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Ask Slashdot: Advice For Getting Tech Career Back On Track 232

First time accepted submitter msamp writes "After the dotcom bubble burst so long ago,when tech jobs were so scarce, I went back to school and finished my PhD in Physics. They lied — there really is no shortage of scientists. Before the downturn I was a product manager for home networking equipment. Since getting the degree I have been program/project manager for small DoD and NASA instrumentation programs. I desperately want back into network equipment product management, but my networking tech skills aren't up to date. I find networking technology absolutely trivial and have been retraining on my own, but hiring managers see the gap and the PhD and run screaming. I'm more than willing to start over in network admin but can't even get considered for that. Suggestions?"
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Ask Slashdot: Advice For Getting Tech Career Back On Track

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2013 @02:29PM (#42496973)

    My IT department is full of people with tons of degrees doing various IT tasks.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2013 @02:50PM (#42497151)

    Something similar happened to me. In my case, I was promoted to tech management after having been a lead engineer for years. I didn't realize what I was getting into, hated it, and bailed out after 5 months. Unfortunately, the company I was working for has a one-way track up the hierarchy, and stepping back into doing actual work is just not done, so I had to change jobs. I didn't have a ton of contacts in industry or with former customers yet, so I did the whole cold call/Monster/Dice crap shoot. With my resume showing the management experience, I got very few calls, and those that did interview me had very strong reservations about hiring me for a tech job since they wondered why I wouldn't be looking for a management role.

    (Short Answer: If I actually wanted to work solving kindergarteners' problems all day, I'd be a tenured kindergarten teacher and never have to look for work again. :-) )

    So anyway, I pulled the management experience off, and left the (reasonably impressive) technical accomplishments intact, and the calls started coming in a little faster. It took a while, but I got a job because of this.

    This experience did hammer home how important it is to keep in touch with your former colleagues and customers. Especially if you're an IT services person like me, there's no shortage of companies you can jump to if you have someone there who remembers you and can get you an interview without going through the mess.

    Side question: I was thinking of doing the same thing you were -- I have a BS in chemistry and was thinking of a Ph. D. -- is the employment situation for scientists that bad?? Given how crazy the world is now, a permanent job seems like a good idea even if I have to give up some of the salary gains.

    I think there's definitely room for well trained, scientific-minded people in IT. It's not all just button pushing, and most of my colleagues over the years have had absolute crap for troubleshooting skills. Now, if only we could start a professional services company around that idea. "Anonymous Coward Consulting Group -- We're not Accenture!" :-)

  • Listen to your tone (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2013 @02:54PM (#42497197)

    I suspect it is attitude that is as much the problem as anything. While some employers do worry about over qualification, the tone of your question says "I think I'm the smartest person in the room and I'm going to be a nightmare to manage." Even in tech soft skills are hugely important.

    Thinking there was a shortage of physics PhDs shows a lack of listening and research (I say this as a physics faculty), the oversubsciption rate has been huge for ages. So I suspect this attitude (if I'm not misreading the post) has been there for a while.

    So you might really consider some classes in people skills—how to interview, how to listen and work in a team. These classes can be found in many community colleges and can be quite helpful (don't dismiss the CC classes, they can be excellent). Then I'd look for an opportunity to show teamwork and make sure you check the attitude at the door when you interview.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 06, 2013 @03:18PM (#42497357)

    they're frequently female and quietly but intensely crazy.

    You do what that makes you sound like, right?

  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @03:40PM (#42497529) Homepage

    I went back to school and finished my PhD in Physics. They lied -- there really is no shortage of scientists.

    There is a shortage of scientist, just not in the fields that are typically pursued within the hallowed halls of academia. Go ahead and do a PhD in High Energy physics, String theory, Cosmology or Relativistic physics and you'll end up like the person in the GP post. If you study, on the other hand, semiconductor physics, friction, or material physics you'll find half a dozen offers for well paid positions in industry research labs in no time.

  • Re:Hide your PhD (Score:3, Informative)

    by kye4u ( 2686257 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @04:18PM (#42497843)

    As much as I hate to say that, hiding a part of your education from resume (like not mentioning your PhD) is a pretty common method of getting employment. Of course with lower salary. They run screaming just because they think that they would need to pay more, because you had PhD.

    My perspective as potential employee
    I'm a PhD candidate (Computer Engineering) at a top 5 engineering school, and I would say that through the process of looking for full-time employment, the opposite has been happening to me.

    Employers see the PhD and their expectations rise exponentially; they expect you to walk on water and work miracles during the interview process even though the position you have applied for only requires a MS. Ironically, an MS graduate would have an easier time getting the same job that I applied to.

    Employer perspective
    I do understand things from the employers' perspective. Employers are concerned about retention and not just about at the company, but at the position you applied for at the company. They worry that if they pay you below fair market value for PhD salary, that you may jump ship when an opportunity comes along for you to get a PhD salary at some other position and/or some other company. Also, a PhD can signal to the employer that you are very ambitious and really like to learn. Above average ambition and appetite/ability to learn can be a risk factor for them because you may get bored of your current position and jump ship

The Macintosh is Xerox technology at its best.