Troubleshooting your IT career

Has your career locked up? Are you having trouble deciding what your next career step should be? In this Guild Meeting, career counselor Kevin Rosenberg answered questions on how to troubleshoot your IT career.

Has your career locked up? Are you having trouble deciding what your next career step should be? On June 8, career counselor Kevin Rosenberg answered questions on how to troubleshoot your IT career. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting.

Has your career locked up? Are you having trouble deciding what your next career step should be? On June 8, career counselor Kevin Rosenberg answered questions on how to troubleshoot your IT career. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

Welcome to the Guild Meeting
MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Guild Meeting. Tonight we have a special guest—Kevin Rosenberg from Bridgegate LLC.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Perhaps that's my cue... Good evening, it's good to be here.

MODERATOR: Kevin is going to talk a little about developing and managing a career path vs. just doing a job. Also, tonight we'll be giving away a set of two TechRepublic mugs to the most active participants.

Now remember, Kevin can't tell which certificate is better than another, but he can answer those nagging career questions that we all face.

What is Bridgegate?
KEVIN ROSENBERG: Hi, perhaps I should introduce myself. For 11 years, I have been in executive search for tech companies. Since 1995, I have been a partner and co-owner of Bridgegate LLC, one of the top 25 search firms in the United States.

Our competency is placing mid- through senior-level IT industry pros, including directors, VPs, and CIOs. In addition to tech, we place sales, marketing, engineering, HR, and finance pros for dot-com companies and established tech companies.

Common IT career mistakes
MODERATOR: Kevin, what are the typical mistakes most people make in planning their careers?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: I understand that the forum tonight is about mistakes a person can make in his or her IT career. Unfortunately, the mistakes are bountiful, but due to the great market we have nationally, the mistakes are often self-correcting. The fact is, though, that the most common mistake is letting your career happen vs. taking an active role in managing your career.

Perhaps there are some questions I can address directly rather than pontificating about mistakes not germane to this audience...

GJANI: Could you give examples of some of the mistakes you've seen that stand out?

YYGAGNON: As I understand, one of the biggest mistakes can be to badly plan your career; can you give us some ref. about planning it (career plan, etc.)?

TLSNC: That may be what many of us have done, though. I know for myself I am in IT because I was "thrown into it" when no one else could handle it.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: At an individual level, Yganon, there is no right answer. Many IT pros take a job, work until they stop growing or developing, and then make a job change. They rarely respond to opportunity. They do not generally seek out their next challenge; rather some triggering event causes them to "look." I submit that goals should be set and timelines established. If you are not meeting or exceeding your goals, seek other pathways. Don’t let your career happen—make it happen.

What is the job market like?
TLSNC: Kevin, is it getting easier to place IT people or harder?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: That’s a double-edged question... the demand is significantly higher for programmer/netadmin to CIO, but the supply is low.

The balance during recessionary times is skewed toward candidates looking for work. With today’s hyper growth, there is more job creation than there are candidates in flux or open to change.

JMACAULAY: Kev, is the current hype about the shortage of IT help just an excuse to allow more immigration?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: The hype is real... more jobs are being created and the supply does not meet demand. Period.

Should I be certified?
YYGAGNON: Is certification necessary for someone with more than ten years of experience?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: YYgagnon, I am not a fan of certification without substance. I am much more fond of the Cisco engineer who has worked with the product for two years but wanted to get better than the hair stylist that chose a new career path and paid 5K for Cisco training.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.
TLSNC: How do we market ourselves now? I would like to change, but I can't seem to get away from the hardware side.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Tlsnc, the best way to change is to affect change in your own company. Take on added responsibility, build your resume, and bolster your expertise with training and courses that you can apply to your employer’s benefit. You are a known entity to your company; they are more likely going to work with you than hire outside if you show proficiency.

GJANI: Kevin, what should one consider when planning a change in the career?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Giani, consider the company’s track record for investing in people, their current technology—is it current? Ask why the job is open. If it’s due to promotion, that’s good, but if someone has left, that’s bad.

Waiting until the time is right
STORM: Kevin, if you were very unhappy in your job and the work environment was very unhealthy, would you be harming your career to get out of the situation and do something unrelated until you could find something else? Or does this gap look bad to a potential employer?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Storm, don’t jump ship unless you have something better/more rewarding to go to. Vacant spots on the resume are hard to explain.

STORM: Well, I recently did find something better, but I had really been wanting out for a while, and wondered how much it would have hurt me. Thanks.

Hiring across the border
YYGAGNON: I'm a Canadian, do you know if it's really easy for me to work in the United States now?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: YYganon, I know that NAFTA made it easier, and I believe the process is simple, but check with the consulate or INS.

Tips for getting a new job
TLSNC: Kevin, that brings up another question then. What resume tips can you give us that will get us noticed?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Write a substantive resume that lists what you actually did; don’t use any fluff or adjectives that you wouldn’t use in daily conversation. Describe your job. Period. You won’t get jobs you shouldn’t get, but you won’t get overlooked for the ones you should.

SPITTSLE: What can you do if you have years of experience in one area of IT but want to move into another?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: That’s a broad sweeping question. As I said before, you will find the path of least resistance in your own employer’s shop. If it’s an interviewing issue, I recommend drawing correlation from one technology or experience to another, for example, COBOL and C+ are just languages... once you know one you can learn another.

TLSNC: That has worked for me for years. The trick is having the confidence in myself to pull it off, yet again.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Tlsnc, for eleven years and over 500 placements in IT, I have seen it work.

SPITTSLE: But what if there are no openings? Would you be better off waiting, or should you look elsewhere?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Spittsle, wait but more importantly create. Identify an opportunity, think outside the box, take initiative—show your employer you are capable of more. Let the situation evolve.

Should I stay or should I go?
JMACAULAY: I've read in TechRepublic articles that it is a bad idea to take a job and still continue to search for another one. What is your opinion on this? I've recently started my first IT job, which I like very much, but the pay sucks. Am I wrong to continue to look for better?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Macaulay, get the experience... that’s priceless, especially if you are doing worthwhile things with contemporary technology.

STORM: Okay, here's a really touchy subject. I was subjected to a great deal of harassment in my last position, some of it sexual (very blatant and very lewd), and some of my colleagues and friends said to bring charges against that manager, but I was afraid to because I didn't know what it would do to my career. Would something like that label me in the industry here?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Storm, I don’t have any expertise in this are, but I recommend being cautious.

STORM: Now that I'm out of that company, I didn't think it was a good idea to pursue, but a friend keeps urging me otherwise, saying that now there aren't any repercussions, would you agree?

JMACAULAY: I see some of that too in my shop; groping and feels...I'm new, so...

Follow your heart not your wallet
SPITTSLE: Do you think that it would be a mistake to pass on a promotion that is logically in line with a preset career path so that you can focus on another area of IT?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Spittsle, that depends on what you feel about your current path. If you need a change and dislike your current path, to step sideways or back may open up a whole new path and set of opportunities. Remember that the money always works out for the right individual.

SPITTSLE: I agree that you should do what interests you. But it's assumed that my career will follow a set path. I am on track to being promoted in the networking group, yet I want to go toward WAN. The manager for both teams will probably not look kindly to my passing up a promotion. Any ideas?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Spittsle, First, take control of the path and second, agree to the promotion with the caveat that you be afforded the opportunity to do more. Who would turn down that offer?

GJANI: That's a pretty good idea.

SPITTSLE: I don't really trust the manager. He's said many things to many people that didn't happen. I guess I'm more concerned with the manager than the job. I like both positions, but just want to follow one specific direction.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Spittsle, follow your heart of course (not the money) but document everything. If the manager won’t, meet with him, take notes, and reiterate the notes in an e-mail in which you request his/her verification of your understanding. Of course carbon copying someone else is also a powerful tool.

SPITTSLE: Good ideas, thanks. Do you think it would be a mistake to work for someone who you don't like/trust?

GJANI: Spittsle, I understand your position about management issues? If possible get the stuff in writing; I mean some sort of contract. This way things are clearly spelled out.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Spittsle... time heals all wounds. Think about it: If you don’t trust him/her, perhaps others don’t too. It will catch up.

SPITTSLE: Not many people do trust him.

GJANI: Spittsle, if you like the company you work for and the job you do, then as the speaker said, just wait and see how things go.

What’s hot in IT?
TLSNC: What are the "hot" areas for those of us wanting to move from desktop/network support? I have been considering putting more energy into Windows 2000 and/or Web site design/Java scripting.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Tlsnc, the big one now is Net security with all the Web transactions. The other is network engineering, routers, switches, etc.

TLSNC: Ok, thanks. However that is not a direction I want to go right now or anytime soon.

YYGAGNON: Do you think we can continue to grow in a techie job, or at some time will I have to consider a management one (project leader, CIO, etc.)?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: YYgagnon, years ago management was inevitable. Today the super techs are valued and well compensated, thus the creation of the CTO.

YYGAGNON: Is technical position regarding Oracle Financials in demand too? Is the demand for Oracle DBA really good now (I mean in the United States)?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: YYgagnon, unbelievable demand both Oracle and SQL.

TLSNC: How is the field for technical trainers?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Tlsnc, we see it as flat and increasingly becoming part of the HR function unless it’s with a SW company. It is not the hottest area, though, with the Web and CDs able to do it cheaper.

TLSNC: I do like to train new people.

Gaining job experience
JMACAULAY: I'm working first-level help desk and wonder what is a reasonable time to put in there before agitating for a move?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Macaulay, first-level techs typically stay 9-24 months, but get the most experience you can.

WELL: What is the main factor to change jobs—money, company, benefits, or job opportunity?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Well, no single factor weighs more heavily on an IT career than a company that has stopped investing in technology and their people. If you are in a company that has not invested in technology for four or more years, shine up the resume. All the above reasons are good ones, but investment in people and technology come first.

WELL: The situation is like this: If the company is investing in tech but we don’t have a chance to participate, it is very painful.

MODERATOR: Well, are you being downsized?

WELL: No, but recent economy crisis have some effect. Most companies have to cut their budgets.

SPITTSLE: Kevin, do you recommend a mentor to help folks in Macaulay's position get to a higher-level position?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Spittsle, it’s probably too soon to appoint a mentor. He probably has one but the mentor has not been identified yet.

SPITTSLE: Thanks for the answers Kevin, and everyone else. See ya.

GJANI: Good luck Spittsle.

Where is the market headed?
YYGAGNON: Can we think about jobs in IT decreasing in the near future (five-ten years)?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Ygagnon, probably not.

TLSNC: Kevin, we really never let you give us any tips on setting our career path vs. the next higher paying job. Care to comment now?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Tlsnc, each individual has to set his or her own goals. Some aspire to more than others. But if I can say anything, evaluate what you want from your career and constantly monitor your progress.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: If your path is leading you to your goals Tslc, then stay on it (hell apply the throttle), but if it is not, get the next job. Unfortunately, too many bad moves make you a "job hopper," which may permanently derail your plans. Thus I recommend doing your homework. Some of the best placements I’ve made were when people took pay cuts to do great things, not the inverse.

WELL: If you like to learn more technology, it is better to join a big company that has huge investments in IT, correct? Especially if it is a company that provides training.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Not always, Well. In fact, a small company with good current investment may expose you to more than a narrow job in a big company, especially if they provide training.

STORM: Well, I'd agree with that. If for no other reason than you would have a bunch of mentors to learn from.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Storm, good point. A mentor is crucial. In fact, many of today’s most prolific execs have paid coaches and mentors. I do and I have benefited greatly.

STORM: I just moved into a company like that. I have learned more in the last week and a half about anything I wanted to know, including stuff over and above that required for my position, than I did in two years at the place I was formerly at.

TLSNC: Storm, those are the best kind of positions. Congrats.

STORM: I find that with mentors and such, that the experience itself is much fuller as well. The environment is more enjoyable, and the learning easier, and more relaxed.

WELL: But it is not easy. Every company does not train employees, because they are afraid the employees will resign after that.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Well, it’s not easy at all times for all people, but there are opportunities out there if the one you have does not meet your needs. Just be patient. Storm, a company’s culture either supports people and their development or views them (people) as expendable, which is very 80's. Today, in the knowledge worker era and knowledge management era, companies are more likely to provide a supportive environment.

Tracking down a good employer
TLSNC: Kevin, how do we find those type of companies?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Tlsnc, try word of mouth, a great recruiter, and networking with others.

TLSNC: OK, thanks. Know any great recruiters in the Asheville, North Carolina area?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: No, sorry. I know there are some good national chains like Interim and General Employment, but they work at the lower levels I think.

STORM: One thing I recommend is let everyone you trust know you're looking. That's how I got this job. It really is who you know in this field. And the more people that know you want something better, the more exposure you have.

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Storm... that is absolutely correct. About 20 percent of all jobs are filled by internal referrals and networking!

WELL: Can you give an example of a good company?

MODERATOR: Well, are you looking for examples of companies that make those commitments to their employees?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Well, I can’t for every region of the country, but there are books that list best places to work.

Involving your boss in your career
WELL: There is another question: If the boss/head does not care about commitment, should you prepare to leave?

MODERATOR: Well, do you mean if the boss isn't committed to your development, should you leave?


KEVIN ROSENBERG: Well, it’s you who need to be committed to your development first and then you should involve your boss in your objectives. Give him/her an opportunity to meet you needs first.

Do I need a degree?
JMACAULAY: Kev, how realistic is it to expect advancement in IT without a college degree?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Macaulay, it’s plausible but restricted (to a degree). For every exec without a degree, there are 100 with, but for certain factions in IT, not having a degree won't hold you back too much. If you read my column on TechRepublic you know I am very focused on the importance of education.

TLSNC: Jmacaulay, although I do have a degree (in early childhood education), it has not stopped me from moving to more and more responsibility or opportunity.

Tell the truth and nothing but the truth
STORM: How does a person compete with people who exaggerate their experience on their resume/in an interview, without lying on their resumes too?

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Storm, it comes out even. The resumes that exaggerate to get the foot in the door are usually flushed out in deep interviews. Don’t succumb.

Until next time…
MODERATOR: Wow! This has been a great meeting, but we're getting short of time, so I'm going to have to wrap it up.

MODERATOR: Let's give a special round of applause to Kevin!

KEVIN ROSENBERG: Thanks everyone. Email me through TechRepublic if you have specific questions.

MODERATOR: Maybe we can talk Kevin into coming back! Kevin has a regular column on TechRepublic, so be sure to check it out!

KEVIN ROSENBERG: It’s at, and it’s called career compass.

MODERATOR: Meanwhile, you folks were great tonight. Thanks, everyone.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

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