Monday, August 4, 2014

Story 4: Need a Better Job? Read this.

Forgive me, if you have done this to me recently. But you are certainly not the first one.  My Linked-In inbox is full of the following types of message.

“Hi Manabu, how is your company? I think I am ready for a new job. Here is my resume. Do you think you can hire me?”

This is a difficult type of request to respond to because you have put me in a bit of a spot. I will be very honest, but if I thought I could hire you, I would have already tried a long time ago. And the most ironic thing is if I did try to pull you away from your current job back then, you would have refused, saying that you are happy and your boss is making a lot of effort to keep you there.

Don't try this in your own office!
Now, let me qualify this post a bit. I assume that you want a better career. Not necessarily another job doing the same old thing with a bit more pay or security. If that’s what you are after, then stop reading this post now and just broadcast your resume and start calling recruiters.

What I am writing here is about getting a real improvement in your career, and I am passing on to you my findings. 

Looking back, I find that people who came and went to better places (than me) do the following things so well:

1. They become experts on certain topics in their own industries. For example, some people know SQL Server inside out, and others know HTML5.

2. They are continuously improving their own skill sets. Remember, the better the position, the fewer slots are available. It is a very, very competitive world out there.

3. They are continually networking with people—people better than them, not on an equal or less level. 

You Are Now Stuck, Right? Wrong!

I know, I know.  You feel you are now stuck because your boss has not given you any projects that will allow you to improve your skills. And, honestly, if that’s the case, it is time to consider leaving your boss. You are just working for someone whose only goal is to not get fired. 

What people are looking for is this. "What can you bring to my table?" And that's basically the only bottom line. And you have to substantiate your claim that you can. Other stuff is important like personality etc., But if your boss can not be sure it will improve her or his chance to compete or even keep him or her on the job, nothing else counts.

The good news is that thanks to social networking, it is actually possible for you to get out of that rut without spending almost any money. It just takes time and determination.

 Here is what I recommend you do:

1. Become an expert in a specific subject matter that you are passionate about.

I see many people on resumes being decorated with all of the software languages ever developed by man from 6502 Assembly Language to COBOL to Java to Erlang. Unless you know these very well, don't mention them. Today you must know JavaScipt Plus, C# or Java, and a few others like PHP or Python or Ruby. But not 20 languages. You can be sure that if you mention a language on your resume, you will be tested on it. 

We once hired an SQL consultant. He knew the answers to every question I asked, from optimization to redundancy, which was taking a long time for the company to figure out. Are you that person? If so, you don’t need to worry about your current job or the next one.

If you are not getting that kind of experience from your job, then, the only way (at least in software) to do this is to read a lot and experiment a lot on your own. Fortunately, most anyone can now spin up a cloud machine or two and do a lot of experiments without much up-front investment, without the need to buy hardware, an OS or even an SQL license. Amazon and Microsoft Azure, for example, provide free-tier accounts and such. Even if you are paying, you can shut down the machines when you are not experimenting. 

And you can read as many books are you need on services like Safari Books Online for no more than buying one tech book a month.

Now if you say, “I don’t know how to run a cloud machine,” then I must say your IT career is almost completely doomed. Hint: I can buy my underwear and CPU time using the same user name and password!

2. Create demonstrable skills to back up your expertise.

Once you pick an expertise you want to gain and you're comfortable with, start participating in the open source group that’s solving problems you understand. Contribute your code, write some real usable apps, and contribute and interact with the group. 

This is a significant networking opportunity and you will become important to the community. You will become an expert and people will notice you. You can write that in your resume, and say in the interview, “My boss did not give me the chance at work, but you can see my code and my work on Project XZY at http: //...” Sure, you will need to know GitHub, and “we never used it at my work” will not cut as an excuse.

A demonstrable skill means we can see the actual app running on your cloud server or can download the app and start trying it. Now you're talking.

3. Attend Meetups and Hackathons.

Start looking at Meetup.COM and join the meetings that might interest you. Sure, they're usually in the evening or on weekends, but that’s an investment you are making to network with people, gain up-to-date skills and see what others are doing.

4. Collaborate or volunteer your skills.

If you are working with an academic institution or hospital, you will find that professors and doctors need a lot of help collecting, processing and analyzing data. In exchange for your work, you will become a co-author of a paper. People will take you a lot more seriously if your resume has a Publications section! 

Or how about helping your kid's surf team or soccer team by writing apps to keep track of results or meets? Some people start with a volunteer effort that ends up becoming a commercial product.
So decide now, find what you are passionate about, gain the skills using these methods, meet a lot of people and that will significantly improve the chance of getting noticed and getting hired for something that leads to a better career.

Lessons Learned

We should understand that each of us is an individual business. You have to market yourself, understand the current trends, know the customer base (your employers), innovate yourself, create differentiation, provide good customer service and fend off the competition. The harsh reality is that nobody else, including me, or even an enlightened boss, can escalate you to the next level unless you do something about it.