Question: Which way should I turn?
I am a devoted IT project manager and consultant. I am 38 years old, and I have more than 12 years of experience in the IT field. I have a master’s degree and am knowledgeable in many areas, including Oracle, Java/J2ee, CRM, knowledge management, project management, and IT management. I have been told that my resume is very impressive.

The software development/consulting company I work for now has laid off one-quarter of its staff and recently told me it is moving from Java to .NET. IT has been pushing me to somehow find billable Java work. Through my own contacts, I got a big Java-related contract, so I have billable work for a few months.

Should I stay where I am and keep trying to get work? Should I go out on my own? Or, should I try to find another job like the one I have now but at a different company? How can I make a better choice of employer next time? I would like to go into IT management and eventually work as a CIO.

Answer: Move on and consider temp option
What a frustrating situation to be in with an employer demanding that you somehow market yourself while at the same time pulling as many billable hours as possible. You are to be congratulated for finding the assignment that will keep you earning money over the next few months while you figure out what your next step is going to be.

I encourage you to move on from your current employer as soon as you have made a reasoned decision about your next step. The current employer is moving away from Java toward another programming solution. It has made it clear by its actions that it is keeping you on only because it is making money off your labors. It is not investing in you, so it’s time to explore other options and get ready to leave.

That next step is going to depend a lot on how much of a risk taker you are and how much financial leeway you have in your life. Going out on your own, especially in this economy, is the most risky option that you have. Trying to find another employer while you are still employed is the least risky route.

Since you mentioned that you would like to eventually end up as a CIO, going out on your own might also lead you away from your goal. Unless you are careful about the kinds of assignments you take and the kinds of clients you have, you could easily end up doing more technical work than management-related projects. It’s easier to pick up a few technical projects as an independent contractor than to pick up management roles.

A temporary solution
Having said that, if you are in a situation where you could take some financial risks, you could sign yourself up with an IT temporary help firm that places people in short-term executive-related roles. Sometimes while a company searches for someone to fill the role permanently, they need to have someone to fill the role temporarily. Opportunities also exist to temporarily fill the shoes of someone on paternity/maternity or even medical leave.

Many times these temporary roles do not have benefits such as health insurance or stock options. However, they do offer you the opportunity to quickly build your management experience. You will also be able to get a much better opinion of how a particular company is run, in case you want to apply there for a permanent position.

There are some national IT temp agencies, but look around your area for regional temp firms. They often have relationships with larger local firms that the national agencies don’t have the time or interest to cultivate. Try searching for jobs on Robert Half Technology does permanent and consulting placements.

If you do decide to go out on your own, understand that you will have to continue to fill the dual roles of salesperson and technical specialist. Since you’ve done it once, you could probably do it again. You may also be able to set up an independent contractor situation with your current employer. You would be responsible for your own health benefits, but being on your own is a viable option.

Choosing a good company requires research
Now, let’s talk about how to tell whether a potential employer is a good company to work for. The best way is to get behind the scenes the way you do as a temporary worker. If that’s not possible, then you have to ask a lot of questions about the company before you make a decision. Ask questions during interviews and do a lot of research about the company, as well.

I think you can tell a lot about a company by the way it treats its employees during bad times. Many companies are having difficulties these days, but some manage to handle them without layoffs. That says a lot about what a company considers important.

Adobe Systems, for example, is one of the largest software development companies in the world. Fortune recently named it the fifth-best company to work for and the best IT company to work for. You can read more about why Fortune ranked Adobe so highly by visiting the Fortune Web site.

During the lean times over the past few years, Adobe has done everything it can to avoid letting people go permanently. Plus, the company does a lot to keep good people, including three-week paid sabbaticals every five years. The result is a 4 percent voluntary job turnover. Adobe Systems is also one of the few Silicon Valley companies that plans to hire in 2003 to fill new slots.

You can’t go wrong if you use Adobe as a profile of an IT company with a good track record that treats its employees well.

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