Groomed or Doomed?

Does a change in responsibilities mean you're closer to the top or closer to the door?

I recently changed jobs within the same company and I’m having a problem adapting. I have three and a half years of good, hands-on network administration experience and an MCSE. In my new position, my title has changed to Desktop Applications Analyst/Expert. The job covers everything from project management, documentation, and configuration to maintenance of all HR software, interviewing candidates, and help desk support. Also, the network administrators and the desktop analysts are in separate areas. I talked to my boss, and he basically told me I could take this position anywhere I wanted—although I find that hard to believe. Did I make the right choice?

—Name Withheld by Request

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Greg Neilson says: Although I suspect we caught Steve at the end of a bad day (you know how it is with those academic types), I agree with much of what he said.

Whenever I’ve made a major change in my life, it’s taken me a few months to adjust and actually like the new over the old. Whether it was moving away from home, getting married, making a career change from programming to networking, or relocating to another country, moving away from my comfort zone was stressful. Each change ended up being good for me—but each time, I was tempted to go back to my old life. A few months down the line, however, I’d realize that I’d made the right choice.

At the moment, your job is completely different from what you’re used to. For obvious reasons, you’re wondering why the heck you agreed to take on this role when your skills are in another area. Since I’m assuming this is a question you considered before taking on your new position, it’s time to re-examine the reasons you took the job. See if they still hold true. If they do, then hang in there; you’ll soon be enjoying your job again. If the reasons you had originally no longer seem to make sense, then you need to decide whether you should seek something else, or if you can learn enough to warrant staying in this role for a while.

As Steve says, the position can be a valuable way to round out your knowledge. Sure, management is one avenue open to you, but help-desk work can also be useful if you later decide to take on a senior architectural role; the knowledge you’re gaining about deploying standard applications will be invaluable.

It sounds like you’re not doing any networking admin now but hoping that will change. I have to tell you that it won’t—your letter makes it clear that another department does that work. However, deploying applications like Office and Internet Explorer gives you valuable hands-on experience. Those skills may be important later, when as a manager you have to consider the firm’s entire IT infrastructure. In fact, it may make you a diehard thin client/Terminal Server advocate in the future!

Aside from the technical skills you’ll need in this new role, don’t forget that you’ll have the opportunity to work on your “soft skills”—project management, mentoring, and influencing people on other teams. No matter what you do in IT, being able to demonstrate a firm grasp of these will hold you in good stead for the future.

I wouldn’t necessarily worry that you’re in a different department from the networking folks. Managers can effectively manage only a certain number of staff. As the IT function grows, more managers need to be hired for different teams. In theory—and you might have to remind yourself and those you work with of this—you’re all part of the same company and you’re all trying to do the best thing for the company. Of course, turf wars in IT departments are all too common. It can be staggering to see how much time and effort are wasted fighting each other rather than actually getting anything done. Try very hard to make sure you don’t add to any of these conflicts. Sometimes showing some goodwill on your side can help break down walls.

No matter how much you find yourself worrying about whether this a good role for you, make sure it doesn’t affect your performance. If you create a perception that you’re not performing, it will drastically affect any possibility of a move to another area in the company. I know, many in IT think nothing of changing companies every one to two years, but I’m a firm believer that it’s far easier to find another job within the same company than with another firm. So hang in there and make sure you don’t burn any bridges!

About the Author

Greg Neilson, MCSE+Internet, MCNE, PCLP, is a Contributing Editor for MCP Magazine and a Professional Development Manager for a large IT services firm in Australia. He’s the author of Lotus Domino Administration in a Nutshell (O’Reilly and Associates, ISBN 1565927176).

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