Fitting In Today

Shakespeare pondered “to be or not to be, that is the question.” Most of us in tech today ponder this same thing, but in the context of to be a tech or a manager.

Most of us got into technology because we loved something about it. For some, the thought of coding day in and day out was exciting – solving needs with instructions in a language few knew. Others found solace in their troubleshooting Tech-Fu. 5 minutes with a computer and they knew what was wrong, eliciting uncanny responses from onlookers. There were even some that saw the complexity of managing a group of technology professionals and got excited about the size of the Gannt charts they would need for a particular project.

It was 1995. I was working in my dad’s shop building computers, installing software and running to wholesalers to pick orders in the growing “Silicon Forest” here in the Portland area. Life couldn’t be better. I had just started as a Senior in High school, had my own cell phone and car. I made enough money working for dad that I could afford to buy new computer components every few months to try out the latest technology. I was both the envy of my peers and the nightmare of my foes at school. Those who saw where technology was going sought my opinion, those who were afraid would attempt to ridicule me.

My days of just turning screwdrivers, swapping discs and making parts runs would be short lived. My father placed me in charge of the shop just before I was about to graduate. At the time, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Now, he came to me asking for help and expected me to get things done without much help. No problem.

Little did I know I was being prepared for a career in Technology Management. My dad knew something I didn’t. Even with all the Tech-Fu in the world, each of us needs to know how to manage. At the very least, we need to have a clear sense of how to manage our own time, tasks and projects. Ideally, we should be able to manage a few people doing the same.

Many technology professionals today come from one of two paths – either a once strictly business/management path or from a once strictly technology path.

With increased dependence on technology in almost every line of business, I’ve watched the genesis of business matters making their merry way into our daily lives as technical professionals. The days of not understanding the business you’re supporting are over. Each and everyone in the technology department must be masters of their technology and the processes they support.

Early professionals required to have these skills were called CIO’s. Most companies rightly pulled these individuals from leadership ranks rather than technical ranks. Companies who had a CIO knew that individual needed to have some technical skills, but mostly business skills. This person didn’t do any hands on with the technology. Instead, they managed the group of people who did know everything about it. All was well for some time.

Then something terrible happened: The economy burst like a Zeppelin flying through a firestorm. 

Panic set in. Some companies cut tech’s. Some cut suits. Some cut both.

There’s an old saying in business that a good owner has control over their business. They know exactly what each and every employee does. An even better owner could step into any role and do the job if necessary.

That became less possible when we started hiring highly technical people managed by non-technical CIO’s. If a coder left, so did all of the knowledge and expertise. Nobody else in the organization could pick up the pieces. Management had long gotten away with delegating anything even moderately technical to someone else. Some else who was no longer an employee now.

As the dust started to settle, something curious happened. Companies started looking for really talented tech people with CIO’ish skills too. Job descriptions demanded CCNA and MCP certs along side a Business degree or 10 years experience managing x number people.

What just happened? Did the technical and managerial get squished into one, hybrid role?

It sure did. It was in the making already.

Put aside your prejudice of the practice. This change is overdue. Gone are the days of strictly technical roles in business. You need both or you won’t survive long.

Today, companies need people who can solve their technology details and manage the large scale ERP upgrades. They need people who understand how to train employees successfully in a way that’s relevant to their roles one day and troubleshoot IP stack issues the next. They in fact need a new generation of technology professionals that got their A+ and PMP. Manage a group of people and write some code, too.

So what about the technology specialists? They’re still out there, and they are in demand. Knowing Microsoft Sharepoint isn’t a bad focus to have. There’s still demand for it. Same too with many ERP systems and programming languages. The trouble is, once they are done with a particular project or assignment, there’s nothing left for them to do.

My point is simple: Everyone needs to start diversifying their portfolio and willing to work hard for less. Things aren’t going to change. We’re starting to come face to face with the consequences of a bubble that was long overdue to pop.

If I were a High School Senior today looking for a direction, I would get my ass into Business School and plan to spend the next 8 years or so going to school and studying every technology being used by mainstream businesses today. Why 8 years? You’ll need an MBA and probably a second or third degree in something that you find interesting. Yes, you’ll be “overqualified” by yesterday’s standards. You’ll be in a lot of debt, too, unless you get scholarships or are fortunate enough to have a trust fund or two lying around for the cause.

Just remember that every job you apply for, you need a different resume. You must only put forth the credentials, experience and education that are relevant to the role. Leave everything else out. Let your employer learn of your value AFTER you start working for them and are deemed successful in their eyes.

You will be competing with people from all over the world for jobs that used to be domestic, but are now entirely international in their nature. Other countries such as India, China and even Russia have had a long time to already realize everything I have written here and get to work at it. Your skill set will need to be as deep as it is wide.






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