Are you matching your strengths to your opportunities or are you just being ideological … interested only in following your own ideas even when they won’t get you any results?
Here is a situation that illustrates the challenges of being ideological versus being results oriented. It is a situation that illustrates the challenges of learning an enterprise software like Oracle compared to a poor man’s database like Microsoft Access.
Are you wondering about who this situation involves? You are safe my friend because today, I will mainly be talking about me 🙂
When I started out in the industry, my first priority was to get my foot into the door.
My goals were:
- To transition my career without incurring a lot of additional debt
- To learn a marketable skill so that I could get a job quickly
- To get myself into a position where I would be in high-demand by delivering excellent results
There were a number of career paths that looked promising and I looked into them all. Here a few of them:
The business analyst career path was mostly available to systems analysts or management consultants people or poorly defined.
By poorly defined, i mean that it depended on the whims of hiring managers (it was subjective and depended on the employers needs or definitions) and so, there was no very clear or direct path to becoming a business analyst (this was in the ‘90s).
I had worked in network administration in an internship job right after college. My duties entailed helping support a Lotus CC:Mail/ Novell Netware Network
Based on my own first-hand experience, I ruled out computer networking primarily because I realized that I was not passionate about that industry.
While in college, I had tried to learn C/C++ and I also decided that it wasn’t my thing because it took a long time to develop a fully functional software using C/C++
Based on experience, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to master C/C+ in a few months or get a job easily.
My finding was that it would take a number of years to become really expert or highly skilled at C/C++.
I was also certain, that even when I became highly skilled, I still won’t be able to deliver stellar results based on C/C++.
Enterprise Database Software
I investigated getting an entry level job in SAP / Oracle / IBM or some other enterprise software since that is where it seemed that the big bucks where being made. In the 90’s, the major database players included IBM, Oracle, Microsoft.
Oracle was very popular in the enterprise database computing circle. However, learning Oracle was no small feat.
I mean that installing Oracle on your own local computer for learning purposes was not an easy proposition even for experienced oracle professionals because companies hired senior / experienced Oracle consultants just to install and setup Oracle correctly on their servers.
In addition to that, Oracle was targeted at the enterprise buyer which meant that purchasing a full-featured Oracle license for an individual like me without corporate sponsorship … was simply beyond my budget!
In addition, even if I raised the money to buy an Oracle License, I would have to spend additional weeks installing Oracle correctly by myself or else hire an Oracle database consultant to install it (Oracle database consultants billed anywhere from $60/hr. to $120/hr.)
And assuming that I overcame the hurdle of buying an Oracle license and then installing Oracle, I would still have to figure out one more thing about Oracle … how to learn Oracle!
You see, Oracle was one of those complex enterprise software application that had a really high learning curve.
The chances that I was going to learn or master Oracle in time enough to get a job was very low because professionals who had been working with Oracle for years where still struggling to understand it … it was that complex!
So, tell me, what will you have done if you were in my shoes?
Did I fixate on learning Oracle … even though I knew professionals that worked with Oracle for years were still struggling to get to a comfort level with it?
Absolutely not! One of the Oracle professionals that I was personally acquainted with had started working with or learning Oracle while we were still in college.
By the time I was evaluating learning Oracle, this professional (a lady based in the United Kingdom) was just getting comfortable with Oracle … and that is after working with it for 8 to 10 years!
So, I decided that the Oracle database and many of the other popular enterprise software applications available at that time had too high a learning curve!
Yes, I know that everyone’s situation is different and yes I understand that “what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander“.
But my situation was that I was married and I had to pay my bills.
Even though my wife was willing to support me, I wasn’t okay with asking her to take care of all the bills while I went on a multi-year learning trip.
Not only that,I had been out of college for a few years and didn’t want to risk taking another 8 to 10 years to learn a new career!
And I definitely didn’t want to start a career that would require such an expensive re-training that I would have to go deeply in debt!
Put yourself in my shoes and tell me what you would have done if faced with my situation keeping in my objectives which were:
To learn a marketable skill in a short time: I had to learn a marketable skill so that I could easily get a job and get out of unemployment.
To be prudent or save money: I had to pay my bills and account for all sorts of living expenses, while paying for my own re-training.
To get into a line of work where I could easily become competent: I needed to learn a skill that I would become an expert at in a reasonable short time.
What will you have done in my shoes … because I choose Microsoft Access!
In those days, a lot of professionals looked down on Microsoft Access as a sort of poor man’s relational database even though Microsoft Access had a lot going for it at that point in time.
Low Cost of Learning
Microsoft Access was available as part of the Microsoft Office family of products.
The cost of a Microsoft Office / Access license was as low as $300. And I budgeted an additional $100 for buying Microsoft Access textbooks from the local seller … Barnes & Noble. I would never forget the price that I paid for my very first Microsoft Access Book … just $49.50.
So, for less than $500, I was guaranteed that I would learn or master Microsoft Access … which was great news for me as an unemployed newbie IT professional!
Low Learning Curve
It took me between 30 and 60 days to study or master Microsoft Access from textbooks. After which I spent my remaining time, taking Microsoft Access practice tests and building relational databases.
In my first job interview test administered by a local staffing agency in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I scored above 90% and got hired into the systems / data analysis department of a local e-commerce firm with a starting salary of $15/hr.
Accelerated Time To Market
By my third month of working with Microsoft Access, I had completed a project that was estimated to last about 6 weeks in 2 weeks.
Because I could achieve those sorts of results, the IT Manager called a recruiting firm without my knowledge or permission and advised them to find more challenging work for me … which they did!
By my third month, I was billing $76,000/yr. and my billing rate continued to increase with time!
What I have learnt is that the only thing that stops us from achieving the results we want is our limiting belief systems or self-imposed mental boundaries.
So, what works and what doesn’t?
Don’t hang your career on getting a recognized certificate or diploma
That is so old school! The only thing that matters is your ability to perform on the job … and no accredited degree or diploma or program can confer that to you.
In other words, you either learn or know how to get the job done or you don’t.
Don’t get stuck learning any vendor’s software
Because I got my foot in through the door, I have since had the chance to learn or work with Oracle and IBM enterprise databases at the employer’s expense!
Learning Microsoft Access first actually made it easier for me to learn or work with SQL Server, Oracle and IBM databases later on.
Remember that you are the one that makes the job work and not the software, vendor or qualification.
I have seen professionals who want to become business analysts get stuck on learning an enterprise requirement management software like IBM Rational RequisitePro.
These good folks forget that many employers can’t afford the licensing costs of the same software that they are hung up on and they also forget that requirements management is first and foremost a set of principles or techniques and not a software!.
If you learn requirements management techniques you can for example document requirements using Microsoft Office or your employer can purchase any of the myriads of requirements management software in the market.
So why are you so hung up on learning IBM Rational RequisitePro as if that makes you a business analyst?
Learn a marketable skill
One of the biggest challenges facing professionals is the right choice of a career. I know that because I get asked that question every day
I’ve seen professionals get stuck with programming skills that are not marketable like mainframe programming or C/C++.
In one instance, a C/C++ programmer with a computer science college degree after being unemployable for 3 years got the very first job he interviewed for … after I coached him on C#, ASP.NET and .NET Framework.
His mistake that of failing to learn a marketable skill. The good news is that it only cost him a few months to rectify that mistake. And, once he fixed that, his career was back online again!
Here is my last advise to you on this point, make sure that you are pragmatic and not ideological about your career choices.
If it is looking like you are getting stuck on the path you are on, carefully evaluate all the other alternatives available to you.