Monday, December 22, 2014

Long Range Planning and Execution

Let me tell you a story.

Years ago a friend was working in technology. This person had a great job, made lots of money, and was a success. They received unsolicited job offers, changed jobs a few times, and generally enjoyed their job.

However they weren't completely happy. Work was stressful, and more importantly, it wasn't fulfilling. What this person really wanted to do was work in another field entirely, one that required a substantial pay cut and self-employment.

With this person's family, they made a plan. It was a plan that crossed years, with quite a few changes. My friend paid for training. This person practiced skills for the new industry in their spare time. My friend worked part time in this new field, at night and on weekends, slowly trying to build a base.

More importantly, the family bought in and they slowly made financial changes, reducing debt and changing lifestyles to get prepared. The plan changed and altered over time as life often does.

This went on for years, over 5 of them.

Five years.

Eventually my friend reached a point where they made a change. This wasn't according to plan, in fact, the more formal version of the plan called for another couple years of work. However my friend decided it was time for a change.

After resigning, my friend started a new career and it's worked out well. I know, because this friend is my best friend, my wife.

We spent years planning for her to leave technology, and it was hard, it took focus and perseverance, and lots of patience. I would never have guessed this is how life would go, but it did. We initially planned for a year of her new career and then to evaluate it's feasibility. It's worked out well, and almost three years later, she's still enjoying her new career.

You can do the same thing. You don't have to leave technology if you don't want to, but I'd encourage you to pick the career you want. Maybe you'd rather be a DBA than a developer, or vice versa. Maybe you'd rather be a manager.

You worry about pay changes, or problems with your skills. Those are valid concerns, but not reasons to avoid making a change.

Life is short. Live the one you want.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Take Stock of Your Career

It's the end of the year, and we're about to move forward into 2015. If you haven't stopped to think about where your career is in 2014, I'd urge you to take a few hours over the holiday season and do so.

Many of us wander from job to job, taking opportunities given to us, accepting the first job offer we get when we are looking for work, and sticking with companies year after year. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's a passive way of having a career.

The job you have today might not be the one you wanted. That's fine if you are happy with it, but what if it's not your ideal job? Shouldn't you be thinking about what that is? Perhaps there are a few things you might consider:

  • Are you challenged by your job?
  • Does the level of responsibility cause you stress?
  • Are there other projects or technologies you'd like to work in?
  • Are you making enough money to provide a good life for your family?
  • Does the industry you work in excite you?
  • Do you wish you could use more features or have more input into the design of your application?
  • Are you on call too often or do you get called too much?
  • Would you rather be a consultant or FTE?
  • Do you want to telecommute?
  • Do you want to travel less or more?
  • Do you work too much?

These are a few questions that I ask myself regularly. I tend to take stock of my career in the summer, and evaluate if I still want to continue in my current position. I really try to consider my options, think about the jobs other people have and the challenges they face. I think about my family and the balance I have with life outside of work and the time I spend at a computer.

I really, really try to look forward and honestly weigh the positives and negatives of changing jobs. It's hard, and it's certainly scary. I've been doing this job for over a decade, and while it's slightly evolved, it hasn't dramatically changed. There are things I like, and things I'd change, but overall, it's the best job I've ever had and I wouldn't change (for now).

You can change your career, and move a direction you want. It may take time, even years, but it can be done.

However it starts with a single step. Maybe you want to learn SSIS or Biml. Maybe you should work on a certification and grow your general knowledge. Maybe you want to start a software project and build some skills. It's up to you, and you can start moving in a new direction if you have the desire to do so.

Monday, December 8, 2014

I used to work in xxx and now want to work in IT

This could apply to any industry, but specifically I think this works well in IT.

I got a question from someone that asked me this: "… I was thinking if you could give some advice in how to get a solid cv/knowledge in IT. I've just completed/gained my [xx cert] and now studying the following modules: YY, ZZ. My problem it's that I always worked in [other industry] and now looking to move into IT."

The short version of what I'd recommend is that you need to start showing some knowledge. Here's what I wrote:

My advice would be to start blogging about things you're studying. Show that you are learning things, how you think about them, how you'd solve problems I used to answer questions on forums (like here: http://www.sqlservercentral.com/Forums/). My answers and thoughts actually got me a few interviews.

I'd tackled some topics that you are learning about, and write about what you've learned. Be sure you communicate well (get someone to review and see if your grammar is good, logic, flow, etc.) and then post it. Use this as part of your resume that you send to employers.

The more you write about, the more you show about your knowledge. Plus you show some motivation.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Check Your Invitations

One of the most important things you can do for your career is to network with others in your area. You can do this in person, or online (or both), but be sure you keep up with your network.

One good way to do that is to be sure you are accepting links and invitations in whichever medium you use. If you are on LinkedIn (a great place), be sure that you review and accept your invitations every month (at least). On Facebook, accept friend requests, and on other platforms, accept the links.

You don't need to send a note to each person or follow up right away, but at some point you may want to, or need to, and it will be important that you have a large network ready.

How much review do you perform? I do none. I accept everyone.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Showcase Your Knowledge

I wrote a piece I called Challenge Yourself, and while it’s mostly aimed at technical people, I think it can apply to other professions.
I thought of it recently with my son. He’s in his last year of college and taking a GIS class. Part of the class is lots of lab work, creating maps from public data sets, which are the kind of data most of us deal with: a mess of numbers.
He often finds data that is incorrectly entered, formatted poorly, etc. He’s come to me for help with SQL and Python expressions that can help him transform and select data that I appropriate for his maps. A few times he’s had to write a mini-report on how he manipulates the data, but not always.
However as I was helping him, it occurred to me that if I were interviewing him for a GIS job next year, someone that has no experience, I’d want to get some confidence that they know how to work with ArcMap or other tools. A resume or a grade in a class doesn’t mean much. I have no idea of this involved anything complex, or just simple data loads.
If he had a blog, or a series of documents that explained how he built maps and manipulated data, then I’d feel better. I could talk about those tasks and skills in an interview, and use his documentation to drive conversation, as well as determine if he really knew how to work with the tools or not.
I’m sure other students could benefit from some effort to showcase their knowledge.Even professionals in positions could do this, showing that they are improving their knowledge, or even demonstrating the depth to which they know a subject.
Start a blog, or at least document your work.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Salary Survey 2015–Data Professionals

Some good stuff for data professionals in this look at the 2015 salary survey from Robert Half. I don’t know how widely this is across the US, or the variability, but higher salaries than I expected.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Great Interview Question

This piece is written for programmers, but the question may be a great one for other fields. If you are truly interested and excited about your career, it will show through.

Be able to answer this question if you are asked it.