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NPA Blog: Confessions of an IT/Networking Professional

Confessions of an IT/Networking Professional

David Deitch has been an IT/Networking professional for over 35 years, and while he hasn't seen it all, he's seen a lot and he is sharing some of what he has learned here. In this blog, he is going to touch on topics related to the NPA Core Pillars of Professional Development, Career Growth and Ethical Integrity. Check out what he has to confess this time!

David Deitch
Crystal Connections Atlanta
daviddeitch@crystalconnectionsatl.com

The First Confession

The Second Confession - How To Recognize Your Job Has Run Its Course

The Third Confession: How To Bridge The Unemployment Gap

The Fourth Confession: Navigating the Return to Office: Can IT/Networking Employees Be Forced Back?


 

The First Confession

In this space, I am going to post on a variety of subjects, topics that I think are relevant to IT/Networking Professionals and the core Pillars of the NPA: Professional Development, Career Growth and Ethical Integrity. But first, a confession. I am an engineer by education and a IT/Networking professional by trade. But I am not a writer.

First, a brief introduction. I have been an IT/Networking Professional for over 35 years. I started out as a programmer, had a disappointing experience in technical support, then decided to become a Novell Certified Network Engineer. This helped me land a job with the Entertainment Networks at Turner Broadcasting System (think TBS, Cartoon Network, TNT, Turner Classic Movies).

After 11 years, I decided to focus on a niche area of IT called Business Intelligence and embarked on a targeted career as a Crystal Reports Developer. My diverse background in IT/Networking as well an interest in understanding how a businesss utilizes information has helped me reach a level of experience and expertise.

The IT/Networking profession looked a lot different when I started out than what today's young IT/Networking professionals face. There are a lot more areas of Information Technology in which to embark on a career, but there are still some key skills every IT/Networking professional should bring to the table.

As was discussed in the March NPA Public Webinar, in this data-driven age, Information and Network security is essential to every company. If you are interested in a career in IT/Networking security, you should familiarlize yourself with firewall and router security, data encryption, software and hardware security, risk analysis and mitigation, regulatory and industry compliance standards, and resources and tools for testing.

If you want to be a programmer like I did initially, it is not enough to know C++. You should be fluent in Python, JavaScript, Ruby and PowerShell as well. Not only will you be able to develop applications but you can also build automation tools to improve in-office tasks. You should also be familiar with application development and project management methodologies, such as Agile and Waterfall. If you are interested in app development, having experience with vendor-specific development platforms makes you ready-to-code for prospective employers.

Back in the day, Systems and Networks was an IT/Networking Professional's whole world. You installed and managed the network and servers, and installed off-the-shelf or custom designed client/server applications. There is still a need for professionals who can administer Windows, Linux or Mac servers and workstations, who are experienced at installing and maintaining customized applications, who can manage Local Area Networks (LANS) connected to Wide Area Networks (WANs) connected to Storage Area Networks (SANS) connected to Virtual Private Networks (VPNS) and Cloud Hosted Networks (CHN).

If, like me, you find yourself in the Data Analysis world, it is important to have a strong foundation in SQL (Oracle or Microsoft) or NoSQL (MongoDB) databases. A mathematical mastery of statistical analysis is a plus, as is experience with a variety of data visualization tools. An understanding of how business use information to drive decision making is a strong plus, as is an ability to translate complex data constructs into easy-to-understand business models.

If management is somewhere in your career plan, consider exploring a path in DevOps, serving as a bridge between application development and information technology (software and hardware). These are systems that delve into the skills of continous delivery theories, container technologies, scripting languages and how to leverage cloud application and storage operations.

Speaking of clouds, there are four basic platforms that a prospective employer is likekly to use: Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure or Oracle. Developing skills on one platform can prepare you for a variety of careers on that platform as well as to develop the knowledge and understanding to quickly adapt to the other platforms. Being well versed in the Cloud can prepare you for careers as a Cloud Developer, Administrator, Architect, and probably new roles as yet unimagined.

And lastly, everyone is talking about Artificial Intelligence these days. Whether you are working on the first self-driving car, creating a realistic meta-experience, or creating algorithms that can make reason out of massive amounts of data, having a fundamental understanding of parametric and nonparametric algorithms, kernels, clustering and deep learning techniques can help you move along in your Machine Learning career.

The pace of information technology innovation is so much faster today than when I started out as an IT/Networking Professional some 4 decades ago. I admit to often having trouble keeping up with it all. But it is also exciting for the next generation of IT/Networking professionals - you - because the opportunities awaiting you are infinite.

To quote Dr. Seuss, oh the places you will go!

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The Second Confesion: How To Recognize Your Job Has Run Its Course

The Second Confession: How To Recognize Your Job Has Run Its Course Image
Photo by cottonbro studio from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/silver-macbook-on-brown-wooden-table-4069291/

I once knew a man named George. George is not his real name, because he does not know I am writing about him. George did not realize the value he brought to his employer and felt he had no choice but to continue working a job that was not going anywhere. Eventually, the company's mismanagement of its resources led to it being a wholesale headcount reduction, leaving George looking for work.

But George did have skills and was a valuable employee. He found a job with a new employer who saw in him what he did not yet see in himself, and from that he grew in both skill and confidence. When that role eventually came to an end, he was quickly snapped up by another company just a couple months into the pandemic, literally sight unseen.

George's story has had a happy ending, but for many IT/Networking professionals, it can be hard to realize your career is going nowhere. It is easy to get comfortable with your daily routine. You know what is expected of you and you know the exact amount of work required to meet those expectations. Perhaps it is the fear of change or a lack of confidence as was in the case of George, but many of us do not even realize we are in a dead-end job.

It wasn't always that way. Once upon a time, employees started their career at a company, worked their way up the managerial and corporate ladder, then retired after a few decades with a gold watch. As the pace of technological innovation sped up, IT/Networking skills became more valuable and professionals became more mobile, moving from job to job. I remember during the period before Y2K, my employer brought in a contractor to help with the detection and mitigation of potential flaws in our software systems. This person was incredulous that I had been at the company for 8 years.

But in the new century, the pendulum began to swing back the other way again. The tech bubble burst, the economy suffered a recession, and IT/Networking professionals began to worry that the next role would not come quickly enough to cover the bills and support their families. But as the lesson of George shows, not being able to see that one job has taken you as far as you can go and that moving onto the next could be greatly beneficial.

To help you see what is right before your eyes, here are some simple signs that it may be time to effect a change of workplace scenery.

Do you look forward to going to work each morning, or does the thought of another day slaving over the keyboard cause anxiety and dread? Do you look forward more to the end of the week than the start? Do you find yourself wishing your next vacation is sooner rather than later, or are contemplating early retirement? These are signs you do not enjoy your job anymore.

Over time, this work-related stress can turn you into someone your younger self might not recognize. You may find yourself growing impatient with your coworkers or reacting angrily to the slightest inconveniences. You may even start driving people away, both in the office and at home, rather than face the truth behind your career misery.

It is not unusual for your values and character to be impacted. Shortcuts seem like an acceptable solution to the doldrums of doing things the long way. You might fake reasons to skip monotonous meetings or come up with excuses to avoid work. A drop in moral integrity at work can also result a feeling of tediousness in home life and a desire to avoid what may feel like inconveniences, such as maintaining familial relationships.

According to statistics, the average time an IT/Networking Professional stays in a role is around 4 years after which employees feels stifled in their career and either experience an itch to do more, or the opposite, feeling unmotivated to effect change. Maybe you are passed over for promotion or are led to believe promotion is not in your future. It is not fair but not unusual for a company to want to keep skilled, experienced professionals in their current roles. The company does not realize, or maybe does not care, that their culture of stagnation limits the growth of the business as well as its employees.

If you feel you are getting trapped in a career path to nowhere, do not let it eat at you until you become angry, unproductive, or even unethical. You do not have to wait until you get fired for cause or wake up one day and realize the best years of your professional life are behind you. Keep your resume updated and your profile fresh on LinkedIn. Participate in professional networking opportunities and maintain your digital profile. That way, if you feel your current job has run its course, you are prepared to change direction and embark on the next exciting act in your career journey.

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The Third Confesion: How To Bridge The Unemployment Gap

The Third Confesion: How To Bridge The Unemployment Gap
Image by Nathan Cowley, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-in-blue-and-brown-plaid-dress-shirt-touching-his-hair-897817/

I have a confession.

I am between jobs right now. That's what I say when someone asks what I do for a living. Fortunately, I don't get asked very often. It's not the first time, and probably won't be the last. Such is the life of a freelance contractor. Sure, I've had direct-hire roles, but for the last 20 years, it's been mostly going from contract to contact.

Sometimes, the next job comes quickly. The last time wasn't one of those times, and it was a struggle. I am hoping this time won't be nearly as long. I learned a few lessons then that I'm already applying to my current situation. But there are some lessons, though, that I still struggle to put into practice.

Here are a few lessons you can apply should you find yourself in a similar situation.

  1. The first lesson is you can't live off unemployment insurance benefits. If you and your previous employer parted without cause, meaning you didn't do anything to get yourself fired, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits under your state's labor laws. But for the average person, for most people, it won't be enough to cover living expenses. And it only lasts a short period of a few months. It is not a long-term financial solution.

  2. Your best defense against having money during a period of unemployment is having a good offense. You should establish a savings account valued at 3-6 months of living expenses. Yes, this can be a lot of money to park on the sidelines, but you should think of it as a self-insurance policy against an unexpected and unwanted loss of income. You hope you will never need it, but if you do, you'll be glad it is there to soften the blow. An online money-market account or credit union usually has the best interest rates, so the funds aren't totally wasted. Check out NPA Partner Alliant Credit Union for options.

  3. You should pull back hard on expenses. Going out to eat, going to the theater, taking a vacation, these are all luxuries you cannot afford. Your Emergency Fund is not intended to keep you living the lifestyle to which you are accustomed; it is to give you a cushion until you land your next job, and the paychecks start flowing again.

    This is a hard lesson to follow, especially if you have kids who don't understand why they can't have a huge party at Chuck-E-Cheese. But you can still have a small party at home. The point isn't to deny yourself or your family, but to be responsible with your spending.

  4. The corollary to #3 is you need to give yourself an outlet. You aren't meant to be couped up at home until you find work again. It's not healthy for you or your family. But there are ways to recreate that won't cost you an arm or a leg. Public parks are a good start. Some communities offer free summer concerts or movies under the stars.

    If you cannot find free activities to keep you sane, find opportunities that keep costs under control. A movie subscription service can save you money if you just can't miss the summer blockbusters. A picnic can be just as romantic as a night out on the town. Instead of expensive sporting events, attend local high school or recreational sports. All it requires is an adjustment of perspective.

  5. You don't want to tap your retirement savings. First, if you have a SEP IRA, a Traditional 401k or Traditional IRA and you are under age 59 ½, then if you take an early distribution, you will incur a 10% penalty on top of paying income taxes on the amount withheld. If you have a Roth 401k or Roth IRA, then you can take a tax and penalty free distribution up to the amount of your original contributions, but not of any earnings. That is because your contributions were after-tax. But you should try to avoid doing so – it is those original contributions that are driving the investment gains you hope will be there in retirement.

  6. Similarly, if you have a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC), you should resist the temptation to draw on it to supplement your income. This is not free money. Depending on the terms of your loan, you will either have to pay monthly minimums, if not interest, and this just adds to your expenses at a time when you are trying to cut down.

    The same thing goes for cash advances on credit cards. Financial institutions love these because they hit you up with big interest charges. They might tease you with low-rate balance transfer offers, but they are counting on you slipping up on minimum payments so they can retroactively hit you with all the deferred interest.

  7. Put a curb on hobbies and obsessions. We like to think we are in control of our lives, but we all have hobbies or activities that, as hard as we might try, we cannot quit. For me, it is Disney and the Atlanta Braves. For others, it may be smoking, drinking, sports or stamp collecting. The trick is to not try and go cold turkey but to keep doing what keeps you alive in moderation. Set a budget for yourself or give your spouse or significant other the power and permission to set limits. You don't have to give up what gives your life meaning, but you can keep it under reasonable control.

  8. Consider volunteering. For some, going to work, whether it be in an office or remote, is a reason to get up in the morning. Work gives you purpose, and without it, you feel directionless. Volunteering with a local organization that has personal meaning to you or allows you to exercise your professional skills outside of the workplace, can have multiple benefits. They can help you fill your time, they can have a positive impact in your community, and they can give you a response when asked the dreaded interview question, ‘What have you done since your last job?' You may even discover new opportunities or career directions by pursuing things that interested you when you were younger but fell by the wayside in pursuit of supporting your family.

  9. Go back to school. Continuing Education is a cornerstone of the NPA under the Core Pillar of Career Growth, as well as fundamental to the Certified Network Professional program. Maybe you are seeing job requirements seeking skills that have become popular since the last time you hunted for work. Or maybe you want to freshen your technical or soft skills, or even take them in a different direction. You could take on the challenge to learn something completely different or out of character, just for fun. Even if it costs money, investing in yourself is never a bad bet.

  10. Consider freelance work. I'm not talking about joining the Gig Economy as an Uber or Lyft driver, though if you dedicate your time and effort, you can make decent money. But you can exercise your work brain on freelance websites such as Fiverr or Upwork (not an endorsement) with small projects that could run the gamut from performing work to providing training to the next generation. Many experts in their field find they can produce real income working freelance. At the very least, it demonstrates to a prospective employer that you are actively keeping your skills up. And one of these projects may even turn into a longer-term contract or full employment.

  11. Don't let your health suffer. So maybe you can't afford that expensive gym membership anymore – you didn't use it enough anyway. Walking is free and some communities even have public outdoor gyms. Find cheap alternatives to hand weights. Consider yoga, meditation or free recreational sports to keep active. If you are under medical care, you may be offered continuing coverage of your healthcare benefits under COBRA but be sure to explore the Healthcare Exchange for lower cost plans.

    If you are under medication, seek out generics. For brand name medications, sign up for manufacturer prescription discount cards to keep the costs down. Don't avoid visits to your doctor – have a talk and work out a plan. Most doctors are more interested in making sure their patients are healthy than billing insurance. This applies not only to medical, but also your dental and vision health.

  12. Professional Network Everywhere. The best way to get your next job is to be active in your search, and that includes networking professionally. Create an online resume on a free website platform where you can list your work history and accomplishments and expound further on your work philosophies. Make sure you have a complete profile on LinkedIn and actively participate in groups where you can stay in contact with those who share your interests.

    The same goes for Facebook Groups and Pages. Attend local professional networking events and activities. If there is a cover charge, consider it an investment in finding your next job. Attend NPA Public Webinars and NPA Member Advocator meetings for both professional development and professional networking. Keep a supply of job-search business cards on you to hand out when the opportunity presents. You never know where your next role will come from, but the more you put yourself out there, the more likely you are to find it.

As I mentioned, I still struggle with these guidelines for how to make the most while between roles. I think I have cultivated a strong digital presence and have the benefit of having previously purchased various entertainments that enrich my life this summer without costing me extra. I am volunteering with the NPA. I am building out my digital profile with a website that will help me offer consulting and training services. I have been trying to stretch my dollars further, pursue appropriate job opportunities, and generally keep a positive attitude.

That's all those of us who are ”between jobs” can do.

No AI was used in the creation of this blog article.

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The Fourth Confession: Navigating the Return to Office:
Can IT/Networking Employees Be Forced Back?

Free A Man Sitting Near the Table while Holding a Notebook and a Cup of Coffee Stock Photo
Source: Pexels

I have a confession:I a don't want to go back to working in an office. I'm not GenX, but I had been working remote for years before remote offices became cool during the pandemic. For me, avoiding a commute with all the highway construction in my home town is a lifestyle choice. Fortunately, I work in a profession in which I can work remotely just as easily as I can in office, and my remote office setup is as productive, if not more so, than any cubicle. I have also been fortunate that my employers, all out-of-state, have embraced this new paradigm. Not everyone has been so lucky.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the landscape of work has undergone a significant transformation. Remote work became the norm for many industries, including IT and networking, as organizations adapted to new realities. However, as vaccination rates rise and restrictions ease, the question arises: Can IT/networking employees be forced back to the office?

The debate surrounding the return to the office is multifaceted, touching on issues of productivity, employee well-being, and organizational culture. Let's explore the various factors at play:

Productivity and Flexibility:

Remote work has proven to be a viable option for many IT and networking professionals. With the right tools and infrastructure in place, employees can effectively perform their duties from anywhere with an internet connection. Studies have shown that remote work can even boost productivity and job satisfaction, thanks to reduced commute times and increased flexibility.

Employee Preferences:

One of the key considerations in the return-to-office debate is employee preferences. Many IT and networking professionals have grown accustomed to the flexibility and autonomy that remote work affords. For some, the ability to work remotely is a major factor in job satisfaction and work-life balance. Mandating a return to the office may lead to dissatisfaction and even attrition among employees who prefer remote work arrangements.

Organizational Needs and Culture:

On the other hand, organizations may have legitimate reasons for wanting employees back in the office. Collaboration, innovation, and team cohesion are often cited as benefits of in-person work environments. Face-to-face interactions can foster creativity, build relationships, and strengthen organizational culture. Additionally, certain roles may require access to specialized equipment or facilities that are only available on-site.

Legal and Regulatory Considerations:

From a legal standpoint, the ability to mandate a return to the office depends on various factors, including employment contracts, labor laws, and government regulations. Employers must navigate these complexities while balancing the needs and preferences of their workforce.

Finding a Middle Ground:

As organizations grapple with the return-to-office dilemma, finding a middle ground may be the most prudent approach. Hybrid work models, which blend remote and in-office work, offer a compromise that accommodates both organizational needs and employee preferences. Flexible scheduling, hot-desking arrangements, and staggered office attendance can help strike a balance between remote and in-person work.

Mutual Satisfaction:

In conclusion, the question of whether IT/networking employees can be forced back to the office is not easily answered. It requires careful consideration of productivity, employee preferences, organizational needs, and legal requirements. As we navigate the complexities of the post-pandemic workplace, flexibility, communication, and empathy will be key in finding solutions that benefit both employers and employees alike.

This article was written by a human for the Network Professional Association with the help of ChatGPT.

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