Veteran IT Pros Face Catch-22s in Staying Employed, Employable

Don Tennant
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10 Tech Certifications That Pay

Dice Learning surveyed nearly 17,000 IT pros to determine the technical training and certifications that help them command higher salaries.

There's nothing more frustrating than a Catch-22. Here's one that frustrates me to no end: You write a blog post, and a reader takes the time to comment on the post, providing information or sharing an experience that's more valuable than the blog post itself. But by that time, the readership of the post has dropped significantly, so substantially fewer people stand to benefit from the reader's comment.

A great example of that is the information shared today by a reader in a couple of comments she made in response to yesterday's post, "CompTIA Exec: IT is Not That Hard.'" Interestingly enough, she shared some frustrations that also fall into the Catch-22 category. A veteran IT professional and divorced mother of four, she wrote about some of her own experiences in dealing with the challenges of staying employed and employable in the current IT environment. Let me encapsulate several of them here:


  • Older IT workers are encouraged to keep up with new technology by pursuing new certifications. But these workers are often enmeshed in legacy operations and are denied training in new technology by their employer, so they're forced to try to get it on their own.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is a great credential to have. But to get it, there's a requirement that you provide documentation of your experience in that area, and former employers are disinclined to assist with providing that documentation.
  • If you are fortunate enough to find employment as a veteran IT worker, it's often because you've been brought in to solve a problem. But once the problem's been solved, you may well be sidelined by the "old guard," making further career advancement difficult. This is especially the case in government, where old guards and cliques are rampant.

Now, as frustrating as Catch-22s are, what needs to be understood and appreciated is that we can't allow them to beat us. The one I mentioned that I face can at least be partially overcome-I can't write a new blog post about every high-value reader comment that might be missed by the majority of readers, but I can certainly do it on occasion. Likewise, by sharing these frustrations in an open forum in a dignified, intelligent manner, IT workers are much better positioned than they otherwise would be to learn how their peers have addressed these Catch-22s.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 25, 2010 9:49 AM cissp cissp  says:

Your info about the cissp is wrong.  They only check your references if you are audited (low chance) and when i was audited, they just had a quick discussion with my current boss and that was enough.  If you are out of work, you should have a reference available that will talk to them, in case you are audited.

Aug 26, 2010 8:43 AM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to cissp

How then do you satisfy this requirement from the official brochure? "Upon successfully passing the CISSP examination, you must submit a properly completed and executed endorsement form. The endorser attests that the candidate's assertions regarding professional experience are true to the best of their knowledge, and that the candidate is in good standing within the information security industry." What if your experience was in a highly political shark tank and no one will stick out his neck and vouch for you even though you did the actual security work and got the results? The web site clarifies that the endorser must be a current ISC2 professional in good standing. What if you don't have that connection?

Aug 26, 2010 8:49 AM Dolores Dolores  says: in response to Dolores

Another problem with being emeshed in legacy operations, and thus very busy, is that by being kept away from hands-on experience with newer technologies, and even being kept off project teams, just getting a cert may not help once they find out you don't have experience. These are risky waters to paddle in during a job hunt. You can come off looking really bad when in fact you might be able to do the job.

People with a history of picking up changing technology (and anyone in the industry more than a couple years has in fact worked on many different generations of technology and has a track record of being a quick study or they would never have gotten as far as they did) can easily pick up still more and more technology. But as the hiring managers get younger, they become more uncomfortable with the older workers and start to imaging them being stuck in the past.

I'm in the same generation as Bill Gates, yet I'm sure some youthfull managers would wonder if I know how to find a file and attach it to an email.

Aug 26, 2010 10:38 AM mataj mataj  says: in response to Dolores

But as the hiring managers get younger, they become more uncomfortable with the older workers and start to imaging them being stuck in the past.

Stupid. Technology in IT (especially software) doesn't really change that fast. Really innovative concepts are few and far between. For the most part, one has to deal with changing terminology, not changing technology- same old stuff hyped by different buzzwords.

Alas, with 100+ candidates per job opening, hiring managers can easily afford any buffoonery they want.

Here's a nice article about what this so called "changing technology" is all about: Planned obsolescence.


Sep 7, 2010 4:29 PM Scott M Scott M  says:

I have been an IT contractor for almost fifteen years.  I started working with IBM Hardware, and moved on to smaller UNIX systems and to a lesser extent, Windows Servers many years ago.  I have always been proud of my ability to adapt to new situations, which has served me well.

But things have changed a lot in the last three or four years.  In the past, all I had to do was to learn a new language and I could leverage my past experience to move to a newer technology.   Unfortunately, software development has become such a commodity that most companies are now demanding experience in a particular skill. 

This means that it has been almost impossible to move to newer technologies, as they are demanding experience with it.  Entry level positions are almost a thing of the past, and most companies do not allow mentoring anymore.  It has gotten so bad that some firms will not even tolerate a two week layover time to learn their system software and methodologies.

I learned .NET almost three years ago as I have been a Java developer for eight years.  Believe me, any competent Java developer can learn C# in a matter of a few weeks.  In spite of this effort, many companies have told me that being a Java developer for so long suggests that I am stuck on legacy technology and development methodologies.

I don't think I have sour grapes because of this, but it is VERY frustrating.  This is one reason why I have found contracts to be very hard to come by.  This last year, I have only been able to find work for five of the last eight months....


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