How Safe Is Your Job?

chickencubicle 290x300 How Safe Is Your Job?There was a point, about three years ago, where I was seriously wondering what job security in a jack-of-all-trades style web job was really like.  Was there value in it?  Was there a future in it?  These kinds of questions are inevitable when you consider where you are, where you can go, and what you can do between here and there.  The web is a big place, and those darn kids that won’t get off our lawn are sharper about web stuff than they used to be.  Are we destined to become a dime a dozen, especially at universities where we are effectively training people to replace us every day?

I think it’s always important to weigh your career once in a while, and determine what the longevity of it is, both as a job, and as a means to keep yourself satisfied.  That was where a lot of these questions originally came from for me.  I was trying to determine how to further develop myself professionally, and in what ways to do it.  The first thing I think I was able to really work out was that yes, we should keep ourselves sharp (a given), and that yes, the web is a great industry to be in.

I, for one, don’t view the younger generations as a threat just because they are young and have been exposed to the internet from birth.  Had the web stood still, and never evolved beyond basic HTML, I think it would be a totally different story.  Luckily, the web is crazy dynamic, and evolving in ways that can blow even the most hardened veteran’s mind if they think about it too hard.

Compare it to a Model T.  If automobiles were all still as simple as Model Ts, we’d all be mechanics by now, and we’d never need shops.  That’s how the web in a bubble would be.  But as cars have evolved and become more complex, so too does the web.  We will forever need mechanics the same as we will always need “web developers” (whatever that really means).  And at universities, we’re always short on skilled people and resources.  It might be easy to find a talented youngster to fill a spot, but it’s much harder to keep them when someone else can wave almost twice the money under their nose.

The other side of this point, being a jack-of-all-trades, is equally valuable.  As I mentioned, many of us work in shops where our staffing is painfully low.  It pays then to be good at everything and great at nothing.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t strive to be experts in things, it’s just hard to do, and as a human, I require sleep once in a while.  If you network well and know your resources, even the hardest questions can be quickly answered (thank you Google).  Then as you grow in your position, you become better primed for project management and leadership positions.  The captain of a ship might not be able to fix the engine of his boat, but a good captain would at least be able to talk to the mechanics on their level and know what he can and can’t ask for.  An expert programmer might be able to hammer out Ruby or Java code like nobody’s business, but by specializing in that, they sacrifice other skills.

Ultimately, if you’re happy in what you are doing, and your boss is happy with you, then it’s all good.  But I think we all need a little to look forward to from time to time.  Where do you think the most valuable skills lie in university web positions?  Project management? Development?  Design?  Information Architecture?  Where are you putting your chips at?  And by investing in those skills, do you think doors can continue to open for you on your current ladder, or have you already hit the ceiling?


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This post was written by:

Michael Fienen

Michael Fienen - who has written 64 posts on .eduGuru

Michael joined Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, KS (NOT Pennsylvania, they spell it wrong anyway) in 2006 and is currently the Director of Web Marketing.  He is also CTO for the interactive map provider nuCloud. Web development's role in interpersonal communication is a principle focus of his efforts to improve and enhance higher ed web commodities.  He is an active supporter of the dotCMS community, accessibility advocate, freelance consultant, frequent speaker at web events, and general purpose geek who wears many hats.  Read his complete bio.


12 Responses to “How Safe Is Your Job?”

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    Hayden Dell Says:

    You have to stay nimble out there as you age. Stay up with the times. I have a saying when my friends ask me why I use Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, etc. “If the kids are doing it, so am I.” :)

    Reply

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    drew Says:

    Great post. There’s a need to become strategic about our careers. I could very easily turn around in 5 years and be in the same spot …doing the same 4 jobs and getting the same salary, … not really having improved/advanced/progressed in any particular skillset, be it design, programming, management, etc.. And that sucks. I wrote about it some.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m one of those devoted electrical engineers on the titanic, flipping the breakers back on as they constantly trip. And I guess the sinking ship in that comparison would be my career. But again it’s all about how you look at it.

    The upside of the university gig being the relative job security, the tuition discounts, etc…I actually tried to list them all, and hopefully the day will never come when I list the negatives. It would be a short list, mostly pertaining to issues you raised here. Lack of resources, lack of focus, and/or inability to specialize etc..

    Overall I’m pretty happy being a university web guy. But will I be happy 10 years down the road, looking back on how I spent my most critical productive years? Ask me when I’m 39.

    Reply

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    Kyle James Says:

    Fienen good post. It’s something that we always have to be considering. I think a very important element that you hinted at is to always be evolving. In our line of work we can’t get comfortable with a technology and not looking out for something new and different and probably better to learn. Luckily that seems to be one of the traits of a good techie is that we love playing with the newest and latest gizmos.

    Reply

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    Paul Redfern Says:

    Great post. I think it is also important to get involved in other things on campus. One way to broaden your experience and get you ready for leadership positions is to understand how the broader institution works. Cross divisional committees (as painful as they may be)are a great way to get some easy experience in this.

    Reply

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    Michael Fienen (author) Says:

    Very true Paul. Case in point, I was just recommended for the annual leadership group on campus here. We get to meet with other people from the area that are leaders, learn new skills, and get extra resources to develop ourselves further. It’s a case where it’s a chance to improve my exposure on campus, and earn some extra “street cred” if you will. And with the profile the website has for a university, having someone leading it that is viewed as a strong and trustworthy will never be a bad thing for you.

    Reply

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    Cameron Bates Says:

    I’ve only been working at a university for a short while, but I came here from a job working for a .gov, which is a somewhat similar setting. One thing I worry about is how working at a .gov/.edu and getting accustomed to the mode/pace of work here will potentially affect a career move to a commercial company. Does the pace of work at a university spoil us, or do the many hats we wear in this role prepare us for successful careers elsewhere? Has anyone made this move recently? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

    Reply

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    Michael Fienen (author) Says:

    I’ve talked to some people that have been in their web position at a university for nearly 10 years, and can very much tell that they’ve been “institutionalized,” for lack of a better term. And they also failed to continue developing themselves as I mention above. I’m not sure newer people have that problem as much, because we are more aware of the consequences of falling behind.

    Reply

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    Drew Says:

    Institutionalized. What a great word. I’m going to rip that Morgan Freeman audio clip from Shawshank. …set it up as my inbox alert sound.

    Reply

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    Ron Says:

    Very good post. Being nimble has been a huge asset for me. As well as going to different institutions and serving in roles that let me know what I’m good at and that helped me realize my skills rather than giving me the false impression that I’d go somewhere else and my skills wouldn’t be good anymore.

    Reply

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    Kate Johnson Says:

    I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately. You might say I’m a content generalist-I can talk a lot about what makes for good content and good Web writing. And I can talk a bit about what makes for good SEO, and I’m doing my best to learn about how to evaluate analytics. All of which makes me a pretty good resource in higher ed, but I’m getting the feeling that the outside world is looking for much more specialization than that. It makes me think Web positions inside higher ed are evolving differently than positions out in the private sector.

    Reply

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    BitStar Software Says:

    In the software industry a job is pretty secure from the employee’s point of view. I don’t think I’ve heared of programmers fired, just programmers leaving for a better salary :) In my country the statistics say that a programmer usually changes his work place every 2 years.

    Reply

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