Career Day

Me, Happy with an Au Lait I’ve been thinking a lot about careers, day jobs, etc. and Too Beautiful, writer Mark Pritchard’s blog today talks about Janice Erlbaum’s post, which was an email from a student attending one of her talks. The student asks 5 questions, and Janice, and Mark, both answer them. I thought I’d take a stab at it too. It dovetails nicely with a chat I had yesterday with an old friend Dave about our careers and education, and we’d both had similar paths, and experienced the downturns in the Bay Area in the 90s, and 2000s (software bomb, dot-com bomb). Dave and I were talking about how rough it was coming out of college into a poor job market (though we didn’t know different).

0) What’s your job?
I have 3, believe it or not. I have a few writing jobs, I do email and social marketing, and I do database analysis for marketing groups. I call myself a CRM consultant- Customer relationship management consultant. I specialize in consumer data, messaging and communications.

1) When you were in high school, was this the career that you were most interested in? If yes, how did you accomplish your goals? If no, how did you choose this career?
I remember taking a test in the library that told me I’d be a great firefighter. I remember wanting to be a writer, and in fact wrote stories and novels as soon as I could write. I also remember being really good at math in high school, enjoying it, but not wanting to do it professionally. I think now, that was because I couldn’t envision a career that involved the sciences. I also had quite a hard time meshing my love of the Russian novel with programming (yes, even then) and math. We had lots of computers in the school, and I took classes outside of high school, as did my friends. It was Cupertino, so no need to explain.

2) What is the education and training for this career?
Since mine is so varied, it’s tough to line up a career path. I practiced the art of following opportunities and personal strengths. I also had a liberal arts BA which really helps in communicating, and that has been an essential part of every aspect of my career. A polished performance in meetings, good-looking deliverables, a sense of confidence (from defending your thesis during orals…) all of these help as a consultant. It’s a balancing act of doing what you’re good at and doing what you enjoy. To be specific, I worked on-the-job, shadowing and apprenticing for most of my expertise. I took classes in Perl, C++, Java, and software training classes. I also took writing courses, and read quite a few books on technical writing, blog writing, and I still study those quite regularly. There are database courses in college, but I’m wary of a curriculum that is too narrow, since technologies, and thus occupations, change their definition quite rapidly. I’d get a broader BA/MA and get specific training in non-credentialled (cheaper) courses. What also really helps is learning how you learn best, so you can teach yourself new things quickly.

3) Can you please take me through a typical day that you might have?
This is such a great question. I usually wake up around 10 or 11am, but depending on client calls or other work, I may wake up as early as 8am. It’s flexible. I check into my email accounts, and various other social platforms (Twitter, Friendfeed) to see if I have any pressing matters. I usually get a few requests at this point, so while making coffee & breakfast, I think about those.

I usually work online until 3 or 4PM at home, then head to a cafe until around 6 or 7PM. My work consists of reading other blogs, from colleagues, checking into client systems, corresponding via chat, video or email on issues and campaigns, and managing ongoing contracts – social networking or email. Part of my day revolves around networking with people. I believe in goodwill, so I do a percentage of pro-bono, free work finding friends jobs, checking into issues they’re having, etc.

Then, dinner out with friends or some other evening activity. I usually come home and check in on the accounts, and may do a few hours work until around midnight. I’m a night person, so at night I like to do either studying, developing some custom applications, or other “geek out” work- fun techie stuff, or longer term writing projects.

4) What do you like the most about your job? What do you like the least?
I love the flexibility of my job. I used to work for a client that had me flying back and forth each week, and the schedule was grueling. I love working at my own pace and determining my own hours. There are so many other aspects, mostly helping people and using technology to improve their efficiency, but mostly I like the constant innovation in my field, and the energy and positive feeling that comes out of it. Dislike? I dislike billing and having to account for time, that’s probably the least fun aspect of working for yourself. And, because time is a commodity it’s hard to take time for vacations or social activities. Since I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years, I work out “deals” with myself, but it’s still hard territory to negotiate.

5) What is the employment outlook for jobs in this career over the next 3-5 years?
For my diverse skillset, it’s looking pretty good. Consumer email is not going out of style, despite what naysayers say. The world of social marketing is heading into the stratosphere, if you do believe what people say, and writing, well, writing is a hotly contested, competitive arena. Something to think about regarding this question: if you’re looking at quantity, the best job to be right now is a collections agent. If you’re looking for quality, that’s a completely different question. What are the jobs that are probably going to be the most interesting, well-compensated and well-positioned after 5 years? Anything in ecology, environmental sciences, or helping societies manage these goals. Media’s also a hot industry, as it’s changing rapidly from older frameworks of the pulp industry into crowd-sourced, crowd-funded journalism, akin to blogs but something different.

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