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Question from Howard about Finding the Right Direction in Tech

posted Jan 14, 2014, 4:24 PM by Anjuan Simmons   [ updated Jan 14, 2014, 5:02 PM ]
I received this question from Howard about a career in technology. His question is below in italics, and my response is below in bold:

Currently now I work as a Data Analyst and System Administrator for <a government agency in NJ>. I was able to acquire this job from a family friend who happened to be a former senior manager and contractor lead at <a government tech conference> two years ago. I've just graduated Richard Stockton College of New Jersey with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science and Information Systems in 2011. Even in the beginning before I started this position I couldn't understand the hype that Stockton College gave <this government agency> other than it having "job security". But as I started and got the feel of the culture and environment, I started to realize that this position really had little to no career growth for me. Also growing up in South Jersey, I acknowledge the lack of opportunities around this area and the lack of competition for my field in this area. I read everywhere about places like New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia (for example), of the many places where the jobs are thriving.

I'm looking to become a Database Administrator one day, and as the years went on and looking into webinars and online training MOOCs, I've started to shape my career towards Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing. So before I'm able to acquire that position, I have to start with Data Analyst, Software Developer/Engineer, BI Analyst, and even go another direction and check out Data Scientist!

So as I've been working <in the this government agency>, since last year I've been looking for a different position and failed on each attempt to find something better. I've started to look in Philadelphia for opportunities as well and did happen to get interviews, but then find out I wasn't selected. So earlier this year I've started going to networking events in and outside of Philly to see what the different meetups are doing, the technology trends, and what are the hottest fields. More recently I've also took time to work on my career management skills and start working on my interviewing skills and networking documents to present to the hiring managers. And although I've been getting better reception from people who know what I'm looking for in a position, I'm still in my same position.

So most recently I've heard of your book Minority Tech that Tariq Nasheed mentioned that talked about people of color who work in corporate IT environments and wanted to get your take on the industry and if there is a possibility of intention to keep someone like myself from the IT industry. I've been to networking events, recruiting agencies, job fairs, etc., and still do not understand why these companies who see my qualifications still do not see the value that I could bring to a company. I now have presentations to which I could present to a network, or a separate interview presentation for managers to help demonstrate what I could bring to a company and I want to know if I'm doing the right thing/ going the right direction? I greatly appreciate your advice and insight!



Howard, thanks for reaching out to me. I understand the feeling of being stalled in your career because I've hit that roadblock a couple of times over my 20 years in the tech industry. However, I want you to know that you have the ability to improve your situation. I think you should consider a few options.

First, consider using those presentations to speak at conferences in your industry. Reach out to the organizers of the networking events and conferences you attend, and let them know that you're interested in being a speaker. I can tell you from personal experience that event organizers are often scrambling to find speakers to fill their schedules. Secure a few speaking engagements and make sure that your attire, dress, and the way you carry yourself exude professionalism and confidence. Deliver outstanding presentations, OWN the room, and you'll see your personal brand grow. This alone will bring networking opportunities your way.

Second, pick a technical area that you excel at, and focus on it. Too often, I've seen technologists who try to be all things to all people. That may look good on paper, but hiring managers are often trying to solve a specific problem when they are looking at job candidates. Big Data is a hot topic so crafting your expertise around BI and data warehousing would be a good option. I encourage you to blog, tweet, and write journal articles about what you know about Big Data because that's another way to show your expertise to those who are looking for talent. Don't neglect LinkedIn and make sure you reference all of your content there.

Third, consider moving to a different city. If the opportunities where you live aren't to your liking, then look for opportunities elsewhere. I have several friends who moved across the country to change their careers. Ideally, you should do this after acquiring a job in the city of your choice.

As I said in my book "Minority Tech", the opportunities for people of color in technology are tremendous. Don't worry about any intentions to keep you out of technology. There is definitely prejudice in technology, but I've found that the best antidote to prejudice is personal excellence. You can't always control your circumstances, but you can change your attitude toward them and find a way to eventually improve them.