I’ll be the first to admit that the “I can’t” attitude of many attempting to enter technology careers is a little disheartening. While not everyone entering this field subscribes to this disposition, many mistakenly fall into the trap. This article is about achieving a “level-set” regarding where you are individually and the necessity to map out how to get where you want to be.
Before we get too deep into this process, I’d like to share some of the excuses I regularly hear from those trying to explain their struggles. These excuses are typically half truths, myths or other forms of contrived misinformation. Furthermore, they exist to a similar degree in other vocations as well. While there are legitimate reasons for the struggles of each individual, overemphasizing these issues is inefficient when the real goal is to move forward.
Typical Issues Identified by Technology Job Seekers
- Weak Economy
- Live in Impoverished Area
- Too Old
- No Degree/Degree in Irrelevant Field
- Lacking Certification
- No Jobs
Each of these are certainly legitimate areas of concern. However, I can almost guarantee that each and every one of us can find individuals who have overcome these or similar challenges. Many individuals have actually overcome several of them. The key is to identify the challenges and work through them. However we must not allow challenges to become an excuse.
Key Point—By allowing a challenge to become an excuse, you risk loosing focus on your goals.
Readers who have went through the CCNA or other similar materials may draw a parallel to what I’m about to suggest. The routing protocol known as OSPF uses the dijkstra (or shortest path first) algorithm to determine the best path for routing packets through a network. When using OSPF, routers use a database of locations as their map. When the database is complete, the router runs the dijkstra algorithm with the intent on generating a routing table. This process involves each router locating itself on a logical map. Then it finds all of the potential destinations and determines the best path to each of them.
In our quest to become technology rockstars, we have some ideas of where we want to go. Unlike routing a single packet, our goals tends to change over time. So our careers have some gray areas and variables that OSPF speaking routers don’t have to deal with. So the process of elevating our careers is an evolutionary process that is more complex than the packet routing responsibility of OSPF.
Even though we expect that our goals will change, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them. These goals are our planned destination. Even though that sounds so final, it really isn’t. It might actually be better to think of these goals as points of interest, as opposed to a final destination. Do you have a two year goal for your career? Have you shared it with friends or family for accountability?
Having some idea of our goals, it is important to determine how to reach these points of interest. This is where the previously mentioned challenges come into play. Any issues that may prevent you from moving forward should be considered. I would even make the case that failing to consider challenges would be irresponsible. However, we don't want to dwell on problems and lose sight of the goal.
So from an OSPF standpoint, we have the “You are here”. In addition to that, we have the desired destination. From a career perspective, the next step is determining the least cost (or least painful) route from where you are to where you want to be. Each hop in a network is a router. Each hop in your career is a milestone. So thinking through this, there is a need to engineer the path from “You are here” to “the desired destination”. OSPF can do this quickly and painlessly (usually) because networks are much less complex than our work-life.
Even though this is complex, we can and should think it through. To illustrate this point, I’ll share an example conversation. While this is fictitious, it is very similar to conversations I have all the time. This conversation involves a gentleman, whom we will call Rick. Through no fault of his own, Rick lost his blue collar job. In addition, Rick lives in an area that is nowhere near the technology center of anything. Having the desire to get into networking and faced with many challenges, he could easily make the following excuses.
- Weak Economy—We all sort of face this right now
- Live in Impoverished Area—In comparison to Los Angeles or New York (but much better than many of the underdeveloped countries of the world)
- Too Old—Rick is a career changer
- No Degree/Degree in Irrelevant Field—Been working in a completely different field for many years
- Lacking Certification—Technical Certifications are often difficult and a requirement
- No Jobs—There are very few technical jobs in Ricks geographic area
In our brief conversations, I think Rick has identified these issues and put some real thought into them. While these are legitimate concerns, he is moving forward and chasing his dream of working in technology. He will be attending classes in a local college and working toward his CCNA. Having been impressed by his eagerness to learn, I offered him some additional advice.
Most of my advice was around getting to work quickly. This is important because it is one of the most important parts of the educational process. Finding a job as an entry level tech can be challenging, but let’s look at some of the ways this can be approached in Rick’s situation.
Rick happens to live at least two hours from anything like a major city. There are several “branch” locations that are quite some distance from their headquarters. Therefore, there may be some way to work it out so Rick could be the local eyes and ears that provide on-site support to engineers who are remote. Additionally, there are a lot of nonprofit organizations in the area. Nonprofit organizations love volunteers and entry level people that just need to be given an opportunity. I also advise a broad focus. Many networking rockstars have started out in other areas of technology.
A small town certainly has some challenges, but is also has some advantages. For example, everyone seems to know everyone. That makes personal networking easier and more pleasant. Additionally, Rick is also willing to move as required to elevate his career.
The thing I really like about this particular job seeker is that he is looking forward and not backwards. Rick realizes where he is and uses that as the starting point on his career roadmap. He’s starting the educational process and concurrently looking for work. He also realizes that entry level jobs often leave a LOT to be desired.
Rick believes that each step he makes is progress toward his next point of interest. Road closures and detours may force him to recalculate his path occasionally. As he nears his career goals, he’ll probably want to start setting new ones and calculating a new path.
A technology career is something that will continue to change and evolve. It is necessary to individually reassess where we are and what our next point of interest may be. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves regarding our interests and make sure we aren’t focused on solely material gain. By structuring our career path around where we are currently and what our goals are, we can realistically determine the least painful way to reach destinations that we want to visit in our technology career. Having a determined path, it is time to shift our focus away from our challenges. Like Rick, your focus should be forward and your efforts should take you closer to your career goals..