CXO

Job insecurity? Prepare yourself with these strategies

Outsourcing and layoffs in the IT industry are a fact of life. While you cannot necessarily prevent being laid off, you can take steps to mitigate the impact when it happens.

A recent survey conducted by Forrester Research, Inc. states that companies are less likely to outsource their database administration than any other IT functionality. Does that make you sleep better at night? Personally, my contacts in the industry continue to talk about cut backs and outsourcing at all levels, and everyone's opinion seems to be the direct opposite of the rosier picture this survey paints. So what is the real truth?

The fact of the matter is that the management in many organizations is still focused on short term profitability, and the only way many of them know how to achieve that is by cutting expenses. Furthermore, most companies have already chewed their way through those employees they have deemed "expendable" and are now faced with finding ways to eliminate as many of those that remain and still keep things running. Combine this with many technically talented individuals in economically impoverished countries who are willing to work for next to nothing, compared to U.S. salaries, and the handwriting seems to be on the wall.

Delay your departure

So how does one prevent being downsized or outsourced? The short answer is—you can't. If someone is determined to send you along that path, there is little you can do to stop it, no matter how brilliant, wise, funny, or good looking you may be.

On the other hand, while you can't stop it from happening, there are things you can do to delay your departure, influence the decision, or remain one of the last men/women standing. You can lump these strategies into personal strategies for yourself and strategies for your program, area, or department.

Department level strategies

Here is a short list of things that you should be doing that can help dissuade an outsourcing decision in your department, provided that the decision makers are looking at more than just bottom-line figures:

  • Examine your track record. Does your list of accomplishments, taken from your company's perspective, outshine your failures? Is every database project/deployment a major painful undertaking? If you don't know the answer to this, or your track record is less than stellar—you had better take a hard look as to why and learn some lessons fast. Whether or not you are performing well, a perception of poor performance is one of the fastest ways to end up on the chopping block.
  • Focus on customer service and being proactive. It is not enough anymore to just do the job—you need to do it quickly, efficiently and in a friendly manner. Nothing wrong with that—but that is not necessarily the mentality of every group in charge of database administration. Additionally, you have to get beyond the fighting fires mode of operation. A unit that spends the majority of its energies on putting out the latest fire rather than on reliable backup and recovery, performance monitoring and tuning, and disaster recovery planning will find itself looked upon less favorably in comparison to an outside competitor who claims they can do it better, faster, and smarter than you can.
    Also, even if you are the smoothest running operation and no one hears a peep out of your department because things are so good, you are not safe. Assuming that good work is acknowledged and/or appreciated on its own is a mistake. Just because things are going swimmingly does not mean that anyone takes notice. In fact, it is the nature of the database business that smooth operation means no one is screaming about something going wrong. However, you have to make some noise. Let people know how well you are doing and why. Out of sight is out of mind and people need to be reminded about good performance. Bad performance is never forgotten.
  • Perform some metrics. While this part of the business is most unpleasant to many of the technical types that get into the database field in the first place, you must keep records on your performance. Uptime, number of support calls, successful projects, cost savings, and whatever else you can think of must be documented regularly. You need to know how well you are performing and how much you cost/save. If you don't, you get the short end of the stick again when comparisons are made to that unit in Kiev or New Delhi.
  • Work smarter. Some department managers and personnel believe that what they do is too difficult to be understood and that there is some sort of job security in doing things in an older/more obtuse method because it would be hard to find someone else who can do it that way. Not the case. All that does is make you look less progressive. By all means, take advantage of whatever tools and services are available that can make you work more efficiently in order to have more time to devote to being proactive and providing excellent customer support. I realize that database professionals in general are a cautious lot, and for good reason. However, you must be willing to expand your horizons in order to take advantage of the advances that can truly make your job easier.

Additional resources from Ramon Padilla

Working with BLOBs in SQL Server
From storing pictures to the full text of a book, placing data in binary format into your database has important implications. Yet working with BLOBs is not necessarily the same as working with other data types. Check out this article for more information on working with BLOBs in SQL Server.

Oracle vs. PeopleSoft
Does anyone even care anymore? Many people have expressed the opinion that whatever is going to happen, let it happen and let's get it over with. This battle has been too drawn out and rehashed to death. But just in case you can't get enough of this soap opera, here is the latest.


Personal strategies

On a more personal level, there are three tracks that professionals can take in their careers that can affect them in a layoff or outsourcing situation. None of them are bad per se, but they have different opportunities and consequences.

  1. The first is to become super-technically competent and/or to be a super DBA, able to leap terabyte upon terabyte of data in a single bound. The upside is that this strategy may indeed help you be one of the last persons standing in a layoff situation. The downside is that in an outsourcing situation, this may not help you at all. There is always someone else out there that is, or claims to be, better than you—and they might be cheaper. In either case, if you are laid off, you are at least well positioned technically for your next job.
  2. The second is to do nothing different and to do your job as you always have and let the chips fall where they may, come layoff or outsourcing. This strategy is not a bad one necessarily, as you will probably experience less stress about your job future than someone pursuing the other paths. The consequences are also variable and depend more on your reputation and political savvy when it comes time for layoffs or outsourcing.
  3. The third path is to become more managerial and less technical, focusing on developing your management and people skills. This path has you involving yourself more in the planning and monitoring of projects; developing an understanding for formal project management methodologies; creating policy and procedure; developing a thorough understanding of your organization's operations, both technical and non technical; and, most importantly, playing a very active role with the end users. The crux of this personal strategy is to position yourself so that you can manage personnel or be a liaison to the personnel working in an outsourced environment. If not successful, you at least have a mix of technical and nontechnical skills that many employers are looking for.

Be prepared

In the short run, it is difficult to determine what course of action businesses will take with regard to cutbacks and outsourcing. Has the economy truly turned the corner? Has the debate regarding outsourcing caused enough friction to slow down the trend? Only time will tell. In the meantime, it never hurts to prepare for whatever may come next.

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