I am humbled and honored to be afforded the privilege of posting on the Packet Pushers blog platform, but being given that opportunity brought on some imposter syndrome that is so much discussed here and on the show. It took me a while to write, rewrite, and convince myself to post this. I started several introductory posts, that seemed like bragging or sad self-justification. Instead, I’m going to take a risk with the truth, and freely admit something controversial.
I’m a job-hopper. I’ll own it. In fact, it has made me who I am today. It is NOT a bad thing. I don’t stay at a job for years by default, out of worry for my resume. I don’t suffer bad jobs or companies. I don’t have to and neither do you. I grow my skills and I know my value. When I land a great role at a great place, I am a key contributor, and a valued team member. But there better be something I am getting out of it besides a paycheck or stability. If my situation changes, I have a value story to tell, and confidence in the market for skills and expertise.
Let me proceed to date myself. I started out back in the Neolithic Networking Era, circa 1995, as a part-time cold caller selling maintenance contracts on high-volume line printers. I took every chance I could get to work back in the small shop on anything the owner would allow. My only IT experience consisted of being a work-study proctor in the computer lab in college, using text-based Internet services (hello Usenet), and building PCs for friends and family. The shop had a UNIX guy and a Novell guy already, but the owner lamented that nobody would even install the WindowsNT software he had on a shelf. I jumped at that chance. Six months later, when the owner wouldn’t recognize that I had grown into a full-fledged network field tech, and that Microsoft had a bright future in networking, I moved on and almost doubled my hourly pay.
I worked at that next field service job for a year on NT, Novell, Unix, and NetBios networks before a co-worker and I realized we wanted to start a business. We thought we could do it better. He made the jump first. After a few weeks of after-hours and weekend work we had enough clients that I followed. We started with nothing, but made it work. Almost 3 years later, after some business disagreements, I left the company I helped start and took a large pay increase. I was a senior engineer in the booming IT marketplace and teaching some contract tech classes at a local community college on the side. Two and half years and 3 jobs later, I was leading a technical team, and my salary had nearly doubled again. Companies were slow to respond to the job market values. Certifications were rare and probably overvalued, and I had been able to obtain several.
I went through a tough time then. A bad acquisition of the company I worked for, followed by a couple of well-paying but unfulfilling contract gigs, left me bitter and dissatisfied. I was burned out, but I didn’t know anything about burnout at the time. After being transferred to an overnight weekend shift supporting dying network technology, I had a panic attack before my shift and quit on the spot. I couldn’t go in. I left a voicemail for my contract manager, and then never returned her calls. Nobody at that time talked about burnout, but that’s exactly what I had. Eight progressively more demanding jobs in 7 years left me an income and career many of my peers envied, but I hated it. I was done. I didn’t even really look for another IT job.
I sold most of my belongings, lost my home as part of a real-estate downturn, and went to live and work as a lift operator at a ski resort for the winter. I spent my free time snowboarding and hanging out with kids mostly a decade younger than myself. I rode in the backcountry learning from experienced riders how to avoid avalanche zones. I hitch hiked with them to the top of the pass at midnight, riding down in only the light of the full moon. I recovered.
My girlfriend, who I had met while unemployed, became pregnant. Instinct kicked back in. It was time to turn it back on again. I had some hard-learned new coping skills. We moved across the country to be near family, and I restarted my career as a network tech and consultant at a local company in a small town. A year passed and I hopped again, into a sub-par company just to get into the nearby metro area, then hopped again 5 months later to break into the Enterprise Network space. It was a fantastic opportunity, and one of the best teams I was ever a part of. I learned so much, but when your company loses a billion dollars in successive quarters during a sub-prime meltdown, you should know it’s time to move on. My next enterprise gig was also pretty great, and I was content for 5 years. Unfortunately, my employer didn’t know the market rate for their talent. I reluctantly left, did some contracting, but came back to that company and colleagues after a year, with a 20% pay hike. I was happy again for 3 years. Then leadership churn and a flailing attempt at a Digital Transformation which devalued current staff left me dissatisfied again and looking for my next opportunity.
I landed what I thought would be a great position but wasn’t. I hopped. No luck; I hopped again. Three jobs in a year and a half. But I kept learning. My skills were still in demand. This time I was not just learning new technology or IT skills, but focused on understanding the businesses, why they were struggling with their IT operations, and why the IT folks in each place as were all as miserable as me but afraid to leave. Then I caught a break. A former colleague who knew I was unhappy referred me to a company for a role as a Network Architect owning a few network services in a huge global matrixed enterprise. The business knowledge I had been cultivating, all those experiences, are the reason they hired me. My current role is a big stretch and sometimes it feels like a constant struggle. But I am growing. I am learning. I’m applying what I have learned to improve things around me. It’s never easy, and this org is byzantine on a good day. But I know who I am and where I came from. I believe in myself and my own value.
I still regularly get calls and emails from recruiters, contracting companies, and internal recruiters at enterprises all the time. They have a hard job. There simply isn’t enough talent and experience that so many growing companies need. The good ones don’t care about short stints on a resume. I can explain the reasons why something wasn’t a great fit, why I had a great opportunity, or why a certain business struggled to retain talent. Maybe the next great opportunity for me will come soon; maybe it will be a while. I am OK with either outcome. I am continuing to grow myself. I want to make sure that my work helps the business I work for as much as possible. As long as that’s the case, the future is very bright indeed.