Category Archives: career

ICYMI: What Defines You?

(This originally appeared on THWACK.com)

A few months back, SearchNetworking editor, Chuck Moozakis interviewed me for an article discussing the future of network engineers in the IT landscape: “Will IT Generalists Replace Network Engineering Jobs?”As part of our discussion, he asked me, “what in your mind, defined you as a networking pro in 1995, in 2005, and in 2015?” My initial answers are below, but his question got me thinking.

How we identify ourselves is a complex interaction of our beliefs, perceptions, and experiences. Just to be clear: I’m not qualified to delve into the shadowy corners of the human psyche as it relates to the big questions of who we are.

But in a much more limited scope, how we identify within the scope of IT professionals is an idea I find fascinating and ripe for discussion.

Every branch of IT has a set of skills specific to it, but being able to execute those skills doesn’t necessarily define you as “one of them.” I can write a SQL query, but that doesn’t make me a DBA. I can hack together a Perl script, but I am by no stretch of the imagination a programmer.

Adding to the confusion is that the “definitive” skills, those tasks which DO cause me to identify as a member of a particular specialty, change over time.

So that’s my question for you. What “are” you in the world of IT? Are you a master DBA, a DevOps ninja, a network guru? Besides your affinity to that area—your love of all things SQL or your belief that Linux is better than any other OS—what are the things you DO which in your mind “make” you part of that group? Tell me about it in the comments below.

For the record, here is how I answered Chuck’s original question:

What made you identify as a networking professional in the year?”

1995

I was a networking professional because I understood the physical layer. I knew that token ring needed a terminator, and how far a single line could run before attenuation won out. I knew about MAU’s and star topology. I could configure a variety of NIC’s on a variety of operating systems. I could even crimp my own CAT3 and CAT5 cables in straight-through or crossover configurations (and I knew when and why you needed each). While there were certainly middle pieces of the network to know about—switches, routers, and bridges—the mental distance between the user screen and the server (because in those days the server WAS the application) was very short. Even to the nascent internet, everything was hard-coded. In environments that made the leap to TCP/IP (often in combination with NetWare, SmallTalk, and NetBIOS) all PC’s had public-facing IP addresses. NAT hadn’t been implemented yet.

2005

You could almost look at the early-to-mid 2000’s as the golden age of the network professional. In addition to enjoying a VERY robust employment market, networking technologies were mature, sophisticated, complex, and varied. The CCNA exam still included questions on FDDI, Frame Relay, fractional T’s, and even a NetBIOS or SmallTalk question here or there (mostly how it mapped to the OSI model). But MPLS and dark fiber was happening, wireless (in the form of 802.11b with WEP) was on the rise, VoIP was stabilizing and coming down in cost to the point where businesses were seriously considering replacing all of their equipment, and the InfoSec professionals were being born in the form of ACL jockeys and people who knew how to do “penetrative testing” (i.e.: white-hack hacking). How did I fit in? By 2005 I was already focused on the specialization of monitoring (and had been for about 6 years), but I was a networking professional because I knew and understood at least SOME of what I just named, and could help organizations monitor it so they could start to pull back the veil on all that complexity.

2015

Today’s networking professional stands on the cusp of a sea-change. SDN, IoT, BYOD, cloud and hybrid cloud (and their associated security needs) all stand to impact the scale of networks and the volume of data they transmit in ways unimaginable just 5 years ago. If you ask me why I consider myself a networking professional today, it’s not because I have network commands memorized or because I can rack and stack a core switch in under 20 minutes. It’s because I understand all of that, but I’m mentally ready for what comes next.

ICYMI: What Makes Us Go To Extremes?

(This originally appeared on THWACK)

I’ve really enjoyed watching (and re-watching, a few times) this video SolarWinds made in honor of SysAdmin day (SysAdmin Day Extreme). What appeals to me – besides the goofy sound effects and scenarios (Seriously, guys? “Parkour Password Reset”?!?) is the underlying premise – that sysadmins are adrenaline junkies and our job is a constant series of RedBull-fueled obstacles we must overcome. Because even though that doesn’t match the reality in our cubicle, it is often the subtext we have running through our head.

In our heads, we’re Scotty (or Geordi) rerouting power. We’re Tony Stark upgrading that first kludged-together design into a work of art. We’re MacGuyver. And yeah, we’re also David Lightman in “War Games”, messing around with new tech and unwittingly getting ourselves completely over our head.

As IT Professionals, we know we’re a weird breed. We laugh at what Wes Borg said back in 2006, but we also know it is true: “…there is nothing that beats the adrenaline buzz of configuring some idiot’s ADSL modem even though he’s running Windows 3.1 on a 386 with 4 megs of RAM, man!”.

And then we go back to the mind-numbing drudgery of Windows patches and password resets.

I’ve often said that my job as a sysadmin is comprised of long stretches of soul-crushing frustration, punctuated by brief moments of heart-stopping panic, which are often followed by manic euphoria.

In those moments of euphoria we realize that we’re a true superhero, that we have (as we were told on Saturday mornings) “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man.”

That euphoria is what makes us think that 24 hour datacenter cutovers are a good idea; that carrying the on-call pager for a week is perfectly rational; that giving the CEO our home number so he can call us with some home computer problems is anything resembling a wise choice.

So, while most of us won’t empty an entire k-cup into our face and call it “Caffeine Overclocking”, I appreciate the way it illustrates a sysadmin’s desire to go to extremes.

I also like that we’ve set up a specific page for SysAdminDay and that along with the video, we’ve posted links to all of our free (free as in beer, not just 30 day demo or trial) software, and some Greeting Cards with that special sysadmin in your life in mind.

Oh, and I’ve totally crawled through a rat’s nest of cables like that to plug something in.

What are some of your “extreme SysAdmin” stories?

ICYMI: Respect Your Elders

(This article originally appeared on THWACK’s GeekSpeak forum)

“Oh Geez,” exclaimed the guy who sits 2 desks from me, “that thing is ancient! Why would they give him that?”

Taking the bait, I popped my head over the wall and asked “what is?”

He showed me a textOlder rev’s of industrial motion-control systems used specific pin-outs on the serial port. The new USB-to-Serial cables don’t mimic those pin-outs correctly, and trying to upload a program with the new cables will render the entire system useless. message, sent to him from a buddy—an engineer (EE, actually) who worked for an oil company. My co-worker’s iPhone 6 displayed an image of a laptop we could only describe as “vintage”:

(A Toshiba Tecra 510CDT, which was cutting edge…back in 1997.)

“Wow.” I said. “Those were amazing. I worked on a ton of those. They were serious workhorses—you could practically drop one from a 4 story building and it would still work. I wanted one like nobody’s business, but I could never afford it.”

“OK, back in the day I’m sure they were great,” said my 20-something coworker dismissively. “But what the hell is he going to do with it NOW? Can it even run an OS anymore?”

I realized he was coming from a particular frame of reference that is common to all of us in I.T. Newer is better. Period. With few exceptions (COUGH-Windows M.E.-COUGH), the latest version of something—be it hardware or software—is always a step up from what came before.

While true, it leads to a frame of mind that is patently un-true: a belief that what is old is also irrelevant. Especially for I.T. Professionals, it’s a dangerous line of thought that almost always leads to un-necessary mistakes and avoidable failures.

In fact, ask any I.T. pro who’s been at it for a decade, and you’ll hear story after story:

  • When programmers used COBOL, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, one of the fundamental techniques that were drilled into their heads was, “check your inputs.” Thinking about the latest version of exploits, be they an SSLv3 thing like ‘Poodle’, or a SQL injection, or any of a plethora of web based security problems, the fundamental flaw is the server NOT checking its inputs, for sanity.
  • How about the OSI model? Yes, we all know its required knowledge for many certification exams (and at least one IT joke). But more importantly, it was (and still is) directly relevant to basic network troubleshooting.
  • Nobody needs to know CORBA database structure anymore, right? Except that a major monitoring tool was originally developed on CORBA and that foundation has stuck. Which is why, if you try to create a folder-inside-a-folder more than 3 times, the entire system corrupts. CORBA (one of the original object-oriented databases) could only handle 3 levels of object containership.
  • Powershell can be learned without understanding the Unix/Linux command line concepts. But, it’s sure EASIER to learn if you already know how to pipe ls into grep into awk into awk so that you get a list of just the files you want, sorted by date. That technique (among other Unix/Linux concepts) was one of the original goals of Powershell.
  • Older rev’s of industrial motion-control systems used specific pin-outs on the serial port. The new USB-to-Serial cables don’t mimic those pin-outs correctly, and trying to upload a program with the new cables will render the entire system useless.

And in fact, that’s why my co-worker’s buddy was handed one of those venerable Tecra laptops. It had a standard serial port and it was preloaded with the vendor’s DOS-based ladder-logic programming utility. Nobody expected it to run Windows 10, but it fulfilled a role that modern hardware simply couldn’t have done.

It’s an interesting story, but you have to ask: aside from some interesting anecdotes and a few bizarre use-cases, does this have any relevance to our work day-today?

You bet.

We live in a world where servers, storage, and now the network is rushing toward a quantum singularity of virtualization.

And the “old-timers” in the mainframe team are laughing their butts off as they watch us run in circles, inventing new words to describe techniques they learned at the beginning of their career; making mistakes they solved decades ago; and (worst of all) dismissing everything they know as utterly irrelevant.

Think I’m exaggerating? SAN and NAS look suspiciously like DASD, just on faster hardware. Services like Azure and AWS, for all their glitz and automation, aren’t as far from rented time on a mainframe as we’d like to imagine. And when my company replaces my laptop with a fancy “appliance” that connects to Citrix VDI session, it reminds me of nothing as much as the VAX terminals I supported back in the day.

My point isn’t that I’m a techno-Ecclesiastes shouting “there is nothing new under the sun!” Or some I.T. hipster who was into the cloud before it was cool. My point is that it behooves us to remember that everything we do, and every technology we use, had its origins in something much older than 20 minutes ago.

If we take the time to understand that foundational technology we have the chance to avoid past mis-steps, leverage undocumented efficiencies built into the core of the tools, and build on ideas elegant enough to have withstood the test of time.

If you Knew Me, You Wouldn’t Believe Me

And all of a sudden, people are referring to you as an expert in the field. When this first happens, you may even feel like an imposter, a fraud. But don’t worry.

As long as you stay focused on helping make things better, on helping others, on elevating good work (whether it’s yours or someone else’s) that you find “out there”… as long as you do that, you won’t be a fraud.

Because that’s genuine work, even if it doesn’t feel like work to you. And as hard as it is to believe, it’s not easy enough that anyone can do it, because very few other people are doing it.

Otherwise, who would you be helping in the first place?

I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Ira Glass (Host of “This American Life“) has an oft-quoted piece about creative work titled “The Gap”. You can read it here, but it’s been made into vines and videos and lots of other forms that are more fun to watch – you can Google the first sentence and find enough to waste an hour or two.

What Ira describes has a parallel in the world of I.T., and just like Ira’s experience, nobody told me when I started. So with all necessary apologies and legal disclaimers, here is my adaptation of Ira’s famous advice:

Nobody tells this to I.T. noobies. I wish someone told me. All of us who do technical work, we get into it because we have a desire to make things work better. Folks drawn to IT are quick figure out how things work, but then we have this vision of how it could work – how cool it could be. And we know that if we could just get in there and tinker with it, we’d get it all sorted out and it would be incredible.

But there’s this gap.

For the first couple of years you are just plowing along. There’s so much to learn, and so much to do, and you have to earn respect before you get to do some of the cool stuff. So you do it. You just do the hard work of doing the work and learning and growing.

But at the same time you can see so much more that you want to fix, to improve, to be part of.

So you keep plugging away, soaking it all in and just trying to be part of whatever you can get into.

After a few years, you realize you’ve fallen into this trap – you have done all these different things (and done them well!) but now everyone expects you to be a jack of all trades all the time. To be the “he can figure it out” guy.

So this is the part nobody told me. The part that I had to figure out for myself. The part I’m telling you now:

After a few years, when you’ve seen the whole landscape of I.T. and you know what it’s all about, you need to pick. You need to decide where your personal desires and skills overlap. It might be storage, or voice, or server, or appdev, or whatever. It might have NOTHING to do with what you are doing here and now (actually, that’s a pretty safe bet). The point isn’t that you start doing “it” (at least not at first). The point is that you have chosen, and you commit to that goal.

To get there, you might need to work with a whole other team “on the side”, or after hours, or volunteer, or just hang out with “those guys” when they eat lunch. You might have to start reading a whole other set of blogs, or sneak to user groups or conventions on your lunch hour and days off.

And the job you are doing now, at the company you work for? You should get used to the idea that they’re not going to help you get there. Right now you are this amazing do-it-all resource. If you start only doing one thing they’re going to have to hire 2 or 3 more people to cover what you used to be doing. So don’t expect a lot of love in that direction.

But please, PLEASE keep doing it. Tap into the passion that got you into this in the first place – the desire to figure it out and the vision of how it can be better – and you push ahead. You’ll start commenting in forums, or writing blog posts, or jumping on tweet-ups.

You transform interest and enthusiasm into experience.

And all of a sudden, people are referring to you as an expert in the field. And all of a sudden, you are doing what you love, not just what you can.

Like Ira says: “It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Showing Your Scars

One summer I was hired to help build scenery for a local summer stock theater venue. The problem is that I had been trained as an electrician, so every task in the wood shop required that I learn new skills on-the-fly. Because this was a job not a class and I was expected to know what I was doing, I didn’t ask enough questions and ended up making about twice as many mistakes as necessary on everything. Most of those mistakes weren’t life-threatening.

But one of the times, I was working on the table saw had my first experience with kick-back (for a video of what this looks like, see here. No, that’s not me.).

Similar to the video linked above, I was lucky that nobody was hurt, but then something weird happened – everyone started showing off their scars.

Guys who hadn’t even been in the wood shop when my accident happened came down from ladders, up from trenches, and over from across the park to show me scars that decorated their arms, fingers, hands, legs, and torsos. Each one came with a story, and the stories were remarkably similar:

“I was doing this thing… I was standing in the wrong place… I stopped paying attention for a second…  and BOOM!”

This story was followed by “And that’s why from then on I always make sure I <fill in the name of the safety procedure>”.

In addition to being thankful that no one was harmed, I was grateful for them not making me feel like I was a complete numskull for letting this happen. Apparently it can (and does) happen to everyone.

But I also wondered why nobody thought to tell those stories on the FIRST day. Like I said earlier, this wasn’t a teaching environment but I could imagine some sort of first-day ritual – the showing of the scars – where everyone lists their  experiences (in effect, showing their scars) and sharing the life lessons they learned from them.

Because not EVERYONE has had EVERY mishap, but in a team of 5 or more professionals, collectively the group has seen a lot.

At the time I thought that if every scene shop adopted a custom like that, more people would learn better lessons and have fewer scars (not to mention more severe injuries) to show for it.

I was reminded of this episode in my life the other day, when someone tweeted about reconfiguring a remote network device, only to find they had messed up one of the commands and the entire site was no longer accessible. A 2 hour drive was required to get on-site and fix the issue.

Immediately after the tweet came an outpouring of advice:

“Cisco’s ‘reload in’ command is your best friend.”;
“Always test your config in GNS3 first”;
“Never update a config until another set of eyes has looked at it first”
…and so on…

It reminded me of everyone coming down to the scene shop to show me their scars.

The next time you are sitting with your colleagues at the office – maybe you have a new face on the team; or maybe it’s YOUR first day; or maybe you’re starting a new project. Think about ways you can initiate a “showing of the scars”. Go around the table and list out your worst mistakes and the lessons you learned from them.

I’m willing to bet that you will grow closer as a team; that fewer “rookie” mistakes will be made by everyone; and that even the most grizzled veterans will probably learn a few things they didn’t know (or possibly had forgotten).

More people learning better lessons with fewer scars to show for it.

HumbleBrag: Gesher’s Upper Level IT Training

For the last few months, I’ve been working in conjunction with Gesher Cleveland to set up a program to help people in my community acquire IT skills (and subsequently an actual paying JOB in IT.). While I plan to write about this effort in greater detail later, I wanted to share the official announcement here. Never before (and, likely, never again) will you see me referred to as “an unassuming genius”. For a whole host of reasons.

You can find the announcement here. But in case it ever archives into the great bit-bucket in the sky, I’m copying it below:

gesher connections
 

Introducing – The Upper Level

adato leon

Gesher, is launching a new program- The Upper Level, a fast track IT training program enabling members of the community to join the world of high tech. The IT field is projected to grow by 12% by 2024. The average median income for Computer & IT occupations was $81,430 in 2015.

Program Director- Leon Adato
The Upper Level is being led by Leon Adato, an unassuming genius of a man who holds the position of Head Geek for Solarwinds, Inc in Austin, TX. Adato, coding since 1989, is dedicating his vast knowledge and skill set to make this program a reality.

Self Motivated Candidates
The job skills training program is predicated on the participants’ ability to learn with minimal supervision, using pre-existing online-curriculum to drive self-study. Program staff will provide oversight, guidance, and support but not training in any significant sense.
However, The Upper Level staff will be key drivers during the assessment of incoming participants, presenting and assisting in the selection of program tracks and ongoing follow up during and after the participant has graduated.

Soft Skills
The program schedule is a rigorous one, requiring the utmost in self-discipline and motivation, prompting a highly selective application process.
Balancing the IT work will be training in non-technical career skills, such as resume writing and the interview process, as the goal of The Upper Level is to ensure that the individual graduates with a well-rounded education, with all he/ she needs to invest in his future.

First Cohort- In Session
The first cohort began several weeks ago with 8 participants. The focus is to educate graduates of Yeshiva/ Kollel in a field that caters to their sort of intelligence, character and devotion; Information Technology. Adato, in his 3rd week wrap up commented,”I am extremely excited to report that we have not only committed students, but extremely ambitious ones!”

Highest Level of Assistance
While Gesher is proud of its ability to assist those in need within the community, it is even prouder to
introduce a program such as The Upper Level, which will facilitate growth and progression among individuals, preventing the need for assistance in the future.

If you would like to share your skills and expertise with the group please email ajoseph@geshercleveland.org or leon@adatosystems.com

 

See you next month!

©2017 Gesher | 2120 S Green Rd, South Euclid, OH 44121, USA

 
 

 

When, not what, defines today’s networking career

Learning new technologies is a constant challenge, but it is one that IT pros need to overcome to ensure a networking career remains relevant.

This post originally appeared on TechTarget SearchNetworking

Back in December 2014, Cisco filed a lawsuit against Arista Networks because Arista’s network device operating system, EOS, was too similar to Cisco’s beloved IOS.

This caused Tom Hollingsworth (a.k.a. “The Networking Nerd”) to speculate that this action presaged the ultimate death of the network device command-line interface (CLI).

Time will tell whether Hollingsworth is right or wrong and to what degree, but the idea intrigued me. Why would it matter if the command-line interface went away? What would be the loss?

Now, before going further, here’s a little background on me: I tend to be a “toaster” guy when it comes to technology. I don’t love my toaster or hate my toaster. I don’t proselytize the glorious features of my toaster to non-users. I just use my toaster. If it burns the toast, it’s time for a new toaster. Sure, over the years I’ve built up a body of experience that tells me my bagels tend to get stuck in the upright models, so I prefer the toaster/oven combos. But at the end of the day, it’s about making good toast.

Jeez! Now I have a craving for a panini. Where was I? Oh right, technology.

I use a lot of technologies. My phone is Android. My work laptop runs Windows 8.1. My home desktop runs Linux. My wife lives on her iPad. So on and so forth. I’ve come to believe that learning technology is like learning to play cards.

The first game you learn is new, interesting and a little confusing, but ultimately thrilling because of the world it opens up. But the second card game, that’s the hard one. You know all the rules of the first game, but now there’s this other game that completely shatters what you knew. Then you learn your third card game, and you start to see the differences and similarities. By the fifth game, you understand that the cards themselves are just a vehicle for different ways of structuring sets.

I believe that’s why people are concerned about Hollingsworth’s prediction of the death of CLI. If you only know one game — and let’s face it, CLI is an extremely comprehensive and well-known “game” — and you’ve invested a lot of time and energy learning not only the rules of that game but also its nuances and tricks, finding out that game is about to be discontinued can be distressing. But when it comes to CLI, I believe that distress is actually due to a misplaced sense of self. Because you aren’t really a CLI professional, are you?

Sure, you know a lot about CLI. But really, you’re a networking professional. Being able to configure open shortest path first (OSPF) from memory makes your job easier. But your job is knowing what OSPF is, when to use it versus enhanced interior gateway routing protocol, how to evaluate its performance and so on.

No, the concern about the death of CLI is really rooted in the fear of personal obsolescence. I’ve heard that notion repeated in conversations about the mainframe, Novell networking, WordPerfect 5.1 and dozens of other technologies that were brilliant in their time, but which, for various reasons, were superseded by something else — sometimes something else that is better, and sometimes not.

And a fear of personal obsolescence in your networking career is ultimately false, unless you are digging in your heels and choosing never to learn anything new again. (OK, that was sarcasm, folks. As IT pros, we should be committed to life-long learning. Even if you are two years away from retirement, learning new stuff is still A Good Thing™.) As long as you are open to new ideas, new techniques and yes, new systems, then you won’t become obsolete.

I’ll be honest. I think there are a lot of employers that exploit this insecurity. “Where’s a Perl script-kiddie like you going to find this kind of role?” they whisper — usually implicitly, although sometimes much more explicitly than any of us prefer. Or if we’re interviewing for a new job, they ask, “I see you have a lot of experience with AIX, but we’re a Windows shop. Do you really think your skills translate?”

I’m not here to talk about interviewing skills, salary negotiations or career improvements, so I’m not going to get into the potential responses, but I will say that the ultimate answer in each of these cases — and many others — is “Yes.” Why? Because it’s not about whether I know the fifth parameter of the gerfrinkel command in CodeMe version 12.3.9.7, which was deprecated in 12.3.9.8 in favor of the unglepacht function. It’s not about any of that. It’s about my experience on when to use certain commands, when to look for a workaround, how to manage an environment of this scale and scope and so on.

To play off the old joke about the copier repairman, a small part of your paycheck goes toward turning the screw; more of it is based on knowing which screw to turn.

As IT pros, we are paid — and are valuable — because we know how to find out which screw to turn and when to turn it. So to speak, of course.

eBooks For Your 2016 Reading List

As we tip over from the mad rush of December and prepare to ease into another year, I like to take a minute to appreciate the hush and calm that comes after the rush and bustle of various holidays.

This week after New Year I like to take a few moments to pause and regroup before diving into the new year. A chance to take stock, reflect, and think.

And so I’ve held off until now to officially promote the fruit of a few of my 2015 labors. If your resolutions for 2016 include making time to do some reading that doesn’t break your stretched-too-far-after-all-those-gifts budget, I want you to know that I’ve got a few eBook recommendations for the busy IT Pro. Each is available for Kindle (on Amazon) and also as a free PDF download.

Monitoring 101

Despite the relatively maturity of monitoring and systems management as a discrete IT discipline, I am asked – year after year and job after job – to give an overview of what monitoring is.

This book is my attempt to address that question in a more structured form, published with the assistance of the amazing folks at SolarWinds.

Intended as guide to help bring new team members (often fresh out of college or a technical program) up to speed with monitoring concepts quickly, this ebook (or portions of it) can serve as a good introduction for a variety of audiences.

Click here for the Kindle Edition | Click here for the PDF version

 

“Technically, These Are Some Random Thoughts”
Around September every year, Jews all over the world celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. However, it’s not – to put it in business terms – a year-end review. It’s a job interview. the month before Rosh Hashana (called “Elul” in Hebrew) is the time for getting one’s balance sheet in order. To help with that, a bunch of folks from all walks of life participate in #BlogElul: A daily prompt provides the theme and people riff on that – sometimes a few hundred words, sometimes an image, sometimes a poem or just a single sentence. It’s something I’ve done for a few years now. I thought I’d add a twist and also do an I.T. Professional’s version of #BlogElul and post the essays on my technology-specific blog: https://www.adatosystems.com. A reflection on each of the daily prompts and what they mean in an I.T. context. You’re probably thinking “Leon, this is a Jewish thing and completely outside the scope of my experience or interest as an I.T. Professional.” To which I emphatically reply: Yes and no. If you have worked in I.T. for more than 15 minutes, you’ve likely been involved in a large development project, system roll-out, or upgrade. And as the date for the big cut-over approaches, there are usually daily status updates. Consider this the notes from my status updates before the roll-out of “TheWorld v.5776”.

Click here for the Kindle Edition | Click here for the Nook Edition | Click here for the PDF version

 

The other day two different friends asked about tips in their quest for new employment. I have done more than my fair share of job hunting, so they figured I would have a trick or two up my sleeve. I do, and I thought I’d share it here with you as well.
Caveate: Some of these suggestions are very specific to my region (especially the Chagrin Valley Job Seeker’s group). So your mileage may vary.

Philosophy
“The third guy has your job.” Not your friend, and a friend of your friend, but the guy that your friend-of-a-friend knows – he’s the one who has your job. Your challenge is to get introduced to THAT guy. You do that by “networking”. Telling as many people about your search as you can, while doing it in a way that is positive, upbeat, energized and puts you in a positive light.

Be ready for the “why are you leaving your old job” question. Unless your company has publicly announced it tanking (cough!NationalCity!cough!), you will always need to address their fear that, like your current gig, you are going to bail on them too. The correct answer is almost always “career growth opportunities”. You simply couldn’t move into the area/level of leadership or technology that this new company is offering. But this job is your dream job, and you can already see how there will always be new exciting and rewarding challenges here. Practice saying something like that in the mirror if you have to, but get it down.

Sincerety is the key. Once you can fake that, you are in the clear. </sarcasm>

Finally, at the end of the interview, look the person in the eye and TELL them you want this job (assuming you do). In the vast majority of my interviews (given or received), almost nobody does that. They think being macho and coy is going to win them the job. Sorry to burst the tough-guy bubble, but I want someone who is interested, committed, excited. Tell me you are.

What I usually say is:

“I just want to take a minute and state clearly that not only do I believe I can do this job, I want to do this job – for you, with this team, at this company. This is something I would truly like to be part of. I didn’t want to leave this room without making sure you didn’t have any doubts about whether I wanted “in”. I do. I hope we’ll have a chance to work together.”

Head in the Game
What do you REALLY want to do in I.T? What kind of company do you want to work at? I know it sounds like a stupid question – I mean if a company has a job I apply for it, and if they don’t then who cares, right?

Nope.

A lot of jobs are unposted. Or they are dreams in the head of a manager who has an open headcount but doesn’t want to go through the hassle (read “paperwork”) of posting a job description, interviewing candidates, etc.

So the trick (and it requires time, patience and work) is to figure out which manager has that super-secret headcount, and get a chance to talk with him to convince him he should “spend” it on you – that you have skills he could really really use. Once he has that, everything becomes easier FOR HIM – he writes the job req to match what he already knows you can do; he interviews other people, but only to satisfy HR; and he gets it all done in 1 or 2 days, so that he can justify hiring YOU.

But that kind of work takes a lot of your time and effort. You can’t do it for every job in the city. Which is why you have to go back to “what do you want to do/ where do you want to do it?”.

Given the skills you have right now (people won’t hire you for stuff you wish you could do), what are the things you enjoy most? Because that’s the job you’ll want to hang on to, even when you have a butthead boss or there are salary cuts.

Do you prefer to work in legal, healthcare, manufacturing, food, etc? Narrow it down. Again, given the amount of detective work you’ll have to do, you need to limit your search to just one area. If that one comes up dry, you can move to the next section.

  • Make a list of companies that are in that sector. (there are plenty of guides online of companies and what area of industry they are in)
  • Then start to dig through your network (CVJS and LinkedIn) to find people you know (or that third guy) at those companies
  • Then get introduced
  • Then start the detective work

It will take time. It will also be worth it.

CVJS
First and foremost, join the Chagrin Valley Job Seeker’s group (http://www.chagrinvalleyjobseekers.org/). To join, you have to attend one live meeting. After that you will be able to get onto the online listserve (it runs off Yahoo Groups). The group is about 5,000 people strong – former job seekers (ie: people who got a job) and current seekers. The group has a wealth of information to download – “how to negotiate your salary” guides written by HR people based on their experience negotiating from the other side of the desk. “How to write a resume”, “how to perform a job search”, etc.

Meanwhile, the online discussion includes people posting new jobs at their company (already a benefit since you email the employee, who puts your resume on the hiring manager’s desk instead of you just going into the old HR hopper); or people who interviewed at a company and heard about other openings; or people who work at companies that you can approach to say “what should I know before my interview”.

LinkedIn
Beef up your network NOW. You really have no idea who is going to know the guy who knows the guy who knows the guy who has your job. It could be a High School acquaintance, or someone who worked at your first job, or something like that.

Don’t get hung up on the whole “I barely know them” thing.

They aren’t friends. They are colleagues. You don’t need to hug them, you don’t need to invite them out for coffee or beer. Facebook is for friends, and if you ask me, people who have a facebook friend list with 100’s of people is just stupid. A LinkedIn list of 100’s of colleagues makes sense, though.

Here’s the real payoff for working through LinkedIn: when you apply to a job on that system, the job posted sees not just your stuff, but everything that LinkedIn can tell them. Along with your response to a job posting, they see all the people you know that they know; they see all the recommendations you have gotten from people they know; they get a list of people you have worked with who are (or were) at their company. In short, it’s potentially a better “why you want me to work for you” speech than you could have given in person.

Start Talking

Look, I know that blogs are passe. I know they’re totally 2000’s. Everyone tweets now.

Except you are reading this. And you may also read something on webdesign.adatosystems.com. Or monitoring.adatosystems.com. Or maybe you caught a guest post of mine somewhere else.

The upshot is, you are here, down near the bottom of the article, still reading.

Blogs establish credibility. They are also living proof that you care enough about your work to share it with others. Not a good writer? Work on it. No really. Unless you like being a PC monkey mechanic or a programmer peon, and want to stay one for the rest of your career, the “C” word (communicating) is something you are going to need to learn how to do. And a blog is a great, low impact, non-judgemental space for you to practice that skill. And in the meanwhile, you have a place to talk about whatever strikes your fancy.

Including this time when two friends asked for ideas on their job hunt…

Everything Else

Yep, there’s monster, dice, and all the other 3 bajillion job seeking sites. Go work them. Set up job search notifiers. Check the newspaper. Leave no stone un-turned. For a long time, I never got a job through networking. All my jobs came through traditional channels. But then some did. And the jobs I got from doing it the new way were better, more satisfying, and more like “me” than the other ones.

Something worth considering.