There are so many issues involved today. Everything from health care to retirement plans to signing bonuses to stock options. Too often we are so happy to be offered a job that we fail to take the time to thoroughly consider all the aspects of the offer. It is in our best interest to understand an offer fully before we say "Yes."

Five stupid things

While the majority of us have learned to conduct ourselves in a business-like manner I can guarantee that every company you work for will have people who ignore the basics of business to varying degrees. While the topics below may seem commonsensical you only have to look at your current company to see that common sense is not so common after all.

Back in time

In the old days (which in the computer world means 5-6 years ago) the main information an employer requested from you was your resume and an interview. Today it seems that employers want to know more and more about you from further and further in your past. I find this a disturbing trend; one that threatens to make every minor indiscretion of college and high school impact our ability to be employed as adults.

Can you ask me that?

Ask people about the most stressful situation they have ever been in and job interviews will be near the top of the list. There is so much riding on a few minutes in someone?s office. You are trying to put your best foot forward an, in some cases, you might even be a little desperate. Maybe you need to make that next rent payment. These realities can leave you open to subtle abuses of the interview process.

Career Planning

In the past I have written about analyzing your current job, your job prospects and your career as a whole. You should always have some idea where you are headed in both life and work. That said, It is possible to focus on your ideal career so much that you are never quite happy with what you have. Career planning can be more of an oxymoron than you might first believe. People often end up in places far different from their original plans, both better and worse. While you can direct your career, controlling it proves to be another story.

You want me to sign what?

As high-tech jobs become more and more important to the overall health of companies and the economy, the restrictions placed on employees increases as well. Over the last several months I have noticed an increase in litigation over so-called "non-competition" agreements between companies and their high-tech employees.

Don't work for free

Those of you familiar with this column might be a bit confused at this week's title. I often have people ask me how to get high-tech experience when they are just graduating from college or changing careers. For these people I recommend working for friends, neighbors and relatives; anything they can do to gain experience for their resume. Once beyond that level, though, especially after one or two paying jobs, no one should work for free.

Salary information and Interviews

Are you willing to tell an interviewer how much money you are making in your current job? Do you disclose your salary history as a normal part of your resume? There has been quite a bit of discussion about this topic both here in ComputorEdge and in many other publications. While this information was once considered commonplace, today's job market requires a re-thinking of what information you are willing to disclose to a potential employer and when.

Get a job!

Get a job...or a better one...in the New Year!

All in this together

If you want to help your own career you can start by helping others


There are a few common career mistakes that can easily be avoided.

No shame in trying

Don't let an overly-specific advertisement dissuade you from applying for any job.

Help people help themselves

We were all computer illiterate once. Treat new users accordingly.


Networking need not carry smarmy associations. There are ways to network without being annoying.

In a perfect world

The "perfect job" is a myth, but there are ways to find the best fit for you.

What to do?

To many high-school students don't understand the diversity of high-tech careers available to them.

Not a game

Pursuing a high-tech career can be a wild and woolly ride. Read any of the industry magazines and you will find stories both fascinating and horrific. Some people might think a high-tech career can be a ticket to easy wealth and security, but it is always important to remember that the big players in the game usually only have their own best interests at heart. If you don't look out for yourself you could end up just another casualty of the dot-com battlefield.


There is a myth in the high-tech industry about training. Everyone promises it but very few actually deliver. This points up the fact that while training is seen as an important aspect of any job, most companies simply do not have the time, energy or wherewithal to actually follow through. This is especially true of the small, startup companies where many high-tech workers begin their career. The bottom line for anyone looking for a job in today's market is, don't let yourself be swayed by big promises of extensive training and mentoring. In most cases, it simply doesn't materialize.

How to make mistakes

Everyone in every job and every life makes mistakes. There is no way to avoid them. However, the success of your career can ride on how you handle your mistakes and how you recover from them. Below are a few guidelines on how to handle your mistakes to insure that one small problem doesn't turn into a job or career ending monster.

Keep it to yourself

Despite the fact that companies are trying to become more like a family and less like a cold corporation, it is always best to remember that there are certain aspects of your life that you shouldn't share with your co-workers or your managers. The stories you tell now may come back to haunt your career in the future.

Intern(al) Concerns

    When you are first getting started on your high-tech career you are often looking for any way to break in. For some people this might include an internship with a company where you are interested in working full-time. In many cases, though, internships are unpaid. While it is possible to gain a great deal of professional knowledge in an internship, the lack of pay, and sometimes the lack of training varies widely from company to company.

Self respect

Is there any room within our work for self-respect? Talk to anyone of the previous generation and you might find the answer to that question is a firm, no! You are either employed or not. If your employer takes advantage of you or provides a less than adequate work environment, too bad. No one ever said work was easy.


In your high-tech career not only is it important to get the job done you must constantly be checking that problems have not returned. Nothing is more aggravating to a computer user than a problem that seems to go away only to return at the worst possible moment. It doesn't matter whether you work in a large corporation or as an independent contractor, follow-up can take your career from average to excellent.

Only you

No one can deny that it is tough to find a job these days. While I might disagree with the doom and gloom scenario that the mainstream press paints, I will agree when the economy is down, it is harder for everyone, high-tech workers included, to find a job. I have been in the position that many of you are finding yourselves in today. Sending out tons of resumes but receiving no response--searching the web for jobs that matched my particular set of skills only to find few--calling everyone I know to see if they have heard of a job. After all of that, though, I learned a very difficult, even frightening lesson, about getting a job. No one is going to get a job for you. No degree or certification will guarantee you a job. You are the only one you can count on to find your next job.

Now is the time

Chances are that you know at least one other high-tech worker who is currently unemployed. When you finish reading this column, I want you to call them up or send them an email, invite them to dinner and ask them to pitch you the top 5 projects they always wanted to work on. Maybe it's the next great information site, a new computer game, a new service for doctors and nurses. Next, you should pitch them your top 5 projects. Try and find a way to work together to take something you both believe - and make it real. Now is the time!


Back to complete Career-Op Archive


 Hello Readers,

I am starting the process of categorizing all my past Career-Op columns into a few specific areas of interest. Doing this allows me to create something of a "mini-seminar" around certain topics.

The first mini-seminar I have created is targeted at those of you just beginning your High-Tech Career.

Upcoming "mini-seminars" will include Working in High-Tech, Professional Development and Freelancing.

These columns are arranged in the chronological order in which they were originally published.

I hope this resource is useful to you. I welcome your comments and questions at douglas@welchwrite.com.


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