My Job History, Part One: The Golden Decade

Last month I wrote about the best job I never took.

I figured it might be interesting to highlight some of the various twists and turns that my career has taken.  I thought I’d start off with the time after college.

I graduated college in 1996.  My first job out of college was working at a call center for a major IT company. I did technical support, helping people with password resets, troubleshooting printer problems, and other such things.  I was the youngest person on the team, but I was noticed quickly.  I was part of a team that traveled to other parts of the country to gather information from other call centers to form better processes.  I was named team leader after a few months.

(Side note: This job was awesome for so many reasons.  The pay sucked, but it got me practical experience, plus it was pretty entry level across the board.  It makes me sad now because I’m sure that these jobs simply don’t exist today as most call center activity is overseas these days.)

The job was good.  There were metrics that needed to be improved that simply weren’t being met.  I worked on a few things, set up a simple tracking spreadsheet, and soon we were approaching and even beating the metrics.  I wasn’t the only one that made it happen, but being part of a team that made things work was great.

Within a couple of years, I was ready for more.  The company was holding back on training opportunities, and given the massive structure of the organization, I couldn’t advance as quickly as I wanted.  I wanted to be more involved in setting up systems, and was also looking for more pay.  Even though I didn’t have as much hands on experience, I was offered a job at a small company (less than 20 people) doing network, server, and desktop support.

The pay raise was for almost 50% more than what I had been making.  This seemed like a fortune to me, though I realized after a while that I probably could have asked for even more.  This was never so apparent as when the first couple of years saw raises of 15-25% each year. Still, I was happy.  I bought my first place ( a condo), and was loving life.

I learned on the fly which was really cool, and was assigned as the point person for some emerging technology that the company wanted to focus on.  Plus, it was pre-Y2K meaning everybody was pretty much replacing everything, so business was booming.  Again, I did well.  I learned a ton of new things.  I got certified in lots of technology.  One day I mentioned that I was thinking of going to get my MBA, and without even hesitating, the owner told me they’d pay (looking back, another indication that I probably was a bit underpaid *lol*).

Everything was cool.  I loved it there and stayed for four years, when the post-Y2K slowdown hurt our business, making me realize that I probably had hit my peak there.   The owner had merged with another small business owner, and their personalities completely clashed, so the atmosphere went from relaxed and happy to nervous and fearful pretty quickly.  So, it was time to move on and I did.

I interviewed and was hired to do technical project management as well as be the manager of network and desktop services for a community hospital.  I didn’t work for the hospital directly as they had outsourced their business.  This model actually appealed to me, because it meant that I could potentially have upward mobility outside of the hospital at which I was working.

Healthcare was completely new to me, and I was now involved as a manager and in making strategic decisions.  They thought I was a great fit, and I stepped in and did well.  I re-organized some of the services that the desktop team was doing to improve customer service metrics, which had been below acceptable terms.  I helped organize and lead the migration of hundreds of servers to an offsite centralized data center.  Things were good.

So good that, once things had settled in, they actually pulled me off that account and had me work at two different sites which were having some of the same problems.  In both cases, I was able to work and improve their metrics.  I was getting good raises, good recognition, and making a name for myself.

At this point, it was early 2005.  I had been in the job market for nearly ten years.  Things had been going great pretty much at every step of the way.  Over that time, I tripled my salary.  I got some great certifications.  I was doing management level work and leading teams.  I really hadn’t hit many bumps in the road.

But I was about to….

Check back over the next couple of weeks and I’ll update the second part of my job history, where bumpy is the name of the game.

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The Best Job I Never Took

When I was graduating college in 1996, I was armed with a business degree and a good deal of knowledge about computers.  Jobs were pretty plentiful at the time, so I was hoping I wouldn’t have a problem finding a job.

I knew the starting salary range that I would likely hit having seen many of the jobs out there that had come through campus interviews during our last semester.  I figured something in the $25-30k range was what I was to expect.

So, when you hear that I got a job offer for $35k for a job where I sailed through the interview process, you probably figure I took it, right?

Wrong.

And you probably think I’d lost my mind when I told you that I took a job for $27k, right?

Probably.

So, why did I turn this job down and why do I carry no regrets about doing so, even fifteen years later?

Two reasons:

  1. They offered me a job doing something that I had no experience in doing
  2. They wanted me to commit to doing this for two years.

See, the job offer I got was to be a programmer.  Although I was great with computers, knowing pretty much everything there was to know about troubleshooting, setting one up, etc., I’d never done a single bit of programming in my life.  Our college offered a couple classes, which I never took.

So, right there I knew that I didn’t have a passion for it.  Could I have developed a passion?  Maybe.  And, if the second stipulation hadn’t been in place, I very well might have tried it.

They knew that I didn’t have any programming experience.  They were fine with that.  Programmers at that time were in short supply compared to the demand.  But, they were willing to teach me.  The first month or two of my employment would be classes that would teach me some of the programming skills that they’d expect me to master.

In return for paying for those classes and for paying me for time that I would be not earning any money, they required a two year commitment.  If I left before that two years, I’d have to pay them back for the training classes that they would provide.

It was too big of a risk and I turned the job down.

Now, I never tried to do any programming, even after that.  I suspect that I wouldn’t have been very good at it.  The closest I equated programming was high school geometry.  In geometry, one of the things I hated more than anything was writing out ‘proofs’, where you had ‘the answer’ and were supposed to show how you got there.  I could do most of the proofs, but was very inefficient at them.  I would take fifteen steps to prove something that most people could do in five or six steps.  I suspect that my programming skills would have been the same.  I applaud those who are great programmers, I just don’t think I would have been one of them.

The job I took allowed me to utilize and build upon my knowledge of how computers themselves work, and even though the job I took paid less, I loved it.  I loved the people I worked with, I loved the skills and experiences I gained.  I loved that it was a stepping stone to higher paying jobs down the road.

Had I been focused only on the money, I would have taken that job in a heartbeat.

Now, this was a job that I wasn’t qualified for that I didn’t take.  In future posts, I’ll tell you about two other times when I received offers on a position that I didn’t have experience with and how they worked out.

Have you ever taken a lower paying job offer over one that paid more?  If so, what drove you to that decision?

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5 Ways To Go From Being A Good Manager To A Great One

Over the years, I’ve had many jobs working for many different companies.  With those, I’ve had a lot of different managers.  I’ve had some bad ones (we’ll save those for another time), some good ones, and a few great ones.  Most of the time, the differences between being a good manager and a great one are little things.  If you want to be a great manager, here’s a few things you should do.

  1. Let employees find their way.  I had two managers that had a lot of the same traits.  They were both very effective.  They both looked out for their employees.  They both were visionary and led by example.  But, I would only classify one of them as great and the other was merely ‘good’.  The ‘good’ manager, you see, was very task oriented.  He would lay out what he wanted done and outline how he wanted me to get there.  The great manager, on the other hand, would provide me with the end goal and pretty much say “Go.”  In many ways, that was scary, but it was also great because it let me develop my own plan and my own vision.  Side tip: The great manager will allow for employees to create their own path, but will stay involved enough so that they can step in before the employee heads over a cliff.
  2. Listen.  Managers are busy.  I get that.  But, if an employee is coming to you for something, whether it be a problem with a colleague, a question on a project, or anything else, they deserve your full attention. If you’re keeping one eye on what the employee and the other on your e-mail, you aren’t being a great manager to that person.  Do you have to drop everything?  No, of course not.  But, if you can’t give an employee your full attention, kindly let them know and schedule a time when you can.  They’ll appreciate that.  Then, just make sure you give them that attention at the scheduled time.
  3. Stand behind your employees.  I had a colleague who struggled with a difficult customer, who couldn’t be pleased.  After awhile, the boss stepped in and brokered the relationship, observing all communications and interactions.  Eventually, the boss realized that there was indeed a problem, and fired…..the customer.  This was a tough decision, and many would question the thought process behind turning away a paying customer.  But, it let my colleague, as well as everybody else on the team, know that the manager was going to stand up for them.  It also let us know that we had better do good work, because trust me, the manager did know the difference, and wouldn’t have hesitated had the ‘problem’ been with the employee.
  4. Play favorites.  Playing favorites can be a sure-fire way to divide a team, so why do I have it here?  Read on.  I had a manager who, when I left her office, made me feel like I was the most valuable member on her team and that the projects I was working on were the most important things going on within the team.  She never said those things or anything close, but her general interest, enthusiasm, and support gave me that impression.  As it did everybody else on the team, as she gave that same level of input and encouragement to each person that worked for her.  Hint: You have to be genuinely interested in each of your employees and what they’re working on to pull this off.  Attempts to fake it will be transparent and you’ll end up losing the respect of your employees.
  5. Think about your employees every day.  You may or may not interact with each of your employees on a daily basis.  Even if you do, interaction isn’t what I’m talking about.  I had a manager who told me that he would think about every single one of his employees at some point throughout the day.  Even if was just for a brief moment, the ability to reflect on each person on his team kept him connected to them, and in the long run, the employees will sense this.

The things I’ve just mentioned are, by and large, intangible things.  I’m not even sure that they can be picked up on or worked on.  When it comes to these characteristics of being a great manager, is it a case of ‘either you have it in you or you don’t’?

What are things you’ve seen out of great managers?

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