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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Part Two: My (Other) Job Search Dilemma

*note to my readers: this is part two in a sort of "catch up series" on my personal job-hunt. Here are the links for the preceding posts in the series.

My other dilemma in trying to find work in my field IS my field, quite frankly. Information Technology is a rapidly changing field. If your present work can't or won't afford you actual work experience and/or training in the latest technologies, as is often the case, prospective employers will often consider you out-dated.

One effect of the rapidly changing technology field is to shift the normal progression of education in a person's life into reverse.
Historically one way to get ahead in a field has been to earn those advanced degrees - the bachelor's, then the master's, then the phD. But with the advent of OOP and .NET and the web, I've had to ask my self which is wisest? To go on with my master's, and then a phD, as was my long term plan - or to go back to ground zero and start all over, this time with OOP and web technologies and graphic design and various certifications?

I opted to go on with my master's and to try to catch up later with my IT skills as time and finances allowed. I hoped to take on-line classes and I continued studying on my own. So far I've self studied PHP, XML, and OOP. I was able to actually use OOP at work, and I plan to apply the PHP and other web technologies to my own websites. As for the online classes, it's been harder to find the right program for an adult learner in my situation. I figure I don't really need another degree (I have three - an A.A.S. in programming technology, a B.S. in education, and an M.S. in educational technology). To be eligible for work in areas of my interest and ability in the ever-widely-branching IT field or in instructional technology, I need proven ability and knowledge in .NET, and Visual Basic, and C++ or #, and SQL Server, and Oracle etc, etc, etc. I also need various Certifications. I truly want to know how to use these products. My whole life and career has been about learning new things and breaking new ground even back before classes were being offered and new curriculums were being designed. In that sense, I have already proven myself in the field (and since I did go back to school, academically as well).

Anyway, going the training route instead of the degree route is extremely expensive, I found. Last December 2005 I did some on-line testing and a series of interviews with a training organization called Set Focus. Their program seemed to be geared toward people like me, seasoned professionals looking to update their skills, training and experience, but their price tag wasn't. And while the possibility to attend on scholarship existed, I would have had to stay in New Jersey for 3 months to get the training. With Benny's health situation and him also having lost his job, it just wasn't viable. I needed to work and help pay the bills while I updated my skills. I needed online training or training close by.

I am going to look into getting a scholarship or other financial assistance and hopefully take classes through our local community college or an online university this year. My cousin was able to back to school on a scholarship from the Indiana Veterans Administration because my uncle was a POW in WW II.

In closing I want to discuss one more topic, simply that aptitude is aptitude and IT is IT. Like any other field, it has certain basics and underlying concepts. For example - I've had training and extensive work experience in various flavors of SQL but not SQL server, in databases but not in Oracle, in programming but not in Visual Basic. My point is that when you have previous knowledge and experience, it's there like an infrastructure or a scaffold around a high rise construction project with new stories waiting to be added. You may have to do some unlearning, you may have to do some re-learning, but you don't really have to start at ground zero. I'm not just touting my own opinions here - this is widely accepted educational theory. And this is something that both employers and curriculum designers should take into consideration when addressing the adult learner, imho.

Our professors used to tell us they weren't teaching a product but a process - a set of skills transferable to any product. In a sense they do live in an ivory tower when they say that, becasue when you get out on the job market, employers ask for products and they name names. And often you end up talking to an HR generalist who does the initial screening and who may take these names very literally and overlook a proven, underlying aptitude.

So, yes. It's hard. And this is my second big job search dilemma. I'm sure several of you can relate. This is a problem that I will continue to wrestle with. If I find out anything helpful, I will keep you posted. If you find out anything helpful, I'd appreciate if you'd post and let me know.

Thanks and happy job-hunting!


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