Over the holidays, the college kids trooped home, looked around, and wondered what had changed. At least mine did. She asked if I was working more hours and why we focused on more personal, less expensive gifts. There was the unspoken question of what had happened to my career path…had I taken the wrong job or something? I mean, like, whatever.
It’s possible that the contracting work isn’t good for us long term since the jobs are somewhat lower-level, but we all know it’s necessary. At this time in history, career takes a back seat to food on the table, but still the question lingers – Are you committing career suicide by taking a job for which you feel grossly overqualified?
The mind of a hiring manager is a mysterious thing, but this recent article on CNNMoney.com shows that experts believe it’s not seen as career suicide. It’s survival.
•In today’s economy and with current unemployment rates, companies will not penalize job seekers for taking a job to put food on the table.
•Working through a contracting firm is a great way to get your name and skills out there. A short term position can get the proverbial foot in the door, and while we are all waiting out the slump, we are proving ourselves in real terms to the decision makers. A short term contract led to my last career position, which kept us in milk and bread for over a dozen years.
Other salient points:
•Be honest in the resume and interviews about recent job changes, and discuss what these jobs taught. If it’s working the support desk at BigRetailBoxStore-dot-Com, talk about how your customer service skills have improved. If the only work available was to be the Cable Guy, then stress the new found appreciation for the hard work of midnight changes and surviving extreme conditions. Whatever it is, we’re learning something that will make us a better employee and a better person.
Experience gained during this recession can show employers how essential we can be to the IT department. Being adaptive, flexible, and creative have always been the real skills underlying all the tech-speak. Here’s our chance to prove it.
Sometimes I forget that it’s SO entertaining to watch someone clicking like mad around the computer screen, pressing extra hard on the virtual buttons, fiercely demanding that something, anything, happen.
They’re Click Happy
Calling them Click-Happy is of course ironic, it’s the opposite of happiness. Except we get to have a moment of schadenfreude, with a side of smug. It’s the IT version of watching delusional victims in slasher movies, wildly fending off bugs or bats or whatever they think is crawling up their bodies. We’d never fall for that.
But wait…there’s more! Aren’t we all clicking along, trying to get our various critical apps and enterprise systems to do what we really want? Doesn’t it seem just as pointless, and isn’t there the nagging suspicion the vendors and BIG IT Companies are online and watching us from their shiny glass towers, like a galactic focus group chuckling and feeling expansively smug while we keep begging for better features and more responsiveness; clicking – clicking helplessly from one painfully disappointing upgrade to the next.
But why the Aych-Ee-double-hockey-sticks are we still waiting for IT solutions we really need to finally get done? I’m a patient guy, a man with a slow hand. But every time I get involved in another upgrade or consolidation project, these same business needs rear their ugly heads:
1. Virtualize everything. It is the solution to most of our ills: Availability, Cost Containment, Time to Market, Centralized Systems Management. Every CIO, every data center manager, every system admin, and certainly every business customer wants this. But (again with the but…) are we allowed to? How about our databases (Nope) or messaging (nope) or our most critical ERP apps (nope) or, ok, ok, wait. Here’s an easy one, how about all our web applications (uh, nope, not all of ‘em).
I know that in the trenches, under cover of darkness, we virtualize anyway, even though the vendors claim they won’t support it. That’s the relationship we have now. We sign agreements then sneak around behind the scenes doing what business demands.
Bottom line, the vendors need to step up and do the right thing, and stop playing marketing games or weaseling on their obligation to respect what their customers demand.
It’s the post-9/11 thing to do, so Let Us Virtualize Everything.
2. Stop pop-ups. My teeth are grinding now, thinking of all the online applications, resume data and personal info I’ve entered on various sites, just to have it all wiped because someone programmed a “helpful” command that is (of course!) blocked by my browser.
Listen up; this is our 4 1/2 word manifesto:
We don’t want pop-ups.
We’ve all blocked them so stop forcing us (especially job sites and applications) to unblock, reload the page and lose all our responses. I’m not a programmer, but I know there are options other than making me dump a perfectly good page full of carefully considered answers, just to let your pet circa-1999 script run a pop-up. I need the job, but do you have to add the humiliation of constantly re-answering those invasive questions?
3. Remote Access. Please, please install enough VPN routers to handle the load. Every respected business has a viable DR plan. Why can’t that include an option for the whole workforce to connect and work from Starbucks on a snow day? What’s the downside…too much productivity and convenience? We all work through conference calls and desktop sharing anyway, let go of the brick-and-mortar old school management mentality.
I was in California during the San Diego fires of ’07, and at least one major SoCal company kept its virtual doors open, because they had scaled up remote access as a DR plan. Everyone could stay with their homes and families while still emailing and doing their corporate thing.
As the astronauts say, this ain’t Rocket Surgery, folks.
You get the idea, and if anyone has more pet peeves, throw up a comment on what might make your New Year brighter.
I got my first Christmas card today. That means only a few weeks before the big rush, the great onslaught, the thundering herd decends on job openings everywhere. Maybe even get an IKEA interview…
It’s Resume season.
Widely recognized as “National Do Nothing” month, December is when requests for extra work get a gay wave and a tossed-off “Oh, we’ll do it after the holidays”. But post-New Years Day, the dam breaks after weeks of dithering and HR inboxes worldwide fill with scrubbed and shiny job applications. So now’s the timeto start polishing, and get the best resume at the top of the pile (hint, yours).
And why not? After a couple of years in the doldrums, this new year should be good for hiring in IT departments. All the companies and governments that used spare cash (from former workers salaries) to expand networks, build out storage and servers, and upgrade websites will hire the people that keep it all running (Yea!).
To prepare efficiently (read: least effort), and since I’m a fan of Do Nothing month, I’ve skipped actually working hard, and copied from someone elses lessons on improving your resume (Seriously!). I’ve tweaked it for our use here, but it’s legit (Really!), and the link to the source is at the bottom (Promise!).
Good luck and good writing…
How to make your resume stand out to a reader:
I helped my company install about $750,000 in new network technologies.
Directed $750K in network upgrades through technical project management, while reducing operational costs 20%.
RULE 1 – It’s always best to put the “effect” before the “cause.”
The “after” is much more effective for two main reasons. First, it starts with a strong action verb (“Directed”) that instantly communicates the nature of the achievement. Telling what you achieved is just as important as describing how you achieved it. Second, it tells not only the result (the $750,000 investment in networks) but also the cause (Technical Project Mgmt).
The company asked me to lead a big software development project that involved collaboration with several divisions in the company. I managed the two million dollar project and brought it in on-time and within budget. Part of the reason was that I used my Agile project management expertise and introduced best practices.
Delivered $2M software development project on-time/on-budget by leading cross-functional team and introducing Agile and ITIL best practices.
RULE 2 – Be Concise AND Compelling
The wordy nature of the “before” example will lose readers’ interest quickly. It’s not clear what was accomplished; the first-person, narrative style hides important details.
In the “after” example, the exact accomplishment is clear, as are the reasons why they were achieved. – Strong action verbs and a concise summary of the accomplishments keep focus on performance. Also, always use numerals in a resume… use of the figure “$2M” rather than “two million” adds punch to the number
Used lean manufacturing techniques and tools to reduce the number of employees and save approx. $500,000 annually.
Slashed annual costs ~$500K by initiating lean manufacturing techniques, and network automation to reduce headcount and improve efficiency.
The “before” example isn’t too far off with its use of an action verb. Plus, it uses numerals and conveys both the cause and the effect.
RULE 3: Use Good Action Verbs
Ah, what a few changes can do; The “after” example is more dynamic, conveying the accomplishment in a way that makes it shine. “Slashed” is a stronger action verb, and “reduce headcount” is a more concise, professional way of saying “reduce the number of employees.”
To see RULE 4 – Mix Formats For Easy Reading, go to CleanTechies to get the original tips, and lots of other good stuff about resumes.
Never run when you can walk, never walk when you can stand, never stand when you
can sit down and never sit when you can lie down” Satchel Paige
Maybe my standards are dropping, but I need a job that fits me a little better, where IT problems are solved at a languid pace while drinking not-great-but-OK-for-free coffee. And doing it all as comfortably horizontal as possible.
I keep looking but I’m not finding that perfect match on job websites. And I’m not demanding. These websites don’t have to be elegant, or even very good – at least not at first. Shoot,, these days tons of ideas start out not great, designed by committee and pushed to market like a half-dressed jockey trying to jump on his horse at the starting gate, flailing along in the middle of the pack and pretending to be competitive.
My inspiration, of course is…the Zune. It went from a clunky brown brick…to a smooth cool futuristic design – that no one’s buying - in only 6 or 7 generations.
So, in keeping with the “bad presentation of a not-original idea that we’ll fix later” school of development, here are my Zune-like web sites intended for the modern IT professional…
- Radio ButtonsR Us: For the one-size-fits-all web designer with strong skills in, well, pretty much just radio button design. Motto: “No imagination required”
- TwistedPairJobs dot com: IT legacy employment. On the job training in green-screen monitor repair and Winchester drives. Help fulfill the growing demand for 286-based CPU programming! (Bring your Cuban passport)
- ResumeSizeMatters: QuicknDirty Resume’ enhancement. Pay by the inch! (Warning: side effects of large resumes include drowsiness, inability to focus, paper cuts) Though rare, resume reviews lasting more than 4 hours may require an eye doctor.
- PhishingTheMarket: Jobs for the larcenous at heart, moral compass optional. Please include a proper ID (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and provide some very personal information, banking details and secret handshake with your application.
- Grow_a_Pair.org: Let our Ex-drill sargeants expertly bring out the beast within, and send you snarling into interviews with both guns blazing. Motto “No Argument Too Small”
- TheDogAte_MyResume.tv: If you need excuses. we got ‘em. Or did, ’til the faucet accidentally leaked and dripped water down the wall, shorting out the printer so we can’t remember what we wrote.
- NoOneSeesTheWizard: Not no Way, Not no How… Save the time and trouble of applications and interviews – just call our HR hotline to hear a menu of rejections. Experienced applicants can press “9” to have them twittered directly to your cerebral cortex.
- Work.from.bed dot net: Skills in horizontal typing and drinking through a straw are essential. Motto: “Noon is the New 6 AM”.
- CoffeeBreakAll.Day Hang out 24/7 with laptops in coffee shops using their free wireless. Work in a fast paced, noisy environment while…wait, you do that already. But if you claim to actually make money at this, please leave a note in the comments section.
We could use a chuckle.
It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory. – W. Edwards Deming
I respect one law over all others…the law of unintended consequences.
I can’t think of a better example than government boondoggles, after the fanfare of a new program or regulation when all hell breaks loose over something unexpected. In the public world of the public trust, what looks like a benevolent hidden hand running things eventually turns out to be just another guy pulling levers and spinning dials without a clue.
My personal favorite lately: A couple of Governors ago we started outsourcing all state IT work to a gigantic computer contracting company. With eyes apparently shut tight, a contract was signed and delivered. The plan was to save money, create jobs, improve services and make everyone look good. The result has been lost money, a screwed up job market, disappointed customers and yards of of bad press for both sides. Throw in a broken economy, and we have a train wreck. Something hard to watch but too macabre to turn away from.
This whole public-private arrangement is so massive that it’s warping the IT job market as if an HR darkstar is hovering in orbit, bending the space/time continuum. Projects that are priorties tend to create weeks of employment ads, recruiter calls and interviews. But when there’s bad press and or an argument over state fundng, the interviews disappear and cutbacks start. Reminds me of old movies where the workers file in and out of the factory gates, working one day, locked out the next. At least they had snappy Hollywood dialogue to fall back on.
All that sturm and drang has created some cynical workers. Recently, a veteran of the contract wars showed up on my team. She’d been in big data center projects, then jumped to the state, the got rebadged, downsized, rehired, and finally hit the two-year limit. We all know about the two-year limit for non-employees, created by. . . wait for it . . .The Government.
(hint: Microsoft sued by Feds gets ruling that anyone contracted more than 24 months is really an employee)
What the state provides, the Federales can take away. Our new friend lands back on the street again, due to the arbitrary 2-year limit, arrives in our midst for the requisite number of months, and then will cycle back out again. Like the rest of us, she’s lost the social contract of work-for-security that our parents enjoyed. We now have built-in clocks counting down the 730 days until we have to leave, even before we get our first paycheck.
Which creates another odd consequence, the two-tier society. Itinerant workers don’t have the same status as full time employees. We temps often outnumber the permanent fully-employed by a wide margin, but they get the benefits, time off, parties, free flu shots and career paths. We get a check and a slap on the butt (not that there’s anything wrong with that) as we head out the door when our time is up.
IT and tech aside, are we headed back to our agrarian past, with every worker an independent business like the family farm with a modern twist? Or will we swing toward the Big Contractor model where we become worker bees for one entity while really working for another. The third option, companies hiring people on their own payroll, is sounding out of touch…old-school.
(hint: European courts have found that many countries – Spain was cited recently – as having well over 50% of workers actually contractors, mostly due to the EU employment laws that make it impossible to fire deadbeats after they’re on the payroll)
On this side of the pond, we still hold up individual liberty and responsibility as the model, but the IT market is global. Examples like this state-private IT contract show that we need better leadership here at home to avoid the disintegration of stable employment that the grey-beards in Europe have caused. We still have a shot at building careers in technology, and avoid just job-hopping, if we can upgrade the talent pool at the top.
At minimum, we should elect leaders who keep at least one eye open when they sign on the dotted line.
I hate Scurry. Sniff is practical, inquisitive. But that other one is just a hyperactive little rodent.
In ‘98, when computers were all beige, and Gates and Jobs still hated each other and Sun was the golden child of the bubble, the story of the rats and the little people came out. Their cheese went missing, and apparently being Lactose deficient, Sniff and Scurry immediately ran off to find some.
After pounding down an all-cheese diet day after day, I’d be looking for a green leafy salad to unblock things. . .just to avoid awkwardness in a confined space, if ya know what I mean. . .and I think you do. But in the story there were no bathrooms, so maybe food followed function in the maze.
In any case the two rats took off on their creepy little pink feet to find more Winsleydale and Stilton, while the little people settled in for opportunity to come knockin’.
It all seemed magical, if a bit childlike.
Change was different 10 years ago. The bubble was swelling up nicely, so we all cruised across its overstretched skin, enjoying the smooth ride to a shiny future of tech job security. Changes in the market were exciting; it was what made us go find the big cheese that brought big raises back in ’99.
Today, change is like opening the fridge and the light doesn’t come on. Squinting into the guts of the box, none of the formless shapes look appetizing. But we have to eat, and the fridge is where the food is. So we reach in and grab whatever job opportunity we can find, even if it’s half-a-loaf compared to our old bread-winning gig.
I kept thinking that we’d been through this before. Heck, in ’02 budgets for IT projects shriveled like forgotten grapes, but we rode that one out. This time, kicked out into the maze with severance in hand, I joined the legions milling around the job market like zebra on a river bank. But there was only one option, so in we went, fighting currents to make it to the other side and job security.
Back at the maze, we find handwriting on the wall, put there to give little people courage in the confusion of change. The first messages aren’t all gems: “Having Cheese Makes You Happy” sounds like Yoda in his early years, before he figured out how to warp syntax to sound sage. (“Happy you are, when Cheese you have”).
Around the corner, the advice gets better, if a bit deep for the likes of rats and lilliputians. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I’m thinking, Not Die, first of all. Fear of large moving trucks and bungee jumping have kept me on this mortal coil so far. To paraphrase Gekko, “Fear is Good”. Still, it’s a more useful piece of graffiti than Yoda’s pre-teen advice.
Then it gets serious. “Smell the cheese often so you know when it’s getting old”. Aside from evoking disturbing images, that one could be useful. I may have seen the layoffs coming and jumped into a safe public tech position, insulated from the economic sturm and drang outside. But I wasn’t really like Sniff, so I kept telling myself the work isn’t stale so much as just getting sort of a strong odor. It was becoming Bleu cheese, or Gruyere, which my dad said smelled like gym shoes after they’ve been in the locker for a week. But I digress.
Overcoming inertia, anxiety and the worst recession in decades – we reach our (predestined?) destination. The memory of what we just went through can’t stop our old habits – we love having our cheese and eating it too – so we’re snoggers for the next bubble once again.
But there’s one more piece of writing on the wall. Not inspiring as much as sobering. Maybe the only takeaway from this whole experience.
“They keep moving the cheese”
“Well, we might as well get this out of the way now. The employment numbers were uniformly horrible.”
At times like these, I turn to my kid’s video library for inspiration.
I give you: Dory, the blue-tang fish, who’s helping a clown fish search for Nemo, his son.
She’s clearly not qualified for the job, at first. Her lack of short term memory gets them both lost several times, but she doesn’t quit; she starts repeating:
Just keep swimming…
“This was a very ugly labor market report, and there is no amount of lipstick that can improve its image.”
Just keep Swimming
When Dory realizes that they’re never going to make it without a change of plan, she adapts by repeating their goal over and over. To her surpise, it works and they keep heading in the right direction.
Just keep Swimming
“Restructuring at the Lloyds Banking Group could lead to 700 IT jobs being lost, it has been revealed.”
Just keep Swimming
“Newly minted American engineers are going into finance because tech jobs have beenoffshored.”
Just keep Swimming
“ Hey Mr Grumpy Gills
You know what you gotta do
when life gets you down?
Just keep swimming “
U.S. high-technology job losses are slowing.
As things get better and the destination is in sight, they still keep moving, and never stop reminding themselves to:
“ Just keep swimming swimming swimming
What do we do we swim, swim, swim… “
Very private pillow-talk-tweets of an ex-IT power couple, taking the only jobs left in town…
Techbarista: got the job! seems easy enough but cappuccino machine leaks black tar…checking for buffer overflow
8)3DESlady: check ur training manual…
Techbarista: mine starts “All your base are belong to us”…Bad omen?
Techbarista: is it me, or does ‘venti mocha no whip halfcaff double shot’ sound like a command string?
8)3DES: so slow here I spent morning decrypting SSH link to home office. just idle chatter, so now rearranging R Bull, labels-front
8)3DES: still slow. homebrewing espresso mixed with red bull… Buzz On !!
Tech: yeesh, not good, don’t overclock yourself
8)3DES: Roger that, hands so shaky dropped pastry – now the icing looks like Dick Nixon.
Tech: called in sick today. Bosses garbled msg on vmail sounds like “Someone set us up the bomb”. What?
8)3DES: . mgr here is like, high school man, like, really. guitar hero jedi or so he claims
Tech: yawn. busy but routine, reminds me of nights working in the NOC.
8)3DES: where is mouse for the cash register? :p
Tech: check under the counter…mice like pastries
8)3DES: hahah…wait, eww
Tech: ‘sometimes a mouse is just a mouse’…freud
8)3DES: you mean fred, that operator on 3rd shift back at old data center. ate donuts & coffee 24/7
Tech: Yeah right, where did he end up?
8)3DES: started pest control company with his severance
Tech: fred? really? he didn’t know subnets from sql queries.
Tech: knows his rodents tho, so call him about that mouse problem
8)3DES: enuff with the mouse, besides, he sold franchises and move to FLA to play in a band full time
Tech: he was smarter than i gave him credit…guess sometimes a mouse is more than just a mouse
8)3DES: yep, build a better mouse trap, yada yada, ticket to paradise
Tech: I miss midnight donuts with fred. meet you at Kr Kreme?
8)3DES: ok, but no more talk about rodents…and NO coffee, plz
Has there ever been a time in world history when dressing for work has been so bass-ackward?
In the grand pecking order of the IT workplace, the bottom spot has always belonged to the interviewee. Yet we show up wearing our finest, dressed like Cinderella going the ball. No matter that the rest of the office is in their Casual Fridays and Flip Flops mode.
At the top of the food chain, the Top Dog, the Cock of the Walk – to push the metaphor way too far – is sitting in the corner office wearing gym clothes. The one with the power and influence doesn’t even stop by the house to pull on some slacks. It’s the modern law of inverse proportion to the layers of clothing; The Less You Wear the More Influence You Have.
The irony seems lost on the HR folks, who soldier on with their advice to dress for the job you want, but would be shocked and dismayed if you applied in an outfit with a Nike swoosh on it.
So the job seeker, with no power or influence, is expected to fill out employment forms dressed like a Boston banker. All this while the assistants, receptionists, interns dress like Boston Legal, to make the office look professional. Of course, technical managers dress for what the job demands -no ties or heels or other impairments to occasionally crawl under the desk or behind a rack and poke about. Although they prefer the interns do most of the crawling.
And so it goes up the ladder…each rung dressing to show more importance by wearing less, until the person at the top is clad only in his or her pajamas, sucking on a sports bottle.
There was a time when being in charge meant looking like it. The emperor really did have clothes. Now the master and commander can only be spotted by the blinking, borg-like Bluetooth headset glued to his ear.
Maybe it’s an American cultural thing. . . Lessons of Vietnam and all . . . more stars showing on the collar makes us a target. Perhaps there’s security in blending in with the troops.
In any case, my dark blue suits gather dust when I’m fully employed and in charge. But when the paychecks stop coming, the jackets come back out and the ties windsor-knotted, until a new job is found. Then the process reverses and I’m back to khakis and golf shirts.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just a mystery how we got here, is all.
“You still there?”
My eyes snapped open.
The floor was sideways in my view, the phone lying a foot away, voices coming from the speaker. It was 2 am; I’d fallen asleep at home, on the floor, while the tech team was hard at work debugging a server problem.
I held up the phone, clearing my throat to show I was awake and fell back into the chair. No one reacted. Their snarky comments continued without pause…”wish I could check out”…”guess he’s not a snorer”.
I said something pithy, trying to sound awake. They kept talking. I squinted at my phone.
The Mute was on.
The mute button is hard to spot at that hour. Scowling, I pressed it. The phone started dialing… “beep, boop, beepbeep, boop” …I could see the conference number marching across the LCD screen.
I’d hit redial.
Is someone playing ‘Mary had a little lamb’ on their phone?” a loud irritated voice said. I waited an eternity for the dialing to stop to punch mute, and started to apologize. My dry throat croaked out a useless syllable. I coughed, and gamely checked in.
“There’s our sleeping beauty. We were looking for you earlier,” someone said, “have a nice nap?” I blamed my silence on the mute button, but stayed mute about my impromptu phone-number concert. In the pregnant pause that followed, no one challenged my dodgy answer – the unspoken consensus was clear – they all knew.
My reputation had preceded me. In the silence they were remembering the time I tried to switch phones at midnight, and killed the entire conference call.
Deep Nights and Weekends
Working the midnight-to-zero-five-hundred maintenance window is a world apart. Those who live in that sleepless domain: the Firewall Engineers, Server Admins, Network techs and Data Center 3rd shift – they all accept this eerie existence as the price paid to keep systems running.
They act and behave apart from the rest of society, made unique by living at odd hours and their knowledge of things unspoken and mysterious. They’re the Deadheads of this generation.
I don’t see myself as a poser – the one guy always trying to fit in without really being part of the crowd. But truth is, my assignment is not to do actual work, so to speak. I manage and coordinate across hard working and expert groups, each living in the unending fog of jet-lag symptoms that are part of snatching short naps between Sev3 calls, and running on empty after 30-hour continuous support “issues”.
Has anyone studied the effect of waking up to a phone call at 23:55, heart racing, to a voice asking if you’re ready to apply changes a 00:01? There must be an astronaut study or survival training guide that explains how sleep deprivation and irate IT managers can break a body down.
They’ve found funding for stuff like studying the impact of booze on fish
I’d like to see a few bucks tossed in to determine the health of this Army of Darkness, working deep nights and weekends on critical systems.
They are, after all, the sleep-deprived few who keep the lights on for the rest of us.