Keeping Sharp

I’ve learned a few technical lessons while being without gainful employment. Technical people fall in to two broad categories: hardware geeks and software geeks. The more specific your knowledge is within those bounds, the greater your pay and the smaller the job pool. View the following in that light:

* Learn a broad skill from the other discipline. I’m a “hardware” guy, but I also know some basic skills within procedural programming. While I’m not an expert, I could hack something together with Perl or even PHP, but I found that if I’d known Javascript, I would have been better off finding part-time work. From the software side, a programmer would have an easy time finding temp work as a PC technician if they took the time to get a couple of simple certs like the CompTIA A+ or even Network+.

* There are more programming jobs out there than hardware jobs. Hardware maintenance and design is rapidly becoming a commodity skill. Higher-end design, say something that involves multiple cities, sites, security and network priorities still commands good pay and progressional respect. If you’re in a hardware-based job (network admin) then you need to ask yourself “what’s next”. The days of fast networks, defacto standardization of IP and the Cisco juggernaut have made the network admin job almost too easy.

* Software geeks should know three scripting or procedural language and one object-oriented language. For example, for a web developer it might be javascript, perl, PHP and Ruby. For a traditonal application developer it could be javascript, Java, Python and Objective-C. Pick your favorites–I’m not saying these examples are the ones to follow. Bonus points if you know Smalltalk or Lua.

* Don’t study for the job you have, study for the one you want. A few certifications are good, too many are bad so if your’re studying to be a CCIE, then you need to have an idea of the job you’re trying to get before you start down that road. If you’re a CCIE at a company that has no need for that knowledge, then you’ll become a liability. You’re overqualified for your job, no possibility for career advancement and your boss will likely be wondering if you’re heading out the door to the next place.

* If you’re not willing to move to a “top tier” tech city, then don’t become a “top tier” geek. Some software companies will tolerate remote talent, but most want their teams working together, eating pizza and losing sleep within 10 feet of each other for weeks at a time.

In the next post, we’ll talk about the businesses end of your career.