Career Thoughts Late 2017

I haven’t done a career post in awhile. I’ve been focused on my worldbuidling books and expanding my repetoire, but I’m still the Geek Job Guru, and it’s time I do a bit more of that.

So with 2017 stumbling along, from political chicanery to security issues to media scandals, let’s talk the career landscape so far. It’s . . . weird.


  • The stock market is humming along, but in the midst of political chaos, assorted scandals, and growing social and economic issues. In short, I don’t trust it, and expect a soft landing at best, or a steep (but not radical) decline in the next year or two.
  • Political uncertainty with our current administration can balloon out of control very quickly, especially in cases of military action or impeachment. It’s pretty hard to prepare for this, but you’ll want to. For instance, I have a few “economic emergency plans” in place just in case.
  • With all of the above, I think some economic downturn is simply unavoidable. The question is how severe it will be and how long it will last.

Speaking of Economic Emergency Plans:

  • As much as I like making Plan A work, it’s good to think ahead on your plan for an economic downturn both local, national, and global. This is because we might get one. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but it’s good to have a basic one so you don’t have to worry about it.

Where To Work

  • As much as I love the Bay Area, our housing issues are starting to impact recruiting. I consider this place a good area to move, but urge caution and careful research. I think we’ve got another 2 or so years of this so if you move here – keep this in mind.
  • Amazon’s big plan to make a new HQ is probably going to create a rush, but based on what they said, I wouldn’t expect it to be in a truly major area (Boston, Chicago, etc.). It’d be more a secondary or tertiary city. I also don’t consider it a guarantee of stimulating the economy.
  • My usual recruiting pings seem to be coming from all over lately, I haven’t noticed any trends except “all over.”
  • One big warning is that if you do move, treat it as permanent. You never know and I don’t trust current stability – make sure you’re in a place that can take economic downturns.
  • The bloom is very much off the Tech Company rose after the endless waves of scandals. This doesn’t mean these aren’t good places to work or good options, and people are still investing in some strange ideas. I take it more that we’re seeing things come back to oft-painful reality.
  • Side note on tech companies – considering the scandals we’ve seen from harassment to promoting propaganda, consider that there’s probably more to come by the odds. Adjust expectations appropriately.

Staying Mobile

  • I’ve seen a increase in recruiters looking for people willing to move around for temporary assignments. I’m mixed on this idea since it can lead you all over the place, affect your lifestyle and social life, and perhaps even health. But it might be good as filler.


Career Options

  • After the issues with Equifax, you can believe security is going to be an issue in jobs. I’d suggest playing that up if you have the experience and keeping an eye out for opportunities. This is a place to build a permanent career – that hasn’t changed, it’s just more urgent.
  • I’ve recently been introduced to a less-seen world of change control and training and business analysis. This is a fascinating area you may want to check out – because it’s omnipresent and it’s evolving. I’ve also noticed Analyst work is big for both starting careers and bringing them to a conclusion.
  • I’m seeing more and more people doing side projects quite openly, like my books or Seventh Sanctum. If you have one and can make it public, go for it.
  • As for what jobs people should do or train for – that’s something I’m honestly not sure of now. All I can say is do your research.

Job Searches

  • There seems to be a lot of talent mismatch out there with people, companies, etc. This is actually a warning as desperate people may hire wrong.  I think it may be getting worse.
  • On top of the above, I’m seeing more specific recruitment attempts – at times incredibly specific in ridiculous ways. These jobs then stay open forever. Applying for them if you don’t fit enough is probably a waste of time.
  • Recruiters are getting a lot more aggressive the last few months based on what I’ve seen. That may be good, but can be annoying, can lead to a bad mismatch. Also a few companies are outsourcing recruiting and these recruiters are kinda clueless.
  • Pay rates seem very stagnant as of late, possibly regressing, at least based on personal experience. You may need to be aggressive – and I suspect this is part of further problems (above). People want to deal with mismatches cheap and fast.


The entire economy and job market seems to somehow be moving forward erratically while also being in a holding pattern. So if you have any input, I’d appreciate it.

– Steve

Find People Who Fill In Your Professional Gaps

So the old saying goes that no man is an island. I would note that very technically someone standing in water is an isolated body in water, and thus technically an island, but then I’m just being a jerk.

But the truth is we’re not complete. Human beings are naturally inclined to work with each other (even if we’re not doing so by benevolence), which makes sense. There’s a lot we can’t do on our own.

In fact there’s huge blanks in our lives as there are simply thinks we’re not capable of. I can pretty much guarantee that you don’t write your own software, cook your own food, repair your own car, build your own house, and remove your own appendix. Buckaroo Banzai and TOny Stark, those Omnicompetent heroes of fiction are just that – the Renaissance man is an ideal to aspire to at best.

If you’re any kind of professional or a creative with professional aspiration, you want to find people who fill in your blanks.

Awareness By The Book

I’ve always been a pretty independent guy, but for me my work on writing made me painfully aware of jut how much I can’t do on my own. I’m not a great technical editor (at best I’m average), I can’t do cover art, and I can’t create a multibillion dollar distribution company with a self-publishing branch. Hell, even pre-reading gets hard as after awhile I’m tired of my own damn book.

My own career? I’m a Project and Program Manager. I provide things other people can’t do (organization) but in turn I am vastly ignorant about the many areas I touch and have to rely on people. I am spread thinner than a specialist, and so I have to have others around.

Sure I coached others, filling in their gaps.  But really I also have to fill in my own.

You should be too.

The Gaps You Face

You address an issue by being aware of it. So here’s the places I’ve found myself and others may need someone to fill in our blanks career-wise.

Resumes – Look, everyone should know how to make a good resume. Maybe you can, but if you can’t find someone who can.

Economics – Yeah, I always advise people to be aware of the economy. But sometimes being aware is knowing “I should ask Dave what the hell happened.” If you know your grasp of economics isn’t the best, then find someone who can advise you.

Organization – We should all be organized enough to keep our lives in order, but some of us are not long-term planners. Be it a roommate who keeps the budget or admitting your Project Manager should tell you what to do, sometimes you need organizational skills – on the job or off.

Relations – On the job you might not exactly be Mr. or Mrs. sociable. That’s ok – some jobs require intense focus to get done. So if you’re not the most sociable of people, let your boss/co-workers/etc. know so hey can help out. Some teams even work well with a designated “face” – get the gregarious person to get out there and do the work of being likable.

Social Media – Ugh, I’ve seen some people make some sad social media mistakes (most notably, public pictures of them with a beer bong during a job search). If you’re engaged on social media, it might not hurt to ask one of your savvy friends for tips on how that may affect your career.

Investment – I am a strong believer in managing your own investments. In fact my usual take is “Index and/or retirement fund and that’s it). But if you can find someone you trust to advise you, its worth it if you’re not up for that thing. It may take time to find someone reliable (and I’m prone to only trust “investment professionals” after careful evaluation), but its worth it.

Career Steps – We almost all have to “outsource” getting career ideas from people more senior to us as they have the experience. Learn to ask for help, observe those where you want to be, and learn. Trust me, I never expected to be where I am now – but it worked. I probably could have listened earlier.

It’s OK

So look, it’s OK to admit on the job, on the job search, you can’t do everything. I firmly believe you should do as much as you can, but you won’t be able to do it all.

But also be aware – you can fill in someone else’s gaps. There’s things you’ve got. There’s things you’re good at. Maybe you can even set up a trade.

Hell, good co-workers and good friends fill in each others gaps instinctively. you might know more – and need more – than you realize . . .

– Steve

Reflections On Becoming A Consultant

So as many of you know, round about last year I decided to give the consulting thing a go – possibly permanent.  I’d gotten tired of turnovers, layoffs, transformations, reorgs, politics, etc.  I took a 5% pay cut – and a return to 40 hour weeks – and gave it a shot.

The end result is I actually liked it.  Now let me note that I’m not giving up being a permanent employee (or my own business if anything works out).  My take was that if any contract resulted in an offer and I figure it’d work out since I’d been at the place awhile, I’d take it.  And, of course, if I stay a contractor who knows where I’ll be business-wise.

(I’d say of the places I’ve contracted at over the last 20 years, about one out of 4 were “worth making permanent” – they were all good, but some didn’t have the right opportunities).

But, still, for now and the foreseeable future I’m doing the contracting thing.  And there’s a lot to share.

Here’s what I’ve experienced with my shift to going contractor.

Medical Benefits: Not as big a pain in the backside as you’d think – many placement companies provide them, if only medical.  The big issue may be jumping between companies, so you’l need to stay on top of this, occasionally do short-time COBRA, or just go for your own.  It’s not horrible, but it’s a bit of work, and Obamacare makes it easier for many.

Other Benefits: Many contracting companies that focus on professionals offer people on longer-term assignments some pretty nice deals.  You may just have to bounce that 401K around (have your own investment plan)

Pay: Here’s where it gets interesting.  As a contractor I get paid hourly, and tend to work around 40 hours a week.  I also don’t get bonuses or stock usually.  But I found compared to being a regular employee I get an enormous amount of time back -and when that overtime comes in its pretty impressive.  Technically I’m making more per hour as a consultant considering that unpaid overtime of other jobs (stock and bonuses included)

Working With The Companies: If you’re selective, you’ll find most contracting companies you go with are good – and there’s a lost of god ones, especially in IT.  Most people are pretty chill, and if you do it right you can line up multiple assignments in a row – though be careful with time of year.  Speaking of . . .

Timing Is Everything: Openings are cycler, which can be a pain.  I had to switch companies due to work availability as my last contract ended before Thanksgiving.  My new and my old company were both awesome, fortunately.  However you need to know cycles in your industry.  Also have some liquid cash around for having a few weeks off here and there.

Train Yourself: One thing you may not get is training support and reimbursement, so that’s up to little old you to do.  That can be a pretty big chunk of change.  However . . .

Rates Can Be Generous If You’re Smart: Right now I’m making a decent wage for a good job, but you have to be smart and not get lowballed.  If you’re skilled and smart, you can break the average, and there is room for negotiation.  I’ve interviewed for some seriously crazy hourly amounts.

You Have To Have a Pitch: A good consultant has to know how to pitch themselves.  If you’re not going to do that it might not be for you – unless you get a really good representative.

People Treat You As Competent: One thing I’ve noticed over my years of contracting is that people usually give contractors more of a benefit of a doubt than employees.  This isn’t true of everyone, but I find it’s true more often than not.  For some people this can be very refreshing if, say, they had a bad layoff.

It Is a Career: A lot of people in Silicon Valley have a consulting phase of life, and some people will make it their career.  You can do this all/most of your career – if you plan.  People eve respect it.

It Can Help In Retirement: If you’ve been a consultant, then it’s a great retirement plan.  You can work smaller projects, intermittently, etc.  If you get good at it, you’ve got something to use into old age – I meet people consulting in their 70’s (and raking in a nice wad of cash)

It’s A Bit Of A Pain On A Resume: As you may have many short assignments this gets tough.  I keep a history of resumes, and put the most detail on the latest.

That’s my experience.  Hope it gives you some ideas!

  • Steve