White Sands Coffee MugWe had one fellow – we’ll call him Alan - join a meeting of the Coffee Club a couple of years ago. He'd just been laid off after 17 years in the same job as a mainframe systems programmer. His skills were dated and rusty and his previous employer did not wish to invest in helping keep its employees’ skills up-to-date.  Sound familiar? First thing we did was to turn Alan onto NOVA in Sunnyvale and the Career Action Center in Palo Alto. Both organizations are non-profit professional career counseling and career transition service organizations for professionals in the Silicon Valley. They counsel folks in transition after being laid off, and women re-entering the workforce after taking time to raise their families. The second thing we did was to ask him if he had a budget had he found where he could reduce expenses as much as possible. This is more about taking inventory and stock in yourself so that you can survive and concentrate on obtaining the next opportunity. The third was to ask him what it was he wanted to do. This took a bit more thought and time with many questions asked and ideas bounced off a number of us via phone calls and e-mail. Alan did attend workshops at both NOVA and the Career Action Center. (The workshops that stand out are the ones on resume writing and interviewing.) A month later, Alan rejoined the Coffee Club and told us what wanted to do next – be a Web application developer. He said that his problem was that he did not know where to start and even if he did he was back at square one, with no experience in this area. Other than being a user of the Web, he wasn't familiar with how to develop Web applications. A number of us helped Alan create a list of technologies that he would need to learn and pointed him to the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) – the oldest organization for Computer Professionals – and to other free resources like Sun’s Java tutorials, JBOSS’ Webinars, and the O’Reilly & Assoc. website. I should note that membership in the ACM is not free but for those in transition, there is a discounted rate. The ACM does have as a membership benefit on-line training of the same quality offered by many progressive companies. Alan was a great student and a quick study. Within a short time he was developing prototype Web applications using JBOSS. After about three months of learning, Alan came to the club with another more important question: “Now I’m getting into Web application programming and this is really great because I am using my basic skills as a programmer in new ways. But, I feel like I am back in college, with learned skills but no relevant experience.” And it’s true, learning and gaining knowledge is one thing, but employers want to see what you've actually done. We asked Alan if he belonged to any organizations (like a church, PTA, Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts). He said he belonged to a church and was a member of the PTA for his daughter’s school.  We suggested he approach either organization and ask if he could volunteer to help in the development of its website, or propose and develop one if they didn't. Using skills as a volunteer allows you to do the same things as if you were working for a company and developing similar products – except you use more of your own imagination.  You are also developing work experience. Alan went and developed an extensive website for his church (with a data base back end).  It was the rave of the congregation and caught the attention of a hiring manager... who was a member of the church. A little after nine months from when Alan was laid off, he was hired for a job that he enjoys – as a Web application developer.  He still occasionally attends meetings of one of the Coffee Clubs.  He is also very generous to others with his experience and advice.