DiceTV: How the Career Crumbles

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcIhwxKhsIQ?rel=0&hd=1&w=560&h=346]

The Script

Cat: Have you ever looked back on some kind of disaster and wondered how you didn’t see it coming? I’ve got some warning signs to watch out for – so it doesn’t happen again. I’m Cat Miller, and this is DiceTV.

Jim Collins, who wrote the book Good to Great, lays out a map of corporate decline in his new work, How the Mighty Fall. Even though the book’s about companies, a lot of what Collins observes can be applied to a career.

Here’s what to watch for.

We’ve probably all been here. Line up a few successes, and pretty soon we think we’re invincible.

Confidence is one thing. Overconfidence is another. The wise worker knows the difference between the two. So, remember Han Solo’s line in Star Wars: “Don’t get cocky.”

Cocky leads to deciding you did such a great job straightening out the server rack, you should try overhauling the tech support team’s workflow. While you’re at it, the company Web site sure looks dated, so you’ll learn a little HTML and CSS, and get that fixed up, too.

Some people might be able to pull off such a scattershot approach, but not many. Stick to what you’re good at. If you’re the sys admin, be THE Sys Admin.

Ever seen this? You’ve got a deadline. But you’re sure that even if you nip here and tuck there, you’ll still be able to deliver on time. Or, you’ve lost a developer. But if you can just eek out an extra hour a day from the rest of thee team, you’ll still be fine. This is called denial-of-risk, and you’ve got to watch out for it. Think of the Windows guy who never thought this Linux thing was going to catch on.

Okay, so you’ve woken to up to fact that you’re sliding. You’re looking for a silver bullet. You’re looking for new and groundbreaking ways to use your COBOL skills, or thinking about putting together a startup to build a Pick-based killer app.

Fortunately, Collins shows that, as long as you take some drastic action, even getting to stage four doesn’t mean you’re doomed. As long as you can take a candid look at where you are, you can take the steps to get back to your core strengths.

I’m Cat Miller, this has been DiceTV, and we now return you to your regular desktop.

23 Responses to “DiceTV: How the Career Crumbles”

  1. She’s paraphrasing a book written about companies. For many companies, sticking to your core competencies is indeed sound advice. This bit of advice does not carry well to individuals, as many of you have pointed out. Stagnating in ones career is doom. On the other hand it does not hurt to develop deep expertise in one area that you have talent in. There are plenty of people looking for gurus. Just be aware that you may need to suddenly become a guru in something else as soon as the industry migrates in a different direction. Bottom line IMO: be flexible, don’t be afraid of new technology and don’t stagnate.

  2. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Grow skills to make you more valuable in a broader array of environments and opportunities. Specialization is for insects!
    One of my favorite quotes:
    “A Human Being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog,
    conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts,
    build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem,
    pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently and die gallantly.

    Specialization is for insects.”
    – Robert Heinlein

  3. Chris Paul

    Hey Pakvi, as a 39 year old in the best shape of my life, I will tell you that I have always been, and plan on continuing to be, the exception, that somehow, despite all good reason even at times, renews, re-tools, constantly growing better, maturing yet staying fresh. Contracting for 20 years has taught me flexibility. Why on earth anyone takes “secure” permanent jobs I never understood. It’s very simple: for me, it is about my strong set of skills and their value, not relying on some vague promise of seniority.

    So I am saying what you are saying is right because you said it. Because I disagree with you, it makes it untrue for me. Funny huh?

  4. @Tom Smith: You hit the nail on the head. The IT industry in this country which was built in the past 15-20 years by those of us who got degrees in Computer Science and the like are now seeing our jobs and lives undercut by the ‘Indian Mafia’ and the US government and companies are allowing it to happen. Its sad to see the hard work and lives of those of us who have put the miles on our bodies flying all around the US building this great infrastructure and robust industry see our jobs being thwarted by H1B and offshore resources who didn’t have to spent thousands of dollars on a ‘real’ education and such. But I guess the companies and US government that support this must think that we can all get jobs at the local burger joint to support our families in the future…

  5. Tom Smith

    So how do you compete with Cheap? We all know it is not about the best talent anymore. US IT will continue its race to the bottom until each and every job in the states is shipped to India. India will decide who to subcontract to and the most important industry in the World is being ceded to India so people like Mark Turd can buy another yacht.

  6. Kevin Smith

    “If you’re the sys admin, be THE Sys Admin”.
    I’m a good support guy. A really good support guy. So if I stick to my comfort zone and be THE support guy, my salary tops out at $85-90K when I’m say 30-35 years old. That leaves a lot of time working at the top of the pay scale. Do you know any 65 year old application support guys?

  7. Rick Libertarianski

    Another job web site suggests one show how valuable a guy can be by getting in there and doing extra stuff, Cat is saying NO. The guy that knows both software and hardware is the fellow with the job when the bean counters suggest cuts.

  8. Thrash Pup

    MattyMat you have your head so far up client company¿s asses, you could wear them as a TURBAN!

    What kind of background do you have? Let’s see – recruiter that’s like a used car salesman. I’ve had experiences with recruiters. Greed and profits – isn’t that your value sysytem?

    Too many are interested in their commission and not the fact that the potential employee has to work there!

    What a BA in Psychology, Poly Sci??

  9. Pakvi Roti

    @Kevin Smith: No. Because when your salary tops out and you’re somewhere in the 40 – 45 age range some pretext will be found for tossing you out the door for someone younger and cheaper.

    Don’t believe it? That’s okay, neither did I. But it happened, even though I kept all my skills and certs updated…bearing most of the costs myself. The IT industry does NOT value older workers, there are some exceptions, but that is what they are, exceptions.


  10. @Pakvi – You hit the nail on the head. I am in a similar situation and am considering getting out of IT altogether. There doesn’t seem to be much room for 40+ app dev guys anymore. That’s a huge problem for the industry in general because every time an “old-timer” like me is tossed out, years of experience and business knowlege go with. My old boss was eventually tossed out as well and when his replacement called me with questions about a process I developed, he got indignant when I told him “You don’t work for free and neither do I. I’ll be happy to offer my services as a consultant at a fair and reasonable rate.” Apparently anything other than free is unreasonable.

  11. Thrash Pup

    @Kevin Smith & Pakvi: If I were starting over as an EE in embedded development, I’d have made it a priority to get to Western Europe ASAP after last degree where there is some worker protection & respect!

    CORPORATE GREED rules here in the USA! Nothing but the cheapest & the best?!?!? Right?

    Kevin: You can be tossed any day, with zero severance. As Pakvi says, probably salary bracket motivated, but they won¿t wait until you are 40!

    NB: Notice how QUALITY has suffered since the GREED dominance & outsourcing began?

    Developing a product with a team of younger (fresh outs even!), inexperienced workers will hopefully (or eventually) bite the management in the ass!

  12. Jim Collings

    People need to learn that we are in an age that lifetime learning is going to be required. I work in software development and you most constantly retrain. If you get lax, you can easily become obsolete. I am in the 40-45 age range and have topped out at my pay range. Because of my expense, I need to prove why a company needs to pay me top pay compared to someone that may make 50-80% of what I do. If can’t do that, then why should someone choose me over a less experienced or younger worker.

  13. MattyMat

    I work in IT recruiting– and I can definitely concur with Kevin & Pakvi– it’s a buyers market out there– and most companies are looking for younger employees who can wear three hats– purely based in greed and profits. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have job security these days! If you can get out of the US and have more job security? Do it! …and do it now! ..Because everyone’s doing it across the globe—

  14. CRAP! CRAP! CPAP! Never stop believing in yourself to know that you can acomplish anything you truly focus on and desire.

    This is more indocrination to grow up and work for a company for the rest of your life and programming to send the message that “you’re not worthy or capable”… Please, please grow up.

    Read Rich Dad, Poor Dad. This sounds like an article written by a life long corporate slave.

    Perhaps this is what is right for you but for many of us, we are willing to risk nourishing our soul to forsake the pain of wondering “what if?”.

  15. Rahul Vakil

    I agree jobs are being outsourced to India. Why is that so? Its the imbalance. Imbalance in pay scales. India has a huge volume of simply brilliant talent. And that talent outnumbers US talent with a ratio of 1:5. A guy here with a sensational academia and work track record earns $65/hour but two people with exceptional talent, a brilliant academic record and a truly brilliant mind would still work for $30/hour in India. That’s two brains working in place of one. Outmatched, outnumbered! More productivity, more potential. Better economics, more profits. Which is the mantra of this world. Profitability.

  16. Truth Again

    “So, you’re a developer”, “So, your a Project Manager”, “So you’re an Analyst”. We have all heard it time after time.

    The truth is that most people are so much more dynamic. Trying to put people in a “bucket” continues to limit corporations from experiencing the benefit of helping people grow to reach their strongest potential.

    Most often, all that intellectual minded people need is someone to believe and invest in them and a challenge to be more. I truly believe that these individuals will exponentially reciprocate when extended this level of investment and belief.

    Most IT organizations want to keep you right where you if your awesome at what you do – investing in anything (raises, bonuses, etc.) but nurturing and helping individuals grow and develop to exceed their managerial talent.

    When you put people into specialized tasks, they are eventually going to need something different. It’s simply humanity 101.

  17. Chris Paul

    Wow – what a bunch of posting of versions of fiction suited to some sad stories. Don’t buy it! Don’t keep saying The US is crap, dude. You’re going to make it happen!

    Pick your self up and make something else of it. There’s a lot of opportunity. We’re all born into various amounts of good and bad luck on this spinning planet and you want someone to blame for your lack of success. This is not the America I grew up in, people wanting to make excuses.

    I have a secret for you. Your previous success was based more on luck than how intelligent you are.

    Don’t tell me “can’t”. Tell me “can”. I just don’t buy it that a few greedy bankers are our ruin. I do consider very seriously that the attitudes I see in this forum today are very much a threat to the future of not only this country but the round spinning wad humanity clinging to Planet Earth. Try try try try, get up; start it up. Rock on.

    I don’t have a CS degree and no certs but I thrive Thanks DICE!

  18. William Barrett

    How many more of us will be replaced by Indian workers? While Obama is screwing around with healthcare, our jobs are being stolen by foreigners!! There should be a 1000% corporate tax on salarys paid to workers living outside the U.S. or a corporate tax credit for companies who do not outsource jobs to foreigners. When is this country ever going to do things right???

  19. I have been in Data Processing for more than 40 years.
    I have seen it change repeatedly, and stayed with it all this time. However, even through the outsourcing era it was not like this. When a company out sources to India your job is gone, and the job you might go to is also gone; to India. Why would an American company want to pay an American salary when they can outsource to India and get someone to do the job for one-tenth the salary? How do we compete with cheap? Quality is no longer a value; just the price. Anyone ever hear the words “Human Capital”. That is all we are now. No matter what your skill set is, we are going the way of manufacturing in this country. Why? Because they can! A Datacenter can be run from anywhere in the world. Therefore, the “High Paying” jobs that used to exist are going to the lowest bidder. Right now that is India…So start learning how to say, “Do you want fries with that?”

  20. My husband began a second career in IT back in the 1990’s after the automotive industry circled the drain and his Automotive engineering degree was worth squat. IT lasted until 2001 and once again those jobs began to fly out the window.
    He as reinvented himself, taken classes, done all the things one is supposed to do, but the truth is there are very few jobs and what is there is a dogs breakfast of required “skills” that in no way relate to the posted job. Add in the off shore indian recruiters who call with no clue as to what a position requires, and you have a perfect storm.

  21. Pakvi Roti

    @Rahul Vakil on November 06, 2009 at 02:24 PM EST: What India has is a vast supply of barely mediocre talent. True, there are a few gems amongst all the gravel, but the myth of the Indian Super IT Guru is just that a myth. Typically, it takes four Indians to produce the volume of work one American produces. Notice I said “volume” and not quality. And then, the customer still has to pay for American staff to debug and fix all the “issues” that remain after receiving a supposedly finished product.

    As an American married to an Indian National, and holding PIO status, I have worked in India and around Indians extensively. My Indian managers treated me well, but they treated their Indian subordinates very badly. Indians are mostly lazy and have a poor work ethic with diligence being low on the list of priorities.

  22. Pakvi Roti


    In fact, spend any time around Indians, and you will become sick of hearing them say: “Doesn’t matter!” followed by the [head waggle and hand wave]. Don’t get me wrong, I like Indians for the most part, and have enjoyed my stays in India. But really, what the Indian outsourcing industry really has in an excellent marketing program. In short, it is mostly fluff with little real substance. That U.S. business managers are stupid enough to buy into the Glitz-N-Glam says more about us than the fact the Indians pulled off the scam.

    An interesting anecdote, then I will chalo. Indians abhor having to deal with Indian staffed call centers as much as we do. Funny, huh?

    Pakvi Roti

  23. Only a doof believes a few successes equals invincibility. But there are plenty of invincible, cocky talentless doofs in positions of power; their names are usually Peter Principle.

    Worse than a disaster you did not see coming, is a disaster you saw coming but took no steps to avoid because you believed your talent and skill at doing your job would be sufficient.

    Sadly, talent is not enough. Sometimes it does not matter what you know, it matters who you know and who likes you or dislikes you.