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BlueWolf's Howl

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September 04, 2003

Change and Uncertainty

I read a very (lively and) interesting discussion on the Cisco Discussion Forums. It started off with a post titled "CCIE pursuit and outsourcing to other countries." You can find the post under "Career Certifications" and it has already garnered 43 replies.

This is a hot topic in IT and has been since the dot-com bust. Many American companies have outsourced their IT needs to "cut costs" and those working in the computer field have watched the computer listings of the employment section in each newspaper drop drastically...

This is very old news. The corporations scream that they have to stay competitive. The employees scream that they're giving "our" jobs away.

Someone posting as "xavierchang" brings up quite a few good points. Although I don't *like* what he's saying, much of what he says is true. It's the cold, hard facts of life. Companies are not charities. They exist to make profits. Most companies are not national -- they're international (especially the largest ones). Fairness is irrelevant. American jobs (or the lack thereof) are irrelevant. Trying to prevent or slow the outsourcing of IT is useless and counterproductive.

But, I'm still me. And I'm still here in the U.S. And I need to remain gainfully employed. And I would like to remain employed at an ever-increasing rate of income. I want my own home, a nice car, meaningful work, and enough money in my pocket to buy myself a little treat every now and then. I want to have peace of mind and security regarding money for my golden (retirement) years. In this respect, I am just like everyone else in the U.S. (and probably the world for that matter).

So how do I get from here to there? Aside from the emotional and nationalistic fervor this topic generates, what's really going on?

What's going on is CHANGE. America is changing. The computer field is changing. It has happened before and it's happening again. Agriculture gave way to Industrialization/ Manufacturing. Industrialization/ Manufacturing gave way to Computing/ Technology. And now Computing/ Technology....??? Ah, there's the rub! Where the heck are we going????

I think that this is what all the screaming is about. We don't know what the next phase will be and have no clue how to prepare for it.

The changes mentioned above came about slowly. There was time to learn a trade and move from agriculture to manufacturing. Just move to the "big city" and go work in a factory. Once manufacturing mutated and jobs were shipped overseas or *gasp* lost to a MACHINE... there was still plenty of time to learn something new and adapt to the change. And now change is being thrown at us at an ever-increasing speed. We don't know what is coming next. We don't know what to learn to "go with the flow"...

Some have suggested Security as the next "brass ring." But, reading the thoughtful remarks in that discussion shows that this is just a passing fad. Security is hot today. It'll be necessary tomorrow. But, soon it will become yet another commodity in the sea of technology. It's no "magic formula" for job security because there isn't one.

Yes, I am in the networking field. And I have networking credentials. And I am working towards further credentials - in networking and in security. But, just being in those fields is no guarantee of employment and especially holds no guarantee of a lucrative job. So, what's the angle? There has to be an angle. Our inability to recognize it doesn't negate its existence.

I think the angle is Quality. Routers, switches, firewalls, servers...these are the things I enjoy. I like knowing what they do and how they do it. I like Security. I check the access list at work throughout the day to watch the number of matches climb on the banned IPs. I look at it and know that I personally stopped TWICE that many emails from flooding our network. [One to the user telling them that the stripped message had a virus. One to the admin saying that user x received an email with a virus.] Think about it....I read books on Stego for FUN....

I don't want that telephone tech support job that is moving to India. I've done that kind of work. It sucks!

I want to move on from that. I want to prepare myself for what's coming next. I want to prepare for the Quality revolution. We've all heard the phrase "sell the sizzle - not the steak." And that's the angle. Develop a sizzle. Then market it (meaning YOU). Knowledge is power. "Be. Know. Do." It's a phrase I learned in the Army and it's definitely a secret to success. Be as good at networking and security as you can. Know as much as you can about the field. Do as much as you can to demonstrate (undeniably) your knowledge and experience. That's sizzle.

Look at what your "competition" is offering. They're offering to do it cheaper. I don't want to compete in that contest. The loser loses and the winner loses.

I want to be like Polo. I want to be like Starbucks. Sure, you can get a network engineer much cheaper. But, then you'll have them. You won't have me. Sure, you can buy a shirt at WalMart for $5-$10. But, you won't get a Polo shirt for that price. And you can get a coffee at 7-11 for about $2. But, it won't be a Starbucks coffee. For that you'll have to pay $4. So why haven't companies like Polo and Starbucks been crushed by the "competition" of someone offering the same products for less? Because they're *not* the same products.

I've worked at Polo. No, I didn't work directly for Polo...I worked for a company that had the migration contract. Yes, they outsourced their migration from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. The company I worked for focused exclusively on the migration process while their IT department continued normal operations. It made sense (perhaps because I was on the receiving end of the outsourcing?)... and I learned much more than I realized I would. During the migration, we had the opportunity to meet many of the employees. We also received a few briefings from the management staff to orient us to the company. Knowing what they did and how they did it helped us to be more in tune with their special needs and culture. We were surprised to find that they sold a little of this and a little of that...expecting them to sell only clothing. And I can hear the presenter's voice like it was yesterday, "We don't sell clothing. We sell a LIFESTYLE..."

That's why people are willing to pay much more than $10 for a Polo shirt. Sizzle.

Posted by BlueWolf on September 4, 2003 10:24 PM