A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch




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

"Professional Development" Mini-Seminar

Updated August 5, 2003

Keeping on your toes

Regardless of whether you are looking for your first high-tech job or have been working in the profession for a long time, one of your largest challenges is remaining current with all the new hardware, software and systems that flood the market in any given year. This can be even more challenging if you are the one responsible for purchasing technology or making recommendations to others. Not only do you need to know everything about the technology itself, but also everything about the company that produces it. Now one wants to make a bad decision that costs the company thousands of dollars.

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 little recognition

    Many of us have learned the hard way that the best way to stay out of trouble at work is to become invisible. If we do our job well enough then no one ever has to contact our boss with a problem. While this has certain benefits it can also lead to your name being first on the list when downsizing or layoffs are in the air. It is much easier for managers to lay people off if they have absolutely no idea what you do.

Skills you need

    When you are wandering through the want ads looking for that next great job, you can also divine information far beyond what jobs are available today. The want ads are a great source for finding out what technical skills are most in demand in today?s workplace. Keep an eye out for the number of ads that call for C++ programming skills, Windows NT network management experience or the ability to support users on MS Office. These ads are pointers towards future employment opportunities for you and should not be ignored.


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.


    Whatever computer career we might eventually find ourselves in, there is usually some time when we all have to pull duty as support people. Whether this means supporting desktop applications or the programs we ourselves have written, the ability to troubleshoot problems is a basic necessity. Unfortunately, learning how to troubleshoot effectively is not an easy task. Without anyone to rely on for guidance we are forced to find our own way and develop our own methods. Having learned these facts the hard way, this month I will offer up my favorite troubleshooting tips, hints and traps.

The right way to resign

    Most times we are so busy looking for a new job that we put no thought towards leaving our current one. Often, how you leave a job can be just as important as how you get one. This month I will talk about a few ways to make sure that you don?t burn bridges that you may need later in your career.

Holiday Recharge

    As I am sure many of you have found, the holidays are not a good time to be looking for a job. Many companies go into a slow down and the press for filling positions is at a low ebb. If the holiday season coincides with the end of the fiscal year the condition gets even worse. Budgets are spent and many departments are still waiting to see what their budget will be for the next year. Most companies aren't looking any further than the next holiday party. This condition won't right itself fully until after New Year's Day.

Career Compass

    As we struggle to develop our careers and our lives we often fall victim to the old cliché of not seeing the forest for the trees. We live our lives from day to day, seeing little more than the end of our nose, and then wonder how we ended up where we are. One of your main goals for 1999 should be the development of a personal career compass. We all need a little direction in our live and often we are the only ones who can provide it.


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.

Lessons are where you find them

    I am an avid reader of an eclectic variety of books. I love learning about something new. I especially love when my reading in one area is applicable to another, completely different, area of my life. Too often we fail to see how rules established in other arts, crafts and technologies can give us a better understanding of our own field and career.

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.

How to take a vacation

    While you might smile at the title of today?s column I can guarantee you that some time in your high-tech career you will be faced with a dilemma over when or how to take a vacation. It seems that the jobs that most cause a need for a vacation are often the hardest to leave. Unfortunately, not taking vacation can have adverse effects on your performance and even threaten your ability to do a good job.

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.

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.

Should I stay or should I go?

    As we all know, the job market for high tech careers is volatile, to say the least. Jobs come and go on a whim as companies start up and fold in months, if not weeks. Mergers and acquisitions make things even crazier. A company can be here one day and swallowed whole another. This type of volatility can lead to frequent and rapid movement of employees, possibly even yourself. It can also lead to your being asked to follow someone else to a new company.

Minding business

    As a technology worker you spend a large amount of time acquiring your skills. You take classes and work long hours developing your own solutions to otherwise intractable problems. Working with technology often requires an amazing amount of focus and concentration. Unfortunately, this focus on technology can be the very thing that limits the careers of technology workers. I hear the same phrase more and more frequently the longer I work with technology. Knowing about technology is not enough to move you to higher levels in a company or corporation. If you want to attain career success you also have to know about business itself.

Labor Day

    Although Labor Day seems to be more about the unofficial end of summer, it should also be a time for everyone to reflect on their careers and see just where they are headed. You can think of it as the New Year's Day of career planning. It is time to take stock, make some resolutions and move forward in the knowledge that your career is under your control.

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.

Knowing your limitations

    These last few weeks have been an eye opener for me. I have been engaged to repair and make some modifications on some web sites. I am fairly web savvy and usually have no problem cleaning things up. In this case, though, all manner of things have gone wrong. Through a combination of various programs, web designers and programmers I realized that people working outside of their area of expertise can truly create a mess. Hopefully, my experience will be as illustrative to you as it was to me.

Grow your own

    Does the military have the right idea when it comes to developing technical talent?

Hard work

    You don't have to stay in a job that makes your life miserable.

A job, not a life

    There is more to your life than your job, or there should be.

Something for you

    Take some time for yourself to insure you don't burn out

Get a job!

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

Investing in yourself

    Investments in education and tools can help your career

Start now on your retirement planning

    It is never to soon to start thinking about retirement, especially for computer careerists


    Knowing more and more can help you build your career. Don't become overly specialized.


    Take some time to help those around you.

What to do when you don't know what to do?

    Taking stock in your career can help you decide on your next step

The new home office

    Your home office often makes the first impression on your clients

Career web sites

    A few sites to help your career take off.


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

When someone comes calling

    How do you react when another company or recruiter comes knocking on your door?

Back to school

    There are many ways of getting back to school, both traditional and untraditional

Something for nothing

    Sometimes, in very specific circumstances, giving away your knowledge can be a way to generate more business.

Communication vs. Presentation

    In an age when everyone, even your grandmother, seems to be creating Microsoft PowerPoint slide shows, your ability to present your ideas has become more important than ever.

Adult Education

    When most people think of adult education they think of graduate degree programs like an MBA, technical certification programs like MCSE or CNE, or community college extension programs. In reality, some of the best adult education you can find might be sitting next to you in your own office or on the Internet. Too often we ignore the experience of our co-workers and the availability of information on the Internet when we think about upgrading or changing our careers.

Getting the word out

    These days a career rarely consists of only one job worked until retirement and rewarded with a gold watch. No matter how secure or happy you might feel in your current job there will come a time when you will need to look for a new one. Sometimes, though, people ignore their most important resource when they start the search for the next step in their career -- their personal network of connections.

Tools of the trade

    As high-tech workers we often have a regular set of tools; the screwdriver, the pliers, the CAT 5 cable maker, but increasingly we have a set of knowledge tools as well. These resources, whether print, online or personal contacts, allow us to do much better work than might otherwise be possible. While each discipline of high-tech work has its own vernacular and resources, here are a few "tools of the trade" that might help you on the way to a better job and a better career.

Preparing for the year ahead

    It is hard to believe that another year is about to end. I hope all of you had a fun and productive year. Of course, as many tech workers are finding, the future doesn't look quite as bright as it did last year. As the Internet sector moves from childhood into its teen years you will find that both money and perks might be harder to find. Along with this general slowdown you might experience setbacks both known and unforeseen. The most important action you can take right now is to spend a few minutes to organize both your personal, professional and financial life.


    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.

Make a difference

    Many people make New Year's resolutions and most of them are already broken by this time. I would like to challenge you with a different type of resolution this year. While others may worry about making more money, making that big promotion or even starting their own company, I would challenge you to make a difference, instead.

End game

    Regardless of what type of high-tech job you may have, you will eventually have to deal with an important career question ? your final career goal. High-tech workers start in all different areas, programming, support, networking, but as your career progresses you will be moved closer and closer to some eventual decision. Do you follow a management track? Do you want to continue in a hands-on technical role? You might even decide to move outside the typical corporate environment and work for yourself. Regardless of the choice, you will either make these decisions for yourself or someone will make them for you. This is why it is so important to look towards the "end game" of your career, even if you are years, if not decades, away.

Yes, no, maybe

When you work in a high-tech career you get used to dealing in absolutes; the bit is either on or off, the data is either there or not, the program runs or crashes. Having a successful high-tech career, though, involves cultivating a sense of ambiguity and being able to develop the best solution for your clients in a world filled with shades of gray. The right answer one day may be the wrong answer the next. It is up to you to keep an open mind.

Keep working!

    Even at the best of times, many high-tech careerists are looking for work. During the current economic downturn, this number is increasing everyday. While a job search is usually far from fun, there are ways to approach it to help insure success.

Red Flags

As part of my daily routine I check out a wide variety of web sites and print publications to keep a handle on the concerns of workers in the US and abroad. This week I became involved in a discussion thread on the NetSlaves web site (www.netslaves.com) regarding how some high-tech employees might be devaluing themselves by working longer hours for lesser pay and basically putting up with work environments that are far from ideal. Along with this topic we also touched upon some related issues involving pay cuts and other austerity measures.

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.

Using handheld technology to improve your career

It seems fitting that I am writing this column into my Handspring Visor as I sit at the airport waiting to pick up a friend. As a writer and a high-tech professional, this can be one of the most useful features, the ability to work almost anywhere at anytime without lugging around several pounds of equipment.

Technical Intuition

While training plays a part in all high tech careers, your high-tech intuition plays an important role, as well. Your ability to work a technical problem from start to finish, evaluate new technologies and apply them in new and different ways is something that can only be gained through "hands-on" experience.

Stop! Three things to stop doing today

It can be very difficult to see the forest for the trees when you are involved in a day-to-day battle to maintain and develop your high-tech career. Layoffs abound. Project work is drying up. The computer industry is in turmoil. Who has time to worry about the rest of the world when you are just trying to keep your boss happy or your clients off your back? In truth, you need to make the time to constantly evaluate your position in your career and do those things that need to be done to insure that you are moving forward in your career and your life. As a way to jolt you into thinking more about your career and less about your current job, here are 3 things you need to stop doing today.


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.

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!


In the current environment, you maybe disinclined to trust many things you once thought true, but trust is exactly what your clients, your managers and your peers are looking for right now. The most successful high-tech careerist will always be the one that generates a feeling of trust in all their dealings. If people believe, for any reason, that they cannot trust you, your career will most assuredly stall.

Solving the right problem

As a high-tech careerist, you will often be called upon to solve some intractable problems. In fact, these projects will often be the ones that will make your career. Nothing boosts your resume quite as much as solving a problem others may have found unsolvable. Of course, these same projects can also be the most troublesome. Sometimes you can find yourself trapped in a no-win situation that has very little to do with technology and a lot to do with human nature and the nature of business.



Back to complete Career-Op Archive

Hello Readers,

This is the second in an on-going series of "mini-seminars" culled from the hundreds of previous Career-Op Columns.

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

These columns are arranged in the chronological order in which they were originally published. They will be updated with new columns as they are published.

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



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