IT Career JumpStart

September 4, 2008  3:08 PM

Soft Skills (Part 3 of 4) Spoken Communications and Presentations

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Where written communications are important for lots of routine work-related tasks–for everything from e-mail, to reports, to product and personnel evaluations, research, analysis, and lots more–spoken communications are pretty important, too. For this segment of our multi-part soft skills investigation, however, I’m thinking more about speaking in front of a group of people, rather than one-on-one communications at work with bosses, executives, peers and colleagues, and possibly subordinates or direct reports as well.

Although this kind of soft skilll applies primarily to those who seek to lead or inform others, which means it applies not just to technical managers, but also to lead and senior technical staff, trainers and help or tech support professionals, and others who interact with an audience from time to time. I’m concerned that some readers may be inclined to dismiss speaking and presentation as “for managers only” but that simply isn’t so. In my own active career in corporate America from 1982 to 1994, with additional stints in 1997-1998 and 2006, I found myself giving presentations at least once a week during that entire time (on average) where I was far more likely to be presenting as a technical lead than when I was in an out-and-out management role. It’s my firm belief that any IT professional will benefit from sharpening his or her presentation skills, and will probably find a chance to exercise those skills in front of a professional audience sooner than they might think (or perhaps even wish).

As with writing, practice is one important way to improve your abilities and techniques. Practice also helps to gain experience in speaking before an audience to get speakers used to, if not overcome, the inevitable jitters known as “stage fright.” Repeated experience does provide some desensitization that will be quite welcome to those who may be more prone to this kind of thing. Overtime the state of your nerves will subside from something that might suggest an immanent panic attack to a mere flight of butterflies in your stomach. And again, I speak from plentiful direct personal experience here.

Although you can and should practice making and giving presentations as opportunities present, I’d urge those who feel they have a lot to make up for, or a lot to learn, before they can become comfortable at public speaking, to consider joining the venerable organization known as Toastmasters International. For over 84 years this organization has sponsored regular meetings to let aspiring professionals from all walks of life practice speaking skills in front of a friendly audience, and has helped many successful people develop and hone speaking and presentation skills. In fact, I think this is a great venue in which to learn because the stakes are low, the audience is supportive, and part of what Toastmasters does for its members is to provide them with lots of constructive feedback to help them improve. And if you live in or near a metro area in the US, the odds are very high that there’s a Toastmasters International chapter within driving distance of where you live and work.

Sure, you can (and probably should) accept the occasional speaking or presentation assignment at work. But until you have the chance to try yourself out and get some experience in getting up in front of an audience and interacting with them as a speaker or presenter, Toastmasters may be a better situation in which to start down this road. Then, you can do the roughest polishing and give yourself some opportunities to learn from your own mistakes and those of the other fledgling presenters who will be part of your cohort at Toastmasters, instead of jumping feetfirst into the corporate boardroom or classroom.

Over time, as you get more comfortable, you’ll be more naturally inclined to go for speaking or presenting opportunities at work. If you show some aptitude for this kind of thing, chances are pretty good that the number of opportunities coming your way will increase. It’s also likely that doors to jobs where speaking and presenting is a big part of the position (training, product demos, pre-sales technical support, trade show duty, and so forth) may open to you as well.

Please, give this a try. It can’t hurt, and it will certainly give you some interesting things to do and learn along the way to developing basic speaking and presentation skills. And who knows: it may bring your opportunities that might never otherwise have come your way.


September 1, 2008  2:52 PM

Soft Skills (Part 2 of 4): Written Communications

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

It’s no exaggeration to say that written communications are important to nearly every job. This is especially true or IT, where reports, analyses, evaluations, and even plain, humble e-mail messages, are part of the regular grind. Though it’s rare to hear of IT professionals garnering promotions or new jobs solely on the basis of writing ability, a knack for clear, cogent communication never hurt anybody’s prospects.

I’ll assume you buy into the idea that improving written communications is good for you and your career development. What can you do to boost yourself in this all-important area? You must look for opportunities to exercise and improve on this ability. For laughs and reinforcement, remember the old punchline about how to get to Carnegie Hall–namely: “Practice, practice, practice.”

That said, constant repetition of bad habits only reinforces them, so there’s another ingredient that must come into play to make sure that practice leads you in the right direction (toward improving your writing skills, that is). This ingredient is feedback. You can provide some of this feedback to yourself, in fact, if you’re willing to take the time and expend the energy. This means running spelling and grammar checker tools on your text to make sure you’re not breaking obvious rules (and you’ll find that even tools such as Microsoft Word can be helpful ). It also means taking the time to re-read your writing and to ask yourself if your writing is reasonably clear, accurate, and compact.

Feedback from others is also good, because it exposes you to input and points of view that you might not come up with on your own. This goes double if you can enlist the support of someone who’s a better writer than you are, who sees your weaknesses and failings, and helps you overcome them. As somebody who’s trained more than a dozen practicing IT professionals to write professionally, let me recount the five most common failings that such people must often overcome:

  1. Passive voice: a terrible affliction among academics and professionals of all stripes, those who want to improve must learn to recognize the passive voice and learn how to make their writing more direct
  2. Inverted sentences: Many inexperienced writers like to put the object before the subject in their sentences. State your subject first, then modify or explore it afterwards, for clear exposition.
  3. Misuse of apostrophes: Especially when distinguishing the possessive of it (its) from the contraction for “it is” (it’s), aspiring writers often tend to use apostrophes when they shouldn’t, and fail to use them when they should. As a start, expanding all contractions that might involve an apostrophe is a good way to steer clear of such errors.
  4. Organize your thoughts: especially in educational materials, but more generally in any kind of expository writing, the old “tell ’em three times” approach remains a good one. Lead into your subject material by describing what you plan to communicate (tell ’em once). This also has the advantage of providing a map of what lies ahead. Next, cover your subjects one at a time, in the same order you laid out in the initial description (tell ’em again, in detail this time). Finally, summarize your key points to complete your coverage (tell ’em a third time, and leave them with the most important information reinforced).
  5. Keep it simple: when you review your work (which is probably the most important activity you can perform to sharpen and maintain writing skills), ask yourself: “Is this sentence too long?” “Do I really need to use this many words?” “Am I getting my points across?” If you always seek to communicate as quickly and effectively as possible, you can count on keeping your readers’ attention, and occasionally, on earning their gratitude for not wasting their time.

One of the best ways to improve writing skills is to take a writing class. Most local community colleges offer evening or weekend classes to accommodate workaday schedules. Most of them also cover a variety of topics at reasonable prices, including technical writing, business communications, and even creative writing. A class puta you in contact with a trained professional (your teacher) who can provide regular feedback. If you’re lucky, you’ll learn some new techniques and better communication skills by example along the way, but at a minimum you should receive detailed, informative feedback on your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. This lets you to build on the former, and work to correct or overcome the latter, both of which should help you improve.

If taking a class doesn’t fit your schedule, consider acquriing and working through some books to help you boost your skills. That old Strunk and White standby, The Elements of Style, remains as relevant today as it was nearly 50 years ago when it first appeared in print. Other useful titles you might consider include:

  1. Only as Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary Gurus by Susan Shapiro (Paperback – Sep 28, 2007)
  2. In the Middle: New Understanding About Writing, Reading, and Learning (Workshop Series) by Nancie Atwell (Paperback – Feb 11, 1998)
  3. Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works(Interactive Technologies) by Janice (Ginny) Redish (Paperback – Jun 11, 2007)
  4. Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers (Hardcover – Jul 2000)
  5. The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well by Paula LaRocque (Paperback – Sep 1, 2003)

A final piece of advice: a writing book is deeply personal. Rather than buying any or all of these titles on the strength of my recommendation alone, hoist yourself out of your chair and check them out at a nearby bookstore. You may not like any of them, but you should be in that section of the bookstore where you can browse for others that may be more to your taste.


August 29, 2008  2:18 PM

The Importance of Soft Skills (Part 1 of 4 Parts)

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Soft skills have a lot to do with career opportunities and development, just as do harder technical skills. What’s this distinction mean? Soft skills refer to abilities that make people better employees, and open doors to opportunities, that aren’t directly related to the subject matter for their jobs. In simpler language, soft skills refer to a person’s ability to relate to others, to get him- or herself (and possibly others) organized, to communicate in written, spoken or other forms, to conduct research or gather information about various topics as assigned, and so forth.

Soft skills might be considered the things you should know how to do to do your best at any job, no matter what that specific job might be. Soft skills also explain why college degrees are valued credentials for job candidates: it takes 2 to 4 years to earn most degrees (excluding the very top tier for PhD, MD, and so on). To earn a degree, candidates must possess the ability to learn, to tackle a broad range of subject matter, to possess at least minimal communications skills that include a fair amount of writing and perhaps also some spoken or presented materials, and to dig into a subject (their major) to a considerable level of detail.

Though this recasting of the degree isn’t meant to overlook or downplay the importance of a chosen field of study, nor to negate the idea that some majors are more valuable (and usally also more difficult) than others, my idea here is to illustrate how soft skills add value to the degree as a pretty substantial credential. Considering the time, effort, and expense involved in earning a degree, it should also help to compare and contrast the respective value of a degree versus most IT certifications. While some very special credentials, such as the Cisco CCIE and SAP consulting certs, can claim some degree of parity with a degree, most IT certs fall significantly lower on the ladder of perceived value, importance, and difficulty involved.

In my next three blogs, I will focus on the same number of soft skills that I believe serious IT professionals would all do well to cultivate further:

  1. Written communications
  2. Spoken communications and presentations
  3. Project management

I will explore the value for each such skill, explain some techniques to assess your current skills levels and capabilities, and suggest some possible approaches or activities to improve your standing for each one. Hopefully, this will be not only useful and informative, but also interesting and perhaps even stimulating enough to provoke some follow-through.

Also, please don’t forget that if you have questions, comments, or suggestions for other topics that I might address you can post them here, or e-mail them to me at As always, thanks for your time and attention.


August 27, 2008  2:17 PM

7 Questions for Highly Effective Career or Certification Advice

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

When people ask me for career advice, especially as it touches on IT certification, their questions often cut straight to the subject of interest as in “If I earn a A+, Network+, and a CCNA can I get a good job?” Alas, I really can’t provide meaningful answers to such questions without a fair amount of additional information to consider. Here is a sample list of questions, to which I will add over time, that advice-seekers would be well-advised to answer before raising such questions, whether they want answers from me or from somebody else:

1. What is your educational background? High school diploma? Associate’s degree? Bachelor’s degree? Graduate degree(s)? Please also briefly describe any incomplete progress on any of these items (for example “two years of computer science grad courses, 2/3 of MS completed”).

2. What is your prior work experience? How many years of work, and what kind of work have you done? Any volunteer work? Part-time work in school or elsewhere? (You’d be surprised how much value employers give to those who show evidence of being able to hold a job, and how much credit they give to people willing to work for nothing as volunteers or part-time to get experience in their chosen fields.)

3. Where do you live? What is the job market like there? How much opportunity for entry-level people? mid-career people? senior people?

4. Are you interested in working in management, or would you prefer to stay on a technical track? Have you ever done any project management (and again, school, part-time, and volunteer experience all help)?

5. What kinds of certifications interest you? Please describe any certification held, currency status (if applicable), and when earned.

6. Do your long-term career goals include staying in your current position (or in the same field as the next position you’re seeking, if applicable)?

7. What kind of job are you doing now? What kind of job would you like to be doing? How important is salary to you? How important is job satisfaction? If you could have any job at all, what would that be?

With answers to these questions, I get to know something about the person as well as the various options they may be pondering. This helps me to provide answers that have a better chance of helping both in the short and long terms, and that can be tailored to their specific location, circumstances, needs, and goals.

I hope this makes sense, and that future advice seekers will understand why it’s very helpful to me, and ultimately to them, to provide this kind of data.


August 25, 2008  2:44 PM

Despite the cautions, and the evidence, hopes remain unfounded and unbounded

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

This morning I found a message in my inbox from one of the readers of these blogs. I will paraphrase its contents as follows: “I am interested in a career in networking. I am taking A+ classes, after which I plan to earn Network+ and then the CCNA. Please tell me I am on the right track: although I have no university degree, I would like to believe I have some chances of landing a good job and of developing a good career. What do you think?”

Let me start off with the answer I sent in response to this inquiry: “Although obtaining the A+, Network+, then CCNA will get you off to a good start, these are all entry-level IT certifications. At best, they will qualify you for an entry-level position. Your prospects will vary to a large extent upon where in the world you are located, and what your local job market is like. Here in the United States, for example, the certs you are pursuing might be helpful, and they might not be helpful, because the entry-level job market is *very* competitive. On the other hand, a college degree here is probably even more useful than those credentials, because of its higher cost, longer time commitment, and broader range of required subject matter. If you’d care to tell me more about your work background, your location, and your actual job aspirations, I can probably respond in kind.”

Entering the IT job market is tough all over, and the degree to which certification helps is probably related to several factors:
1. how unique their possession is among the application population
2. how much real-world experience goes along with the certs
3. how much real-world experience those certs represent to the hiring manager, HR professionals, and others involved in the hiring decision
4. how many other candidates do have college degrees and/or real-world experience to offer instead of IT certifications

I have to believe that certification can do some good, and that an applicant with these certifications plus no degree and no real-world experience is preferable to a candidate with “none of the above,” so to speak. But then, the real question still remains: “Where does this profile position the candidate amidst the pool of applicants?” If it positions him or her in the top echelons, then earning those certifications is probably beneficial. If it does not, then their benefit becomes more questionable.

That’s why I believe it’s important to work through the ROI calculations I describe in my recent blog on that subject, and why one of my recent blogs is entitled “Why Entry-Level Certs Aren’t Enough to Get You a Job.”

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in the human breast, even among aspiring IT professionals. Likewise, the continuing marketing efforts and advertisements from certification sponsors continue to amplify that all-too-human tendency to hope for the very best from one’s outlays of time, effort, and money in developing a career. But one must be tough and hard-boiled in calculating whether or not the risks and costs will be offset by at least equivalent rewards, if not something better than that!

In my next post, I’m going to provide a list of questions that individuals should answer if they want to ask me or other career experts for help in deciding their futures and their fates. As I get these e-mails, and read these postings, I keep thinking “Need More Information” as I figure out how to respond to those queries. To that end, I’m going to provide a template that should help interested individuals not only ask for, but get, at least some of the help they seek.


August 18, 2008  3:23 PM

Understanding what drives IT salaries

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

On the IT Knowledge Exchange, I recently fielded the following question “What is the basic salary given to a starting network employee with CCNA and MCSE certifications?”

There are lots of factors that go into answering salary questions with any degree of specificity, which explains why my answer was pretty vague, and why the range of numbers provided ($35K-85K per year) was also pretty large. Just to give you an idea of what kind of information is needed to produce a more precise and meaningful answer, here’s a list of things this person might have told me to get a narrower and more relevant number range in reply:

  1. Location: local cost of living has a profound impact on pay.
  2. Education: number and type of degrees has a significant impact on pay.
  3. Certifications: number and type of certs can have some impact on pay, depending on which ones and how current they are.
  4. Experience: number of years of work experience, and type of work experience, even if irrelevant to the job at hand (as you might expect for an entry-level IT job) can still have an impact on salary offers. Same thing applies to prior military or long-term volunteer experience, such as Job Corps, Peace Corps, and so forth.
  5. Technical Skills and Knowledge: If a job calls for or might benefit from specific skills or knowledge, a candidate who possesses such skills or knowledge can’t help but be perceived and valued more highly than one who does not.

If you look at good IT salary surveys, such as the annual reports from Certification Magazine or, you’ll see that they take most, if not all, of these factors into account when they report on the “salary value” of various IT certifications. Likewise, if you read reports from companies that specialize in compensation information, such as Foote Partners, you’ll see they dig even more deeply into these kinds of relevant details.

It’s just another illustration of the old principle “The more you put in, the more you get back out.” This applies to researching salaries for IT positions, just as it does for many other things in life.


August 15, 2008  3:08 PM

Calculating Certification ROI

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Enough readers have commented on pros, cons, and costs of certification that I wanted to throw a calculation tool into the hopper. Whenever you consider spending time, effort, and money on career development or enhancement it’s a really good idea to use standard “return on investment” techniques to calculate your payoff (or lack thereof) from those things.

Here’s how:
1. Add up all the direct costs for obtaining the certification. This will almost always mean one or two books to prep for your exam, plus the cost of the exam itself. It can also include costs for practice tests, training (classroom, online, DVD, and so forth), and getting to the exam center to take the exam (for example, CCIE lab exams are administered at 10 Cisco sites around the world, so candidates must add travel and lodging costs to the not-inconsiderable costs for the exam itself, unless they’e lucky enough to live within driving distance of one of those test centers). This is your “out of pocket” cost for the certification, and requires you to spend those dollars. For the CCNA, for example, the two-test option involves $250 for exam costs, along with a more hypothetical $100 for books, and $150 for practice tests, for a total of $500.
2. Estimate the time it’s going to take you to prepare for and take the exam. It’s rare to find a cert that requires less than 100 hours of preparation, and more demanding certs can easily require 400-500 hours of preparation. Put a value on an hour of your time (the standard approach is to divide your current annual salary by 2080, or the number of working hours in a year) and multiply by that number. This is your “time cost” for the certification. Let’s say your time is worth $35 and hour, and you plan to spend 100 hours preparing for the CCNA. That cost is then $3,500.
3. Other costs: you have to drive around to get to a test center and back home again, and possibly also to pick up exam materials. Let’s say the CCNA costs for this kind of thing come to $40, including 100 miles of driving for various purposes.

OK, your total cost for this effort is $4,100. Your return on that investment is the amount of additional earnings that obtaining the certification will provide for you. Purely as an illustration, let’s assume you work at a company that picks up your cert exam and materials costs ($500), and that earning the CCNA gets you a 7% raise ($2.45 an hour). You’ll earn an extra $5096 in the year following your CCNA, and you get reimbursed for your $500 for direct costs. That adds up to $5596 in benefits versus $4,100 in total costs. Your ROI is the ratio of benefit to cost, or 36.48%. Nearly everybody would agree that this is a pretty handsome and compelling ROI.

But if instead the cert leads to no pay increase, or opportunities for a new and better paying job, your $4,100 in costs will produce a benefit of only $500, which means you lose $3,600 on the deal. Only you can decide if you’re willing to spend the time (worth $3,500, but yours to spend any way you like) and the other costs ($100) to earn that bit of alphabet soup next to your name. For some people, it’s a welcome way to keep sharpening technical skills and knowledge, and a way to keep learning new and interesting stuff. But if you think of certification as a chore rather than something worthwhile in its own right, you may want to steer clear.

BTW, this approach works for just about any kind of career development activity you may care to undertake (or at least want to think about undertaking). In some cases, the payoff will be tangible and you can make or break the case purely by the numbers. In most cases, however, you’ll have to decide if the intrinsic worth of the learning, activity, and effort involved offsets the value of the time you must put in to see things through to completion. Only you can decide if the answer is “Yes” or “No,” but hopefully, I’ve given you some techniques you can use to quantify the exercise. The ultimate key lies in the value you put on your time, and the opportunity cost to you by spending that time one way (on certification) rather than another (entertainment, family, relaxation, or whatever else you like to do).

August 13, 2008  3:00 PM

Why Entry-Level Certs Aren’t Enough to Get You a Job

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Pick a popular entry-level IT certification, I don’t care which one: MCP (Microsoft single-exam credential, Microsoft Certified Professional), any major CompTIA cert (A+, Network+, Security+,…), CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), and so forth. For each of these items, and others I don’t mention as well, I often find myself involved in answering questions that might be summarized as “Let’s assume I earn the . What kind of job will that get me?”

Before I respond to this question, let me make some observations about IT jobs in the civilized world:
1. Right now, it’s an employer’s market. That means employers currently enjoy the upper hand over prospective job candidates, in the sense that there are more candidates looking for jobs, than there are jobs looking for candidates. This goes double for entry-level jobs.
2. IT Certification, especially at the entry level, has become a “checkbox item” for individuals, rather than a “differentiator.” In simpler language, this means employers often expect candidates to hold certain certifications, and find those expectations met rather more often than not, rather than being able to pick outstanding candidates on the basis of whether or not they hold certain certifications. Again, this goes double for entry-level jobs, especially now that so many associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs include certification opportunities or requirements along with the rest of their degree plans.
3. Employers want people with degrees, certifications, AND experience. Anyone who’s lacking in any of these areas is automatically a less attractive job candidate. Paradoxically, the experience criterion even applies to entry-level positions, where a lack of experience is not supposed to matter, but often does matter a lot.

How should aspiring and active IT professionals look at entry-level certs in this light? My answer: “Purely as stepping stones. Treat any other additional benefits as pure gravy, and expect nothing from these credentials.” Entry-level certs have always been designed to certify minimal skills, knowledge, and competence and that’s really how employers treat them nowadays. Gone are the go-go days of the late 90s and early part of this century when any certification looked like a sure ticket to a good job, or a key ingredient for hopping from a current position to a new one.

OK, it’s still the case that certain certs–such as the CISSP, CCIE, SAP Consulting, and so forth–are indeed enough to make the difference between landing a job and missing out on an offer. But entry-level certs appear nowhere in this list, nor are they likely to make this grade any time soon, barring a radical and global economic upturn.

Does this mean that entry-level certs have no value, or that you can skip them? The answer to both of these queries is “No,” and both ultimately point to where the value of entry-level certs really come from–namely, what kinds of things they entitle you to learn and earn next. Hence the term “stepping stone.” Unless you plan to climb to the next rung in a multi-step program that treats a particular cert as a pre-requisite or that satisfies certain component requirements, it may not be worth spending the time, effort, and money needed to acquire one.

‘Nuff said.


August 11, 2008  5:55 PM

The Positive Power of Military-issue Security Clearance

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In some of the email that my recent blog posts have stimulated, one reader bewailed his lack of job opportunities. Then, he informed me he was (a) ex-millitary, (b) moving to the DC area, and (c) interested in computer security. He already works in IT, as you might exepect from somebody who would tune in on my blog in the first place. Given his combination of background and experience, I raised the question: “Did you ever get a security clearance?” to which his response can be fairly represented as “Yes, I had a Secret clearance but that was years ago.”

Guess what? Given the increasing role of security in government contracts and consulting, and the wide availability of related jobs that require or benefit from security clearance, any military issue security clearance is pretty valuable nowadays. Assuming your track record hasn’t picked up anything that might disqualify you from re-upping said clearance (criminal conviction, bad credit, bankruptcy, or other blots on your escutcheon) in the meantime, obtaining clearance once already usually means it’s much faster, cheaper, and easier for you to get another clearance or to renew your previous clearance with the Feds.

Companies, especially those like the so-called Beltway Bandits (companies based in Virginia and Maryland along or near 495 aka “The Beltway”) really like to hire ex-military personnel who have already qualified for security clearances for security related IT positions. This can be a great ticket to career advancement, and offers a great way for ex-military folks with IT backgrounds or interest to find interesting, good-paying jobs, and for service personnel currently involved in IT related positions to make a smooth and successful transition back to civilian life.

Here’s what else I told that reader, specifically regarding finding work in the DC Metro area: “Be sure to get the Washington Post and scour the classified in the Engineering/Technical section. Join the ISSA ( and get active in the DC area local chapters (they probably have separate ones for DC, Maryland, and VA): they offer great networking and job posting leads.” The only downside is that the DC Metro area has experienced major growth since Bush came into office, with traffic congestion, long commutes, and skyrocketing real estate prices and rental rates to match that growth. But if you’re willing to stomach these not inconsiderable issues, those with security clearances interested in information security jobs could do a lot worse than to follow this advice.

I sincerely hope that somebody, somewhere finds this information interesting, if not actually worthwhile. Drop me an e-mail at and let me know either way.


August 8, 2008  8:51 PM

Just say “Yes!” to JumpStart!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Thanks to the email link in my blogs, and through my profile, I’ve received quite a bit more email from “interested parties” for my first couple of blogs than I ever expected. Therefore, let me continue with my thanks to those of you who took the time to respond to my postings and to share your concerns with me, especially when it comes to revitalizing an IT career, or finding new ways to bring work and avocation together.

If there is a single concern I heard throughout these communications, it has to do with keeping one’s technical knowledge bases sharp and relevant. And although some younger members of the audience indicated a desire to maximize their income potential as a paramount driver, respondents across the board appeared equally interested in improving their professional value as the best means of preserving their current positions, and preparing to advance into new ones.

I have to agree that what you know how to do, and do well, is what’s most likely to keep you ensconced in your current position, and very possibly, to open doors into new opportunities. It always bothers me when entry-level people want to know what niches in the IT profession currently pay best, with the obvious intention of steering their careers in that direction. Alas, by the time somebody gets to such a goal–assuming, for the sake of discussion that this may take from three to ten years–the composition of the IT market may very well have changed substantially, and yesterday’s leading niches may have turned into today’s ho-hum humdrum positions. The real evergreens are few and far between, and can be difficult to spot (and to attain as well).

That’s why I always encourage people to follow their interests, and even their passions, when it comes to planning career development and growth paths. Just as the intrinsic interest (or lack thereof) in the work you do continues long after your most current raise or promotion ceases to register on your personal radar, so also does following your interests lead you in directions that you’re less likely to resist as time goes by and you find yourself in the middle or even into the closing phases of your working life.

When I was young, I was told to get a college degree, and possibly even several of them, because those degrees carry enduring value. “It doesn’t matter what you major in,” said my Dad, “You won’t be working in that area in 10 or 20 years anyway.” He was right. But some of the things that interested me then still interest me today, and by following them, and cultivating the skills and needed to turn them into paying professional skills continues to keep me gainfully and happily employed to this day. And those degrees I earned did indeed open doors for me that I might not have gotten through, even if those jobs I took on had nothing to do with my former field of study (anthropology).

In the blogs that follow, I hope you’ll keep this notion of following your interests or passions in mind as you explore various ways to pursue professional and technical development. You won’t be able to help developing as a person as well at the same time you’re developing a professional life and career. If you’re lucky, you’ll find ways to make the personal, the professional, and the technical converge. If there’s a sweet spot for career growth and development, that’s the spot you want to hit!

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