A bunch of cunts, mostly in the Australian sense. Except that one guy.

Career confusion - what would you do?

I've been in the field for over a decade now.  I'm more of generalist than a specialist and my jobs have been in IT depts of various companies....done everything from programming to datebase design/development to meeting with managers to get requirements to documentation to networking to tech support.  Slightly underpaid but work 40 hours/week.  Not much room for advancement...the next step up would be manager of IT dept which isn't much fun considering that all of my managers have been miserable. 

So basically I'm trying to figure out which direction to take my career.  I'm approaching my mid 30s. (shudder)

Although I have a decade of experience in programming, I don't really seem to qualify for most jobs that are posted since these companies are really picky.  I either have too much experience or am not an exact fit for their requirements.  I work in an area with few tech jobs so I'd likely have to move anyway (which might not be a bad thing but a pain). 

Thought about getting an MBA and getting into management but there's no guarantee that the time or money would be well spent.  Not a big fan of dealing with the politics or games involved in that.  Or working 60-70 hours a week.

Thought about consulting but I haven't done much networking and my employer wouldn't allow it on the side.

With ageism approaching and approaching an age where it's no longer feasible to switch careers....what would you do?  Stick with the current gig where you have the free time to study something else?  Or jump ship and try to make as much money as possible so you have a cushion when ageism becomes an issue?  Of course, at that time, it would likely be too late to switch careers.  What are you guys doing about these issues?
Permalink . for this 
October 2nd, 2011 12:39pm
Grow a pair and make your own decisions.

If all else fails, Pizza Hut is always hiring....
Permalink Gus 
October 2nd, 2011 1:34pm
Sounds like you are in the wrong area. You should accept the fact you need to move away from your small town with no tech jobs. That is the first step. Move forward with that acceptance, so the uncertainty about moving is no longer holding you back.
Permalink Idiot 
October 2nd, 2011 1:44pm
Also, wherever you move to rent don't buy. Keep your old homestead and a last resort if it is something with low taxes that your parents left you, it won't sell for much in this economy anyway, and if you had the cash from it then you'd end up wasting time in the new city spending that. Don't sell and you'll be required to earn what you need to live rather than get any crazy ideas about internships or other "opportunities" to work for free.
Permalink Idiot 
October 2nd, 2011 1:47pm
The solution to your problem is just a click away: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=meet

You seem like a kind, compassionate person. Get out there and do some good in the world!
Permalink Fan boy 
October 2nd, 2011 1:49pm
"You should accept the fact you need to move away from your small town with no tech jobs. "

Yeah...I'm just kinda stuck at my current position if I stay here unless I want a 2 hour commute each way

"wherever you move to rent don't buy"

Agreed.  I have a relative that would be interested in renting my place...not sure if that's a good idea tho even though he'd take care of it
Permalink . for this 
October 2nd, 2011 1:59pm
Look for a start up.

Your experience will be of more use to a young company than an established one. 

You'll be taking a pay cut.  Think of it as an investment for when the company becomes successful.

You'll be asked to put in some hours.  If you're effective in the hours you're there, you'll be able to argue against this request.
Permalink Kenny 
October 2nd, 2011 2:10pm
Here is another great suggestion: https://www.volgistics.com/ex/portal.dll/ap?AP=701232628

I'm sure you can find similar in your town.
Permalink Fan boy 
October 2nd, 2011 2:26pm
What job would you enjoy doing?
Permalink line noise 
October 2nd, 2011 2:57pm
Does editing porno movies pay very well?

I bet that industry has some great company parties!
Permalink Shhhwwwing! 
October 2nd, 2011 5:52pm
This is going to involve a lot of reading on your part... 

>I'm approaching my mid 30s.
Many of us here are in our 40s and 50s. I'm 51 and while I still love development, there are other things I'd rather be doing (like biking and hiking). If I were in my mid 30s, I'd probably look into joining the Reserves. With the wargasms winding down, that makes it very unlikely to get sent overseas involuntarily, there is the physical fitness part, the income on the side, and if you can swing something that gets you a clearance, then you can make a ton more $ with a top secret clearance as a developer.

This forum has a rather low number of users, so you might also like to ask over at: 
http://programmers.stackexchange.com/ 
and look at the "career" tag, which has the most relevant area:
http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/career

It is possible you are feeling like you are in a rut, or it is possible that there are office politics going on that you don't like (perhaps you don't recognize it, just realizing what you don't like about it). The sort of people who tend to do well in software (and engineering) tend to be poor at office politics and negotiating. The people who go into management tend to treat negotiating as a sport, so they're probably going to be far more skilled at it than you are. 

Some books that can help with being a bit more pro-active and professional in your development career are:

The Nomadic Developer: 
http://www.amazon.com/Nomadic-Developer-Surviving-Technology-Consulting/dp/0321606396/
This describes how recruiters and consulting companies work, and why they behave the way they do.

Corporate Confidential: 
http://www.amazon.com/Corporate-Confidential-Secrets-Company-Know---/dp/0312337361/
You are probably doing "career limiting" things right now. Find out what they are and stop it.

Making it Big in Software
http://www.amazon.com/Making-Big-Software-Become-Great/dp/0137059671/
This has a bunch of interviews, but also a lot of tips on corporate life. You might already know them by now, or not.

The Passionate Programmer
http://www.amazon.com/Passionate-Programmer-Remarkable-Development-Pragmatic/dp/1934356344/
The first edition of this book was called "My Job Went To India". One of the main points of this book is to keep your mind and skills up to date. Never get fat dumb and happy.

From Serf to Surfer
http://www.amazon.com/Serf-Surfer-Becoming-Network-Consultant/dp/0782126618/
So, you want to become a consultant? This has a lot of tips as well as what pitfalls to look out for.

>I work in an area with few tech jobs so I'd likely have to move anyway. 

This is a prime reason to move. Staying where you are comfortable may be pleasing, but it will most likely cost you thousands of dollars per year. One of the guys posting here lives near Tampa, and they're paying him about 1/2-2/3 the salary of equivalent jobs here in Denver. Always be looking out for #1 - yourself. If you are single, you can pack up and leave. Things get more difficult and complicated if you have a house, wife or kids.

>With ageism approaching and approaching an age where it's no longer feasible to switch careers....what would you do? 

Always have a "plan b".
http://brucefwebster.com/2008/11/18/is-it-work-true-engineering-or-just-plumbing/
The folks I know personally who are developers and who are older than myself told me that they hit a brick wall getting jobs around 54 to 55. Part of their problem was that they were too busy to keep current on technology. One of the guys burned out his reputation here in Denver, so he pretty much had to leave town if he wanted to stay in software development. 

For some people that means "moving into management" or becoming a project manager. I dislike managing others, I don't like the sort of person I become. Some people like it, the ones I admire who got into PM and management did so because, in their words, the problems they wanted to solve were too big for one person to work on.

My current "plan b" involves moving sideways into a career with a high barrier to entry: licensing. At the moment, CPA looks to be one that is within reach. I seem to have forgotten too much stats and calculus to make passing the actuary exams a feasible alternative. In the time since this previous post, I've found some PEs willing to sign off on my experience, so I plan on applying to (take the test to) become a PE. I have no idea how, or even *if* this will help me with getting work in the future, but my goal is to stand out from other applicants, and I think this will help do so. The PE might be a total waste of money and time. I won't know for a while, but since I have some licensed PEs willing to write recs, I'm going to try.
http://www.crazyontap.com/topic.php?TopicId=54253

Licensing and certification is controversial in IT. You'll meet folks passionately for/against it. I'm looking at it as an inevitability and that I want to get in before the barriers get even higher (starting in 2015, folks looking to sit for a PE or CPA exam will be needing a masters degree, currently one only needs a bachelors).

>"30 something" is not too late to be starting a new career. Unless you've been maxing out your 401k all these years, you're going to be working until you're 70. It is better for you to change careers under your own terms before you reach the ageism barrier than it would be when it becomes a "surprise."
http://www.crazyontap.com/topic.php?TopicId=58254

>Stick with the current gig where you have the free time to study something else? 

Always stay employed until you find another job. There are far too many recruiters who are refusing to touch resumes of people out of work, and it has gotten so bad that the administration is trying to pass something making it illegal to discriminate against unemployed people when hiring.

>Or jump ship and try to make as much money as possible so you have a cushion when ageism becomes an issue? 

Always be saving money. You need to be putting at least 10% (of what you make) into your retirement savings. Many folks in the US are forced into involuntary retirement in their late 50s and early 60s, so you might not have as long to be stuffing money into IRA, 401k, 403b etc. Very few jobs left in the private sector have pensions any more, and almost all of those are because unions have been holding onto them tooth and nail while salaried and non-union workers get foisted into defined contribution plans (your 401k and 403b type plans). Public pensions are becoming another financial disaster (partly due to the 2008 meltdown and partly due to political shenanigans, but the lack of disclosure of public plans is hiding how bad the problem is).

One good book on saving for retirement is: Engineering Your Retirement.
http://www.amazon.com/Engineering-Your-Retirement-Technology-Professionals/dp/0471776165/

IT workers will never be sticking together (into unions or guilds) because far too many have adopted a libertarian attitude of "everyone for themselves". One book that describes how guilds got started in the past, and how they've been attacked and destroyed over the past few decades is "Death of the Guilds":
http://www.amazon.com/Death-Guilds-Professions-Advance-Capitalism/dp/0300078668/
It gives a good explanation of *why* engineering failed as a guild. And why doctors, professors and lawyers were the last guilds left in America, and how the doctor's guild was broken (short answer: managed care). And the hoohah about professors like Ward Churchill, and attempts to get affirmative action for conservative professors are attempts to destroy the professorial guild. Professors *used* to be partners in the colleges/universities that they taught at (which is what tenure used to be). Now they are employees and contractors (more commonly called "adjunct" where they teach semester to semester).
http://www.crazyontap.com/topic.php?TopicId=76521
http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.675124
http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.610897.78

There is a purported Steinbeck quote going around: 
"Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires." 
http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/328134

>Thought about getting an MBA and getting into management but there's no guarantee that the time or money would be well spent. 

I think there are too many, and it is a bubble of its own. If you aren't getting into a top 10 MBA school, then I think you are wasting your time and money.


>What are you guys doing about these issues?

Some previous discussions on this subject:
http://www.crazyontap.com/topic.php?TopicId=49140
http://improvingsoftware.com/2009/05/19/programmers-before-you-turn-40-get-a-plan-b/
http://www.crazyontap.com/topic.php?TopicId=59768
http://www.crazyontap.com/topic.php?TopicId=64557
http://www.crazyontap.com/topic.php?TopicId=99420
http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.476966.24 
http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.302825.73
http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.304038.44 

Some discussion on licensure in software development:
http://www.crazyontap.com/topic.php?TopicId=658841
http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.592834.20
http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?joel.3.603979.35
http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=39817
http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=3851

The bottom line is that we really don't know you, nor what your strengths and weaknesses are, so any advice will need to be either very general, pointers back to previous discussions, or "this is what I am doing".
Permalink Peter 
October 2nd, 2011 8:17pm
I think there needs be a CoT "Hall of Fame" for stick-up-on-the-wall posts such as Peter's. That was f'n awesome.
Permalink trollop 
October 3rd, 2011 1:16am
I would argue to the OP that this is what happens when you become a "GENERALIST" in the field.

The mistake you made was not becoming a SPECIALIST in the field....that's where the big bucks are....because when you can say that you are an expert with this or that technology you can command more money for your consulting or employee services.

I'm in my mid 40s - 10 years older than the OP and I am going STRONG in the areas in which I'm expert which is VBA and VB.Net for WinForm applications...that's typically all I do....however, I do compliment my skill sets with other supporting skills such as administrative functions, technical writing, and MS Office application knowledge....I can spin turns around most people with my knowledge of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, FrontPage, Visio, and MS Project.

So, add all of that together and you have one hell of a powerful skill set.

Of course, one could also argue that there are significant challenges with being SPECIALIZED in a particular technology as opposed to a GENERALIST. That is to say, that if the technology in which you are specialized should substantially change or become deprecated it directly impacts your skill set capability....Consequently, I would argue that you must be MUCH MORE vigilant in your observations of the market to ensure that you can remain technologically competitive.

It has successfully worked for me for over 10 years....I don't know what the future holds but I suspect that I will remain competitive irrespective of how the market turns and changes.....having said that, I watch the techno market very aggressively to identify the changes that will impact my skill sets and livelihood, evaluating my options to ensure that I will have a place in the technology market when it changes.

Just a thought....
Permalink Send private email Brice Richard 
October 3rd, 2011 9:37am
Peter,

Thanks for the comprehensive and thoughful reply!

Yes I am feeling that I am in a rut and there are office politics that I don't like.  I like to focus on my job and work for management/senior engineers that feud amongst each other and want you to side with them. It gets tiring after awhile when you just want to get stuff done and be productive.

I did read the Corporate Confidential.  Great book and the techniques do work, but then I questioned whether I really wanted to move up giving this information.  I found that I'd rather deal with technical issues than people issues.  I don't seem to be alone in this opinion.  Plenty of techies get promoted into management and decide that it's not their thing (nont wanting to deal with politics, games, etc).  I actually turned down a promotional opportunity earlier this year for those reasons.

Thanks for the other book ideas and links

The moving thing is something I've seriously considered.  I could surely make more money in another location but the cost of living would be higher.  That said, it wouldn't be that much higher compared to the increased earnings.  Something I'm really going to have to look into while I have the chance.  No wife or kids but do own a condo.

I've thought about getting a PM cert.  But from what I've heard, you have all of the responsibility but none of the control.  Of course I could be wrong.  I have plenty of experience managing my own projects but none managing others' projects.

What is a PE?

My savings have gone toward paying off debt rather than saving for retirement.  I figure paying down debt with a 6% interest rate is a better investment than the stock market or a CD at this time.

Honestly I probably wouldn't qualify for a top 10 MBA school given my undergrad GPA.  I've only had one manager with an MBA.  Half of my managers didn't have a college degree at all!
Permalink . for this 
October 3rd, 2011 12:52pm
Bruce,

Unfortunately there are no needs for specialists where I live

Most of the few jobs that are advertised are for generalist positions

Another reason to move I guess
Permalink . for this 
October 3rd, 2011 1:04pm
"PE" is a "Professional Engineer" rating.  CivE's and MechE's (and I suppose power-plant ElectricalE's) get these licenses.

This license indicates that you've taken a test and gotten a credential.  Being an Electrical Engineer and a Software Engineer, I've never needed this credential.  But when you're making life-critical systems like bridges and power-plants, I think it's required.
Permalink SaveTheHubble 
October 3rd, 2011 1:08pm
It is if the client or regulation requires it. Clients do because insurance companies require it, regulators do because the expert advisors are (tada) engineers.

This is why I have a sheaf of engineeering calcs for the second storey steelwork from a CE rather than from the builder's tame draftsman.
Permalink trollop 
October 3rd, 2011 7:27pm

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