Working as the only computer dude in a small business certainly has its perks but one of them is usually not a high rate of pay. It's easy enough to get the job if you are halfway decent at what you do. To most of the employees in a small company you walk on water when it comes to understanding all the confusing messages on the computer screen.
Over the years I've developed a plan for increasing that rate of pay that has worked for me. Tell me if it is flawed or will ultimately be my downfall. When I join a new company, it usually takes a year or two to put out fires, bring in new systems, create websites and make sure that everything talks together like it should. After that it gets to be routine.
So what I do is convince management that I need an assistant. It usually ends up being the kid brother or son of one of the executives in the company. I train him and let him or her take the endless calls from users about printers that don't print, files that have mysteriously disappeared or programs that don't respond the way they think they should.
I then work on projects that have long-term benefit and value to the company like switching to GigE, putting in a secure wireless network, updating the SQL Server to the latest release or redesigning the Intranet for the umpteenth time. Once those projects are completed (usually by the end of year three), I see no more potential and start looking elsewhere.
I'm able to leave the company in good hands because I have trained my replacement and it's usually someone who will stick with the company a long time because they are related to the owner. We part on good terms with the offer that they can call me anytime when they need help with something I put into place that they don't understand.
The resume looks good, there is recent experience with current technology, the track record is adequate - not too many jobs over the past ten years - so the offer from the new company has almost always been substantially higher. This plan has worked several times in my career, especially early on, and I have almost always been pleased with the results.
Here's the only drawback to this plan which has been pointed out to me many times by someone who loves me and relies on the steady paycheck that I bring in. What if my trainee becomes just as good as I am and management decides that the care and feeding of the computers can be handled by the nephew who makes less than half of what I make?
If it's towards the end of this cycle of my unique kind of career management I simply accelerate the time table and make sure I have what my next target company wants and needs that much sooner. But what if it happens before I am ready to make my move? I have been fired twice in my career but never once for implementing this strategy.
How do you manage your career? Nobody likes a job hopper but it seems that in the small business market the only way to get ahead and improve the standard of living is to find a bigger company that can afford to pay more. Am I unique in my approach or do you do something similar? And don't tell me that I'm bring unfair to the employer because I'm not.