Staying Relevant

I recently turned thirty and, as you may recall, made a rather big fuss about it.  I should probably point out that nothing on that list is accomplished post-30th although some are well on their way.

One thing that has been weighing on my heart a lot lately is relevance.  I’m not speaking in a social or music taste sort of way but as a business professional.  We live in an age where working at a company for more than ten years gets branded you a lifer and, in reality, might actually work against you as opposed to for you as far as resume material.  Perhaps it’s more prevalent in the IT world where young up and comers are everywhere and the average stay at a company is measured in months not years.  It is an industry that changes and shifts a lot.  A lot of work is required to keep on top of the latest technologies and keep certified.

Recently I decided to take a look at the job market, curious to see how relevant or applicable I was.  In my younger days I had a stunning success rate with jobs.  Nearly every job I applied to there was an interview and never once did I not get the call back.  Perhaps that was because my sights were much lower as were my salary and benefits expectations.  I should point out that I’m in a great place where I work right now.  I love my boss and co-workers and the environment they create.  There is little room for specialization within my IT professional career.  So there I sat, logged into LinkedIn and the Communitech websites browsing open IT related positions.

On first scan I was surprised how many fit the bill.  Then I got to reading the job descriptions and requirements.  The realization soon came that there was some work yet to come to get into those positions.  Many of the jobs I qualified for were simply lateral moves.  After a few days of research the conclusion started to become obvious: I had hit a ceiling professionally.  This revelation didn’t really surprise me, however.  I have been working an IT Generalist job for many years with little formalized training.  While my hands on “real life” education is extensive it doesn’t allow any exploration of specific technologies in depth.  As such, the old “jack of all trades, master of none” moniker has stuck nicely and it’s a bit of an annoying place to be.  At the young age of thirty it’s tough to believe you’ve peaked.

There are a couple routes to take after making this discovery.  Panic and emotional reactions are easy temptations but really won’t get you much.  Originally a personal hope was Cisco based certifications.  Achieving these would certainly renew professional relevance and open the door to new avenues.  Getting these has proven to be difficult and, well, expensive.  Exams cost hundreds of dollars and training thousands.  That doesn’t include the time allotment needed to properly study and memorize new technologies.  Another road block has been changing times.  In this case Cisco has recently stopped qualifying people on their old certification system and moved to a new “version 2” set of requirements.  These new requirements have caused me to have to stop and restart my whole training regimen.  That’s only the beginning.  Because Cisco has begun introducing its technologies in high schools, a program I applaud, it means the base line for entry into the Cisco certification program had to be raised.  A lot.  Now the contents of the training has been packed hard with new information usually reserved for training one and two tiers higher than this level and the exam time allotment hardly increased.  Its questions also went from 40 to 50.

Another route is rebooting your career.  IT can be very emotionally and mentally draining.  To get into the industry requires doing time on a help desk and movement is slow from there.  Those who tend to excel at their jobs, even at the most basic level, stay where they are for long periods of time.  The IT drain continues at higher levels as well.  We in the IT industry have a really bad reputation, one we’re largely responsible for.  I don’t often hear a positive thing said about IT and rarely do people call an IT person if something isn’t wrong.  In fact, most people only call for help once the situation is so frustrated them that the computer’s very existence is now threatened.  This is the emotional state we’re introduced into.  All that said, it can make working in the industry for 15 years tiresome and a move into another field of work all together tempting.  The problem here is I have a very specific set of natural gifting; IT and music.  The latter hasn’t been developed anywhere near enough to be useful professionally.  So where does one go?  What industry?  Real estate is tempting but rather saturated.  A peruse through general job ads only reinforces the notion that you don’t have transferable skillets.

In fact, it’s far more common to see people trading in to IT than trading out.  Once you’re in…  This realization only serves to increase the temptation for emotional response.  Where does one go from there?  School is an option but as a father of three living in a home there are bills to pay and mouths to feed.  What ever education there is to be had has to come after hours or, by some strange miracle, pay for itself and me while learning.  Learning a new skill is a challenge I’d gladly accept, finding the time and money to do so is another thing entirely.

In the end it was an interesting experiment that left me feeling a little bummed out.  I often hear of people getting those “phone calls” or opportunities dropped in their laps and, while happy for them, also feel envious.  The hope is still there that it may happen here someday, but its far less a burning flame and more a flickering candle whose wax is running low.

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