Own Your Career – Advice From Personal Experience

A former student came back from Thailand after teaching for a whole year and requested a letter of recommendation for graduate school. Her email prompted me to write about what I share with my staff about the idea of owning their careers.   I emphasize that they have choices, some harder than others and that it takes planning and preparation.  My career path which I will describe below may not be a typical one and may not be the ideal one for anyone, but it’s a path I chose for myself. I have gotten advice in the past that I was making the wrong moves. In retrospect, I am glad that I followed what I wanted to do and my experiences have proven to be very valuable in my current job.

I feel fortunate and blessed that I have a stable job at UCSB but I also know that there is no guarantee  in the midst of budget cuts, that my job will always be available. I think of my options, viable or not, if I do happen to not have this position someday. My wife and I have thought our long term vision of establishing our own educational technology company someday and from time to time we do revisit that idea. Some of the lessons I have learned are the bottom of of this page. If you’d like to skip over my professional journey, click here.

I have left my current organization (UCSB Student Information Systems and Technologies – SIST) 3 times since 1996. Here’s my career timeline:

1996-1997 – Webmaster @ UCSB Student Information Systems (SIS) – now SIST.

I left to satisfy my curiosity of working in the private industry. So I decided to move on.

1997 – Web Developer @ Tenet Healthcare Corporation for 6 months.

I left after realizing the very controlled corporate environment was not for me. I also did not feel comfortable listening to a lobbyist talking in the next office about which senator to donate money to and how much. So I decided to move on.

1997-1998 – Web Developer @ UCSB  Student Information Systems (SIS) – now SIST

I wanted more money and wanted to go back to the private industry. So I decided to move on.

1998-2000- Web Developer @ Fionda Group LLC (a start-up multilevel marketing company) for 18 months

The start up environment was too informal for me and I was not able to get formal programming training since I was the only web developer for the company. At about this time, I started  to notice the internet boom in Silicon Valley. I decided to apply for a position in Montecito that works with start-up companies in the Silicon Valley. I figured this would be an opportunity for me to be introduced to companies I could join later. So I decided to move on.

2000-2001 – Web Developer for a start-up company for 2 months

I worked for the owner of the company but decided to quit after being bored of the environment. I was the only person in the office and I realized I needed to talk to someone in person. So I decided to move on.

2001-2005 – Web Manager/Web Architect @  UCSB Student Information Systems and Technologies

I was a web manager for about 4 years and due to re-organization, I was assigned the position of web architect. That was a big shift for me, from managing a team and working with customers to becoming an architect in a back room working on my own. At that time, .net was fast becoming the next platform our organization was going to use. Managing others is something I am comfortable but I realized that I needed to learn the new technology to be credible in the future.  So, I was looking for an organization that provided me training.  I decided to apply for a web developer position at UCSB Housing and Residential Services (H&RS) and offered the position. I went to work for UCSB Housing and Residential Services (H&RS) because of their people-oriented approach and that they have a reputation for providing professional development – lots of training! That was not an easy decision because my salary was going to be reduced by a few thousands per year but I knew training was more important than my salary at this time.  So, I decided to move on.

2005 – Web Developer @  UCSB Housing and Residential Services (H&RS) for 9 months

UCSB Housing was an awesome place to work for and they really take care of their employees and their professional development needs.  In a period of 4 months, I went to Sharepoint, sql server and asp.net training. However, after 7 months at H&RS, my previous supervisor at SIST called me and informed me they had created a manager position, essentially my old position but with bigger scope of responsibilities. He asked me to apply and so I did. A month or so later, I was offered the position. So I decided to move on.

2005-present – Manager / Associate Director -@ UCSB Student Information Systems and Technologies

I have been in my current organization since 2005. I was promoted along the way and my responsibilities have been expanded. However, in 2008, because of my wife and my desire to own a house, I decided to look at opportunities in the Sacramento area. Santa Barbara, where we lived, was very expensive and we did not see any opportunity for us to own a house in the next 5 years so I applied for an IT Director position at UC Davis which I was offered. I was not offered the salary I wanted however but more importantly, my wife and  just did not feel right leaving SIST and UCSB. I love my job and the people I work with and we both love the area.  So, I decided to stay.

Update:  I was promoted to Assoc. Dir of Information Systems and Software Development on October 2010. Here’s my updated career history on linkedin.

As I previously mentioned, there were a few individuals along the way who advised me to stay put in one place because my job hopping did not look good on my resume. They definitely were right because in my job interviews, I was asked that question. I guess I brought enough to the organizations I applied for that they took that chance on me.

In retrospect, here are some reasons I believe I was able to have the career path I chose for myself.

  • Do not” burn bridges” – I left SIST 3 times yet I was always welcomed back. I had a very good relationship with my supervisors, those that made the decisions to hire me back. When I left SIST,  I left at high points, when I accomplished something really well so the final impressions they had on me were always more positive than otherwise. In addition, every time I left a position, I was always grateful for the opportunities and personally thanked every single person I closely worked with by giving them a letter/postcard expressing my gratitude and being humble with my new opportunities.
  • Plan ahead and spend a lot of time preparing! Every single time I realized I wanted to move on, I spent hours and hours preparing for it, even months. I bought many, many books on software and web development and practice programming every single day. It was common for me to read/practice for 8 hours every night/morning (8 pm – 4 am) for months when I prepared for potential moves.
  • Recognize the opportunity costs/realistic rewards! In choosing to leave for the next opportunity, my wife and I discussed what the move meant in the long run and what we would sacrifice in the short term. For example, we knew that reducing my salary by a few thousands of dollars/year when I moved to Housing and Residential Services was not going to be an easy one, but we committed to changing our lifestyle to fit the new reality of limited budget.
  • Consider the effects on your family/partner and include them in the decision! Unless your decision affects no one, you have to consider what your career move may mean to your significant others and your family.
  • There is no “typical” career path,  but there’s a career path for you! Some of my friends have stayed with the same company their entire career and they’re completely happy with it. I took a different route and I am happy with it. Definitely consider discussing your options with someone who is a career advisor or in the human resources to get some feedback. In my case, I have a friend who is a career advisor, who provided me with guidance and honest feedback through these years. He has become my career mentor.
  • Know yourself, your strengths/weaknesses, value system, priorities  – You have to be realistic with what you are capable and what you are interested in. I like working with people, technology and student affairs so I always gravitated towards SIST. For some, money is the top priority and there is nothing wrong with that. If that is what drives you, go for it! If helping people is what drives you, then go for it! Now, if you find a job that can satisfy your multiple priorities, then you’ve found a great job!

Now that I look back at my experience,  I am glad I was exposed to different environments (start-up, corporate, university). The experience provided me with  perspectives that I can use when making decisions today  and to appreciate the opportunities, constraints and politics of my current position.

What I wrote worked for me and may not work for you,  however, the fact that you do have career choices is not a question. You do have choices, some harder than other. Life is too short to  be stuck working 8 hours a day at a job your are not happy with.

What is your career path and what you’ve learned along the way?I would love to see your thoughts on this post!

 

 

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