Publicity and the Geek

Don King.  Bad Hair, Great Promoter.

I am not Recommending This Haircut as a Promotional Strategy.

It’s tough out there for techies.  Not only is their profession one of the most difficult, but they are one of the first in line to the chopping block when corporate wants a short term stock boost.

I have written before on the subject of personal branding and marketing as a hedge against the ever-present threat of downsizing.  But I can distill all those articles down to a few key points:

Point One, your certifications and education are nice, but tens of thousands of other professionals have the same letters after their name.

Point Two, your experience is valuable, but tens of thousands of other professionals have similar backgrounds.

Point Three, if you want to stand out from the crowd you have to promote yourself, period.

The concept of self-promotion for many professionals and especially IT folks is very daunting.   Nearly all maintain that if they get yet another certification then they will be rewarded by a better job. Unfortunately those days are gone.  With the impact Great Recession still reverberating in the job market and with the zeal corporate-cost cutters are targeting IT, you need a Plan B.

As a professional you need to remember that ultimately you work for yourself.  It matters not if you are a full-time or contract employee.  The social contract between employer and employee is severed and no matter how well you perform in the end it will be a dollars and cents decision that will get you terminated.  This applies even if you ate lunch at your desk, never took your vacation and worked 80 hours a week.

With that rant out of the way and all these pixels dedicated to the subject, I wanted to provide a quick update on my own path toward establishing my “personal brand”.

Writing, writing and more writing.

I've been asked if I have a life...

In recent years I have heavily invested my time in writing or contributing to articles on a variety of pertinent topics.  Also, I have appeared in a variety of podcasts and hosted several webinars.  If you click over to my Media Mentions and Appearances pages, you can see a comprehensive list of my latest writing and speaking engagements.

I am particularly proud of contributing to two articles that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, one on the topic of endpoint security and the other on the Gawker/ WalGreens data breach.   Another article I am proud of appeared in InfoWorld and CIO magazine on the topic of dirty consulting tricks and how to avoid them.  There are quite a few more for a total of eleven articles this year to which I have provided content.

On the multimedia side, I have done podcasts for TalkingWork and Medical Practice Trends.  Also, I have worked with ExecSense to develop webinars on Risk Management and Mobile Device Security.  I have several other webinars planned for the future with ExecSense on the topics of Consulting, Risk Management and Chief Operating Officer (COO) skills.

Of course I have also been writing my own articles that are published here on my blog, The Phoenix Principle or Infosec Island.  These articles are then cross-posted on a variety of other websites or used in print publications.

Finally, I continue to submit papers, reply to calls for presentations,  comment on industry blogs and network locally and via social media.  For the future I am planning on delving into video blogging (vlogging), writing a book(s), additional public speaking and pro bono engagements.

Marcia Yudkin's Excellent Book on Marketing and Publicity.

Marcia Yudkin's Excellent Book on Marketing and Publicity.

All of these efforts are to establish my personal brand and provide a body of work for interested clients to review.  For example, I can not only say that I have successfully worked with a clients on disaster recovery and business continuity projects, but I have contributed to three articles on the topic and have provided executive education on the subject.   You gain credibility due to the fact that a potential client can review your work immediately, not through a vague third-hand reference over the phone from someone they don’t know or quotation on your website.

Based on the extensive research I have done over the years on marketing, selling and promotional strategies, I have pursued what I and others believe are the most effective techniques.  If you need a reference book, the best one I have found so far is Marcia Yudkin’s 6 Steps to Free Publicity.  The book is packed with tips on the topics I just mentioned, plus a host of others I have yet to tackle.  There are skyscrapers full of marketing books, but Ms. Yudkin breaks it down in a clear and concise format without any hint of condescension or hype.

So there you have it.  My quest for self-promotion and developing a personal brand is an on-going enterprise.  I have a long, long way to go but I believe I have taken the first steps in the right direction.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

State of the Cubicle

Misery Loves Company at U.S. Businesses

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves.

Outside of a few bright spots, most U.S. employers are not known for their promotion of employee happiness. While  firms may tout their employee friendly policies or plaster their marcom with “Best Places to Work” labels, seasoned employees know the score.

Industrial Age business practices of the 8 to 6 grind, endless meetings, pointless busywork and executive disconnect await.   Beginning in the early 90’s and practiced with vigor during the Great Recession, employee headcount and benefit reductions where the first and last resort of troubled firms and so the employer/employee bond of trust was broken.

As an IT and business consultant I have worked across a broad spectrum of organizations and industries and I have seen a multitude of cultures.  I have worked for only a scant few that had folks who enjoyed working in the environment.   The majority of organizations have consisted of an overwhelming percentage of dissatisfied workers who were looking for an exit or feeling trapped.

This repeated experience provided the impetus for me to research the issue further.  One of the best resources I came across was a book by Judith M. Bardwick entitled “One Foot Out the Door“.  Besides providing a tremendous amount of  information on the state of employees in Corporate America, she tied “Good” and “Bad” employee practices to the bottom line.  Boiling all her research and figures down it turns out that treating employees good and having a positive corporate environment leads to measurably higher profit.  Treat employees poorly and have a negative corporate environment leads to loss of profitability.  Sounds like commonsense.

Unfortunately it looks like the leadership in Corporate America has not gotten around to reading Ms. Bardwick’s book. According to a survey by Harris Interactive, 77 percent of U.S. employees are stressed at work.  Now work related stress is not all bad, but the top stresses in this survey (unreasonable workload and fear of being fired) are.

If Your Staff Looks Like This, It Is Not Good.

Please. No More Reports in Power Point...

So how does work related stress translate over into employee engagement and retention?  Poorly.  A summary of the 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefit Trends by MetLife show 34% of the workforce are ready to hit the exits on their current employer.  This large number has been driven by the Great Recession stranding employees in companies where they no longer want to work.  Also the increased workloads and fear of downsizing has added to the logjam.  Once the employment picture brightens, employers can expect large turnovers and even larger recruitment and retention costs, taking away a significant portion of the short-term costs savings gained by wage, benefit and headcount reduction.

Employee disengagement is also an issue, which is mentioned in Ms. Bardwick’s book.  Companies pursuing bottom-line centric policies before all else have 50 percent and growing employee disengagement issues.   Employees mentally “check out” from playing an active role in the organization and do the bare minimum to stay employed.   One technique employees use is to follow every corporate policy and procedure to the letter, even if it becomes a mobius strip of looping outcomes.   The staggering cost of disengagement is $350 billion which once again undermines the short-term gains in corporate profitability.

Gallup recently published a survey where engaged, disengaged and the unemployed were compared on how they felt about their wellbeing.  48 percent of unemployed individuals define themselves as “thriving” in their lives compared to 42 percent of actively disengaged employees. Basically folks on the dole are happier than the average worker who hates their job.

I Need You to Fill Out This Form in Triplicate.

The Red Tape! It Burns!

So what can employees do to combat getting trapped in an organization they cannot stand?  They have to come to the realization that while they work for an organization they primarily work for themselves.  Since the unspoken security agreement between employer and employee is long gone, employees must continually burnish their skills to make themselves more marketable.  This means continuous education, networking and researching the market for opportunities, all off the company clock.

This especially applies to education.  Many companies have slashed training budgets to the bone and require multiple senior executive signatures just to attend a $200 conference.  Employees will have to swallow the bitter pill and pony up their own cash and vacation time for training and development. But that will negate any “clawback” clauses that a company could enforce when you leave the organization.

I’d like to see reader’s feedback on my conclusions and the data outlined in this article.  So please feel free to fire away in the comments section!

IT Job Market Intel. Cutting Through the Fog

Conflicting Jobs Data

The Fog of Data....and Zombies

A lot of hay has been made about the recent job market report.  192k plus jobs added for February and the rate of layoffs are now at pre-recession levels.   The unemployment number also experienced a nice drop to 8.9 percent.

However, if you pull back the covers on the numbers a bit you find some disturbing data.  Job openings are down 30 percent based on pre-recession numbers, which translates to 843k less job opportunities.  Labor force participation is also the lowest since 1984 at 64.2% which is an ominous sign of folks just dropping out of the labor market all together.  If the participation rate was at the full 66.1 percent, unemployment would be 11.6 percent.

So with all the smoke and mirrors around the general job numbers, how does this translate over to IT professionals? Well, as of February, there were over 74k job IT job openings nationwide.  About 60 percent of those openings are for full time positions (46k) and the remaining shake out to contractor slots.  Many of these current opportunities are located in the Midwest/West.  A lot of growth predicted for Ohio, Seattle and Detroit oddly enough.  Of course D.C. remains a hotbed of job market activity, with federal funds still propping up the local economy.

Traffic Jam On D.C. Beltway

Ahh, the Beltway at 3pm...

Silicon Valley, normally the epicenter of all things tech, shed 12k jobs in January.  The forecast for the region looks anemic with a 10.8 percent unemployment rate.

Overall, the best places for employment during 2010 were North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas and of course Washington D.C.  So if you like your privacy and cold weather you know where to setup shop.  Or you can spend half your life on the Beltway trying to get to work in D.C.

So what are the hot skills (for this week) in IT?  Since you are now going to move to North Dakota and become a PHP developer.  Well, VMware Certified Professional (VCP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), PHP, MySQL and Mobile App developer are all top trending skills for IT pros.

Since we know outsourcing is a looming specter that hovers in the mind of any seasoned IT employee, what skills are future outsourcing fodder?  According to Baseline, Cloud Computing support (VMware), Network Administration, Mobile App developers, PHP, JavaScript, MySQL…  Yes basically the same “Hot Skills” for this week are next quarter’s grist for the Outsourcing Mill.

Speaking of looming specters, according to an article in CIO Insight, IT professionals can expect a 2.3 percent increase in salary for 2011.  So if you are making the average $78k you get less than a $1,800 bump in pay.  Not even enough to pay for the next big certification class since your company stopped paying for training.  Fantastic!

Start Planning and Developing New Skills Today.

Start Planning and Developing New Skills Today.

Of course there is an interesting footnote to this, it seems that IT talent poaching will be experiencing an renaissance.  Back in the late 90’s, this was a common occurrence as firms competed for scare IT talent.

Once again, IT pros are going to have to develop significant business skills to set themselves apart from their mono-technical peers.  While you may be able to capitalize on the Hot Skill Du Jour for a while, and we all have, it will continue to pay diminishing returns.

Local Interest: Richmond IT Job Market

IT job market a lot like working in abandon train station.

I worked here back in the late 90's, before the rats were kicked out.

An iconic image of Richmond; Main Street Station.  Once upon a time I consulted for an organization that called this building home.  Well, not the magnificent brick edifice, but the rickety Train Shed behind this fantastic looking building.  The actual station was condemned because of a fire and just looked impressive from a distance.   The Shed itself came with a charming assortment of local wildlife, unidentified odors, severe roof leakage and madness-inducing halogen stadium lights.  These lights would buzz at a frequency that would drive a dead man into a fit of rage.

I have provided consulting services to many, many clients in the Central Virginia area, both public and private.  So, I feel very qualified to comment on the state of the local Richmond IT job market.  In a word, weak.

There are some heavy market forces that buffet IT consultants in Richmond and Central Virginia area. One is the 800 lb gorilla that is financial industry.  All the players in this segment have re-negotiated their contracts with local firms and have driven their rates down to new lows.  Many established consulting firms have turned to sending their mid-level candidates and below to these organizations due to this rate pressure.  Although, with the employment market as weak as it has been over the last 4 years, many high-quality folks will take a 50-60 percent pay cut just to have work.  However, on the opposite side of this equation, when the job market does pickup again (2013) there will be a tremendous turnover in those organizations and compensation will have to be adjusted.

The IT labor market is very tight in the Richmond Area.

Add IT Professional. Cook for 2 hours.

Virginia State government is another market pressure.  The Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA), Northrup Grumman nexus has effectively dropped compensation by 50 percent for IT professionals looking for government work.  This alliance has also driven most mid-tier and above consulting firms away from state government projects due to the abysmal rate structure.   This picture will not improve any time in the near term due to the State fiscal situation.  However, if you are Sole-Source provider for services, you are doing well.

So, what are local firms looking for in IT talent?  Even with outsourcing taking a large bite out of available work, firms are looking for developers. Top skills (for the moment) are Java, iOS, Android, Python,Ruby, .Net, etc.  In light of the latest data and while the work may be there now for programmers, I would very heavily recommend developers picking up other IT skills or to specialize in niche technologies.  If you have been development professional over the last 10 years, you know how capricious the job market can be.

Also, IT pros with business intelligence (BI) experience are looking good, especially if they have a healthcare background.    Clients looking for Project Managers and Information Security pros are also out there.

Of course, in order to get a gig, the employment seeker is going to have to rub elbows with the recruitment set.  Based on research and commonsense, there are some effective ways to go about this.  One, have a complete LinkedIn profile.  Recruiters are relying more heavily on this tool than any other, including job boards like Monster or Dice.

Second, develop a professional relationship with those recruiters who contact you.  If they send you a position requisition you are not a fit for, but know some who is, have that person contact the recruiter.  According to the recruiters I spoke with, this is the number one way of keeping your name in front of them, since you helped them fill an open position.

IT Pros should press ahead with skill development.  Focus on Business.

Plowing ahead toward a job market thaw.

Third, obtain a recommendation of person currently working at a firm you are targeting.  Recruiters, especially in-house, add serious points to a candidate who already has the approval of current employees.  This tip is especially applicable to financial firms.  Social referrals is the key source for hires in many organizations.

Finally, you are going to have to differentiate yourself from the herd. Pursue skills outside your IT specialty, especially if it is related to the business.  This will show that you are interested in interacting successfully with the business of a potential client, which adds a a lot of credibility to your skill set.

All of the above is pretty much a no-brainer and I have written on the subject before.  It is good to remember that even if you are currently employed, you should be following the above recommendations.  When the job market finally breaks free again (2013) you want to be ready to capitalize on the thaw.   Maybe you’ll even get a chance to work in a pigeon-infested environment like me.  But that’s another story.

Dr. House, EHR and Consulting: The Case of the Unpopular Mandate

EHR, HIPAA, HITECH and its Impact on Successful Implementations

Consulting and the Fictional TV Doctor.

At a high level, information technology professionals are like physicians.  They recommend new treatments (EHR software) to address conditions (HIPAA).  Unfortunately IT pros don’t get paid nearly as well, but at least we both worry about outsourcing to some degree.

The stereotype of the IT professional can also be compared to a doctor, or at least a fictional one, Dr. Gregory House.  Sullen, anti-social, with a high regard for his own knowledge, Dr. House avoids all contact with his customers (patients).  He only swoops in to provide a solution to a problem (condition) before he retreats once more to his solitude. [Read more…]