I serve as technology coordinator in a small school district and the role is essentially that of a CIO. Due to many factors, my priority has been networking, and I have plenty of other responsibilities—core strategies including firewall/AV, security, and backups.

The rub is that the political structure is a nightmare. On paper, each level (HS, MS, Elementary) has a LAN manager who reports to me and to the respective building principal. In reality, the managers are site-based and seldom think of enterprise issues. In fact, the HS manager (my predecessor) and his principal see their building as an island, and John, let’s call him, (the HS LAN manager) is a turf war kind of guy. For example, migration to NetWare would be a slam-dunk as we have an Apple server and a NetWare 6.0 server at every building, yet John is demanding that we move to enterprise OSX servers.

The worst of it is that the school superintendent, akin to the CEO, keeps peace at any cost, and what with tenure and support from John’s school principal, cannot/will not remove this guy.

After six years, I’ve tried my best to be a stand-up guy, doing the right thing whether or not people publicly see as much. I recently caught the HS LAN manager giving the super password to students again—this is the third time during this school year and despite my concerns there’ve been no repercussions. Instead, the principal and others accused me of not being trusting and focusing too much on security.

Do I cope with the existing situation or find a way to move—laterally or upward? Should I stick it out? The ads I see all want database administrators or AS400 operators. I have little experience with either, though my SQL 2000 server is growing its data store exponentially. Should I stick it out? I know that XML and the links to SOAP are the hot thing. Do I retool and or get certified? I could use your advice.

Steve S.

I can understand that you’re frustrated that you cannot fix your current situation. You seem to be looking for some big-picture advice and some detailed advice that is really down in the weeds.

At the big-picture level, you should either upgrade your skills in your network manager role or migrate your skills to a related area. You mentioned seeing AS/400 operator positions in the paper. You don’t want to be an AS/400 operator. That would be moving from the outdated technology you work on now to dramatically more outdated technology. I don’t see how that would help your situation.

The other position you mentioned is database administrator. Moving toward a database administrator role would actually open many new doors for your career.

Your career dilemma actually involves a slew of questions:

  • Should you change jobs?
  • Should you get your boss replaced?
  • Should you tighten up the security procedures?
  • Should you get your coworker fired or transferred?
  • Should you get some certifications?
  • Should you retool?

Here are my answers, in order:

  • Yes
  • Yes but not likely
  • Yes, immediately
  • Yes but not likely
  • Yes, immediately
  • Yes

Basically, the answer is yes to all of the above questions. Is that all the advice you need to fix your career? Likely not, so let’s look at each of these questions and discuss how to use these answers to your advantage.

Change jobs
Yes, you should! Fortunately the situation isn’t urgent. You can take your time to do it right. You can be patient enough to find the right job and spend some time updating or enhancing your skills to help you land the right job. But start the process immediately. It may take a while.

Change bosses
In a large IT shop, you could transfer to another department. In a corporate culture, your boss could be promoted, fired, or recruited out. Given that you’re in a public school system, unless your boss is about to retire, he will likely be in that role for long time because he’s likely tenured as an administrator.

Security procedure issue
Giving away the super password sounds pretty scary. You need to address this situation promptly and in writing, explaining possible repercussions of security violations. I can only imagine how many grades were improved, or library fines removed, each time that super password was shared with the students.

Coworker replaced
You should make that happen, and in a corporate setting you would. In the school district setting, it will probably never happen due to the civil service/tenure issues within school environments and the difficulties in removing personnel who are tenured.

I’m surprised you don’t have certifications already. If two equally experienced people apply for the same position, the person with the certifications usually gets the nod. The reason is simple—such persons are viewed as more serious about their career. A certification in your primary skill area will reinforce your expertise and be very helpful in landing a new position. A certification in a skill area other than your primary skill most likely won’t get you a job in that new area. What it can do is help you land a role based on your primary skill and involving duties assisting in that new area.

You absolutely should be evaluating your skills and retooling constantly throughout your career. What skills should you go for? You should focus on acquiring skills in technologies that are either rapidly expanding their penetration of the customer base or widely used, stable, hard-to-replace technology such as mainframe-based systems. Your primary skill area appears to be NetWare, which is neither growing nor stable—its installed base is small and shrinking. There are not many jobs being created that require NetWare expertise. That is why you don’t see relevant positions in the paper and why you aren’t getting any responses to your resume. Fortunately, it is not too painful to replace NetWare with Microsoft technology.

Realize that the primary factor in being considered for a new position is experience on the job. Certifications and courses are good, but they should be viewed as enhancements. They give you an advantage over someone with similar experience, but they don’t replace relevant experience.

Taking action now
So, how do you retool and get better skills from your current job? Ideally, you could get the school to bring in better/newer technology. However, if your school system has budget limitations like the schools in my hometown, this is never going to happen.

Your second option would be to find an employer that has a mix of NetWare and Microsoft technology. You could provide value by managing the older technology while you learn the newer technology on the job.

A third option would be to retool yourself as a database administrator. You could take over administering some of the databases for the school district. Six months from now you could stress that new experience on your resume, and you will be in the hunt for DBA positions.

A fourth option would be to moonlight, even at low rates, to gain new skills. There must be some small businesses in your area that could use your help.

Regardless of the path you take, I recommend getting started on the certifications and the skills improvements immediately. You could find that your boss and coworker both decide to move to Silicon Valley. More likely, though, you’ll need to create your own good fortune.