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Regardless of how much you love your job, or how stable you think your job is, you should always have a contingency that follows the “rule of 45”.

“If I had 45 seconds to call someone to look for a new job, I would call…”

“If I had 45 minutes to send e-mails out looking for a new job, I would e-mail…”

“If I had 45 days to get a new job, I would research the following companies…”

Like nuclear weapons or disaster recovery plans, hopefully, you will never need to use them.

If your answer is the same for all 3 of the above questions, you get a big fat “F” for this exercise.

Likewise, if the last time you thought about these was in 2008, “F+/D-” for your grade.

This is cross-posted from an e-mail I recently sent to someone looking to start out in the IT field.

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I think career advice is interesting. Everyone has good tips or “boy I wish I knew then, what I know now” type stories.

I was a Computer Operator on venerable VAX VMS systems – woot!

I was a DoD contractor 1991 – 1994.

I was a UNIX SysAdmin and got snookered into becoming a Team Lead for “mo ‘money” on the corporate hamster wheel.

🙂

<$.02>

Olden Times:

In the “bad old days” of like 15-20 years ago, “tape /computer operator” jobs were a great introduction into Data Center operations.

A huge number of my peers (myself included) started off by running backups, monitoring batch jobs, answering phones and if you showed you had more
than 2 brain cells firing and some initiative, it was fairly easy to start working towards a junior spot on a systems or a network team.

Why? Sharp people with initiative are hide to find. Drones to run backups and answer phones were easy to find.

Given that model is largely obsolete these days, I would look for a 3rd shift NOC {Network Operations Center} job.

Why?

  • They are the hardest positions to fill, least desirable for people with families etc.
  • They’re usually not staffed with a company’s “best and brightest”, that is usually first shift.
  • Or they are staffed with a very transient population: students, people holding down second jobs, people trying to advance into network and systems groups; like *you*. 🙂

Clearances:

Blech – a case study in the pendulum effect.

On Sep 12, 2001 (the day after 9/11), if you had a pulse and weren’t incarcerated at the time along with 3 boxtops from Captain Crunch cereal, you could get a TS clearance.

Beltway Bandits were absolutely dying to get warm bodies into billets and start printing money again like in the good old days of the
’50s-’80s. The ’90s were brutal to DoD contractors.

Starting in about 2008 (the Great Recession) +/- the job postings started morphing into the postings of 2009/ 2010:

  1. Must have a active TS clearance – ok, cool – companies don’t want to eat the cost of you twiddling your thumbs on ‘standby’ while you are waiting for your clearance.
  2. Must be a certified Plutonium Oracle Wizard – what!?!?
  3. Must know Linus Torvalds personally – ermmmm???
  4. Ideally, cut Bill Gates lawn when you were a teenager
  5. Have design experience building Keyhole satellites
  6. Be astronaut qualified – pardon me???
  7. Be an Eagle Scout
  8. Have 9 years of assembly programming experience
  9. Have 4 years of ***production*** .NET experience etc. etc.
  10. Be available to travel 75% of the time to vacation spots that end in *-stan.

Am I exaggerating? Sure. But silly stuff has its roots in reality, right?

</$.02>

I’d look for the largest organization with a Data Center or a NOC that I could find. It will give you the most amount of exposure to various IT
disciplines and probably give you the most opportunity to expand into something you are really interested in. Exposure to Production
environments is what you are looking for first and foremost.

Help Desk / PC or End-User support would be a *distant* second choice. It could be harder to differentiate yourself in that support space.

It really varies by organization. One twist on this, giving a nod to a clearance though, is that you might be able to do PC / End-User support
while you are waiting on a TS clearance. And in that case, it might be a great deal for all parties.

In 2-3 years if you seem ‘stuck’ look at a jump to smaller or mid-sized shops and take the “big environment” experience with you.

Management {Beware of Greeks Geeks Bearing Gifts}

Lastly – beware of ‘promotions‘ into management.

If you like doing technical stuff, don’t fall into the trap of “You can be a team lead AND you can do you technical work Wilma…”.

In the 20 years I have been an IT Weenie, things have gotten better in terms of letting techies stay techies and promoting them in an organization on a non-management path, SysAdmin I-IV, etc.

Just be careful though, because that $2,000 – $5,000 more a year (if you even get a raise) can easily turn into 10-20 more hours a week of work going to meetings, dealing with employee problems and a whole host of other crap things that don’t seem to end until 5PM and you STILL have 2-3 more hours of work ahead of you.