My Daughter

My Daughter
Remember when you learned how to do this?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

"Entry-level" often refers to gateway positions which allow entry into a company or organization. For a MacDonalds, that likely means "no experience required" to get on board. For a systems integration technology company, entry level likely requires some experience in a specific role... both are "entry-level".

As a 48 year old computer technology engineer in the industry for over 25 years I have worn many hats so to speak. The trick in being successful in your chosen field is to build on your experience & capabilities as part of a larger career plan. Part of that is not getting pigeon-holed into some niche function where you basically get stuck. You become a "hot-house" orchid who can't really exist outside of a carefully controlled environment, which in turn diminishes the potential forks in your overall career plan which will be available to you down the road.

Your ability to effectively communicate the expertise you acquire with others who posses varying degrees of understanding of what you know & are capable of, is at least as important as the skills themselves. Many specialists find after a time, that they can only meaningfully communicate with others equally steeped in their field of expertise, which again will limit the choices available to you down the road.

There really is no substitute for learning your field from the ground up, in a production environment. No amount of academic preparation can artfully simulate what you will encounter in the wild, so to speak. I have hired many engineers, architects, designers etc over the years and always look for the tangible skills I need, learned in practical environments. Recent graduates are great mainly because they are cheap to hire, and have fewer preconceived notions about how things should work... to unlearn. Experienced folks generally bring much of what I need to the table ready to hit the ground running... but they are more expensive to hire and come with the baggage of habits or ideas which may or may not fit our model and must be unlearned. Most organizations need both.

Fear is also a big factor... your fear makes those around you uncomfortable. They will have trouble feeling comfortable that you can be trusted to know what you are doing, and your fear can infect others multiplying the effect. Master your fears... fear of failure, under-achieving, getting fired etc... and I don't mean arrogance. The ability to accept your fear as not only endemic but actually necessary to your role will put everyone at ease and allow you to use that fear in more constructive ways. Sometimes you just gotta say fark it.

Manage your expectations. I have never received a substantial promotion/raise by any other method than changing companies. I have received some incremental promotions in my career inside the same organization, but quantum leaps only by jumping ship. So my "entry-level" job @ $40k/year increased to $45k over time, but jumping to a new position in a new company resulted in a jump to $70+k/year. A few more years and another jump to $102k/year at yet another company... and so forth. Basically for a company it's hard to justify large increases for current employees... why buy the cow? The milk's free... mentality. You will need to jump... and that can be scary.

At some point you will have the chance to create your own opportunities, rather than just seeking the best pre-made match you can find. I currently run 2 computer engineering departments in three different cities and make well into the 6 figure salary range/benefits/ etc... and I do it from my living room. That didn't exist at my company before I got here, but I recognized the opportunity was there and over time created a situation where that made sense for the company & for myself.

The devil is in the details of course, but I'd encourage anyone interested to approach their career path with a fairly broad attitude. You may be the best freakin engineer I ever met, but if you can't show that to me in a way I can understand, and without being a jerk about it, I'll never know it. So... be a broadly educated person with some career oriented specific skills you developed in the real world. In other words... be as good as you can at your core skills and read everything you can get you hands on not from your field. Your primary language is the vehicle which you will use to notify others just how valuable you are. The better you are at this, the more effective you will be in progressing toward your career goals.

Lastly, know going in that bad things are going to happen. You will get screwed, people will be unfair & petty. Bla bla bla... Don't cling to this experience of getting screwed... feel it & then let it go.

If you display quiet confidence in yourself without being a dick about it, people will like and trust you over time. That more than anything is the key to a successful career.

Good luck... it's not as easy as all that sounded, but with a little patience you can do this.