Part 2 of 4: Networking and Career Development in the Information Age (while Staying Sane and Natural)

In my introductory post to this series, I mentioned that I would explore the ideas of knowledge development, relationship development, and opportunity promotion in several contexts, relating to the professional world today.

​I’ll begin with the context of the job search and with my first principle of professional development: “Put human factors at the center of your career development strategy.” I am not arguing that this approach is the best for all. Just that it manifested itself for me under the distinct circumstances I will describe here, that it eventually proved itself effective, and that the relevance of the principle may be increasing in the professional world, or at least some parts of it.

The story begins with, and centers upon, the lack of focus and the professional uncertainty that challenged me not so many years ago. I was in the midst of some life/professional maneuvers that would ultimately take me from teaching second grade to working in the high-tech sector.

I had, at the time, certain quite general professional motivations, such as a desire be engaged in more cognitively challenging work, and to be better compensated. After taking a career risk or two too many, I decided that deciding on a career, per se, was not my forté. Of course, I could not, as I looked at my young family, neglect that determination either.

After moving states for my wife’s career, I began a job search in new environs. I tenaciously, and by necessity, focused on networking, beginning with my social network, and understood, of course, that I would need to deeply engage my conversational counterparts if I wanted them to help me find a job, or to provide me with an introduction to another contact.

I eventually determined that, instead of choosing a career path, a very difficult and confusing proposition for me at the time, I would put human relationships at the center of my effort. I would pursue multiple possibilities, at least somewhat relevant to my professional background, in so far as I could find promising leads that would support my continued effort in a particular direction. Eventually, I was able to sharpen my story–not out of a clearer idea of what I wanted to do but out of the necessity of holding people’s interest.

This is not to say that I neglected the truth. Just that I found ways to express investment—verbally, through reading, through gigs, or through volunteer work—in ways that resonated with my growing network, while still respecting my own desires albeit, yes, flexibly.

I volunteered, for instance, at the American Museum of Natural History as a survey researcher, not out of a deep desire to follow that career path, but due to the fact that I believed this experience would allow me to pitch myself more efficiently for the sorts of positions for which I was receiving bites.

Eventually, through trial and error, and via a focus on the dynamics of personal engagement, as opposed to the deliberate selection of a career path, I was able to land a position as a research associate at an education-related institute, based at a university in the New York area. The job was interesting and moderately well-paid. It provided the analytical engagement I had hoped to achieve in a new job, and, of course, it provided me with enhanced credibility as I continued to build my professional profile, albeit fitfully, but with a clear method now in hand.

The shift in perspective was subtle but it worked in this case, perhaps, as I have said, based on the peculiarities of my personality and/or circumstances. Still, I did eventually find that this same perspective and approach could be effective as my work circumstances, at least, became more traditional. I will describe those dynamics in the next post in this series.

The Artificial Divide between “Employee” and “Entrepreneur”

I loved this post from linkedin today.

Its headline talks about “reasons to stay in your job” but it’s really (in some places) about much more.

What James Altucher gets is that the “Employee vs. Entrepreneur” paradigm is tired, simplistic, and limiting. I would add that its derived from a romantic American individualism, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is that our jobs do not need to define us, and that we can use the dynamism of the economy to our advantage, once we let that comfortable idea go.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article (emph. mine).

Be an Entre-ployee . . . View a job as just one source of income among many.”

Have multiple streams of income . . .It doesn’t mean start “a company”. Then you are just going from one company to another​. . . . S​tart generating a lot more money from many different sources and if any one source is cut off then its not the end of the world. ​​It’s just an opportunity to replace that one source of money with an eve​n bigger source start generating a lot more money from many different sources and if any one source is cut off then its not the end of the world. ​”​

​​”​Suddenly you won’t have ​’​just​’​ a job. You wont’ be an entrepreneur. You won’t have any label attached to your money.​”​

Good luck!

Series on Networking and Career Development in the Information Age (while Staying Sane and Natural)

I’d like to develop, over a few posts, some thoughts about how I approach and build my career, develop projects at work, and, more generally, develop my professional network. There are a few key principles I employ that, I think, reflect the age of changing professional identities and unstable/dynamic organizational environments many of us experience. These principles have been of some service to me professionally, but even more than that, have allowed me to maintain a degree (I think) of sanity and balance as I contend with the forces/realities just described. I owe a big debt of gratitude for this general outlook to my brother, Jeremy Epstein, who is a Master Networker, with whom few can hope to compete (I am not one of those few.).

In the course of (what I think will be) a few posts, I’d like to develop/express some of these ideas (I’m getting there!!), which, with whatever faults, help me to develop opportunities outside of conventional linear business processes, and allow me to have some fun in the process.

OK, enough prologue. The key dimensions of the topic I’d like to call out are:

  • knowledge development (aka, learning)
  • relationship development
  • opportunity promotion (aka, seeking a goal)

I’d like to explore these ideas in a few contexts:

  • looking for a job/developing a network
  • creating opportunities in the workplace (accomplishing things, getting recognition, getting promoted, etc.)
  • why these ideas might be increasingly relevant ‘nowadays’
  • how these ideas help me maintain sanity and flexibility while developing my career

I’m not promising that I will develop these ideas in the particular order outlined above but, for the moment, the dimensions described seem about right. Thanks for reading, and I hope to have a second installment for you soon.

Reinterpreting your career based on changing patterns in IT infrastructure

I read this piece in the context of my work in the tech industry but what really fascinates me about it are the implications its arguments could have for industry, and professional life, in general.

Key quote:

Over the course of the 20th century, each industry developed its own vertical stack – research, design, development, production, marketing, sales, service, etc. Although there were essential forms of shared business infrastructure – electrical utilities, transportation systems and telephony services – most industry sectors were much more different than alike. . . . But today, significant chunks of the traditional vertical industry stack are being replaced by an ever more powerful digital fabric of horizontal services – the IT infrastructure equivalents of energy, transportation and telephony.

The four layers of this ‘digital fabric’ are identified by CSC as follows (image below):

  • Compute/store/connect
  • Identify/secure/transact
  • Publish/communicate
  • Sense/analyze/understand

digital-fabric-600

It strikes me that these four stack categories (the four lower categories on the image above) can serve to support career development strategy for those of us who don’t have obviously-identifiable professions and can inform thinking about the (potentially less stable) future for those of us who do have such professions.

We won’t necessarily go to school to become “sense/analyze/understand” experts per se (though, who really knows?) but it does help me to reflect on the fact that that probably represents the part of the stack in which I, personally, operate. I know others who clearly work in the publish/communicate part of this metaphorical stack. We each have job skills that are potentially more easily transferable between different traditional industries than between different parts of the stack.

Again, a useful construct that may provide an inkling of how changing digital infrastructure could change the professional lives of many.

“The Great Decoupling”: National Wealth and Individual Well-being

McKinsey writes about “The Great Decoupling“:

The Quarterly: How would that work? Are you referring to some sort of wage insurance?

Robert Shiller: Insurance is a fundamentally important concept. Whether it’s provided by the private sector or the government, it’s an organized response to uncertainty that affects individuals. Wage insurance is one form that has been experimented with by the US government, in fact, in an effort to deal with the problem that globalization is taking jobs out of the country. But it hasn’t been experimented with very much yet. I think we could have a much more comprehensive system of wage insurance. And we can do it without moral hazard if we manage it right.

I would argue that any sort of large, complex insurance program would be subject to some sort of moral hazard. However, it is also true that a wealthy society with volatile economics should, generally speaking, have different mores about work and livelihood than a poor society or a wealth society with stable economics.

Read more about this image at The Dish.