By Dino Londis
Depending on which survey you read, anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of Americans are unhappy at work. For those of us who work in IT, such discontent may stem from a tendency to allow our career to lead us in a direction we never intended. We may start as a junior network admin, move to second tier support tech, then to applications engineer, then to security expert. We don't necessarily plan it - in each case we just fill the need of the moment. One day you're asked to deploy updates via WSUS and six months later you're managing the endpoint protection for the enterprise. You just slid right into it, happy or otherwise.
If you are unhappy, you can transition into an area you like in the same way you started out: by slowly training on the side, taking on some side work, and working your way off your old track. This way it's not cold turkey, your income won't dip, and you'll get in on a much higher level.
IT has always been dynamic, quickly changing from one technology to the next. But the pace of change is so rapid that we may not always have the luxury of changing along with it. Think of it this way: We went from Windows NT to deploying XP in about five years. It was essentially the same architecture: one box with an OS, so it required the same level of support. Today organizations are considering moving to a locally managed cloud where the desktop is a single image served up on each boot. The apps are packaged and streamed on demand. I can count a lot of positions that will be lost when that happens. But lost is the wrong word. They will move.
What were your daily tasks five years ago? Does that old job even exist? Think back to the A+ certification and how that ensured a newbie a good living. But who is diagnosing memory errors today? Who listens to the beep codes to see if the problem is the video card or the motherboard? The stuff is so cheap that it's too expensive to have someone do anything but swap the whole system out.
If the auto plant workers could relive the last five years, I have to believe most would opt to transition to a different area, happily or otherwise.
My Suggested Transitional To-Do List
- Plan: You are in the best position to see the health of your job. How would you eliminate it and how would you replace it? That may be your next job. Proactively make your job obsolete by doing the next one. It's a natural and seamless transition if you already love what you do.
- Set a Deadline. Create a schedule, a project list of goals and dates. Just typing it out brings it that much closer. Deadlines give you a measure of progress.
- Find What You Love. You really already know what it is. Why move from one unhappy job to the next? Be sure your job will be waiting for you when you arrive. And remember: You don't want to move from one sunset technology to another.
- Think Big. Is nanotechnology too big? It may be, but remember computers were once operated by guys in lab coats. That rate of change may spur a trickle down to where you don't need a Ph.D. to perform more routine tasks. If not, how about learning to write some APIs for the iPad?
- Go wide: Where once the trend was specialization, like an SQL server admin, today companies are looking for people who look over a bit of code, modify group rights in AD, and do a P to V conversion.
- Start: It's all free to learn. Nearly all software has a one month (or longer) trial period. Install it on a few virtual machines on your home PC, when the trial period ends, just blow it out and start over. It only costs you your time.
If nothing else, doing all this adds to your current skill set. And any successful person will tell you that luck comes from preparation.
Dino Londis is an applications management engineer in New York.