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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 @02:45PM (#42497111)

    Probably I'm just clueless about what you mean by 'networking technology'. Would it help your resumé at all, though, to show a couple of years managing the network for, say, a physics department? That's a job for which your current resumé would seem to be perfect, and it would give you ample opportunity to brush up old skills while on the job.

    Extending your association with academia might just deepen the stench as far as industry is concerned. But maybe, while managing a department network, you could actually do some buying of network equipment. Physics department scales are probably not really so much larger than home. Then you'd have experience as a customer. That ought to be worth something.

  • Roll your own (Score:5, Interesting)

    by holophrastic ( 221104 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @02:55PM (#42497199)

    Stop thinking that someone else has a job for you. Start creating jobs for someone else. If you're over the age of 30, your community needs you to create jobs, not take them.

    You've got an interesting world of experience. Cross-industry experience no less. Start your own company -- don't let the big word fool you, it's meaningless. You'll pay far fewer taxes, you'll be able to get free and very inexpensive employees from schools, co-ops, interns, neighbours, and anyone willing to "start at the bottom".

    It needn't be a big company. Just you and a physical assitant is all you need. And you want the physical assistant a) so you can shift your business into a different path to be flexible in five years and b) so you can worry about business admin stuff like client relations and invoicing and c) because someone should cover for you when you're on a beach somewhere enjoying life.

    Clients don't tend to ask for credentials -- I own and run a programming company, and no client has ever asked. They ask about skills. You've got 'em.

    And since it's your business, you can get just about any client by offering to do the work and not collect any money until the end. It's only a risk if you don't know what you're doing. If you do, you manage to buy a new client with nothing more than delaying payment by a month or two. That's effectively free client acquisition.

    Dude, just dive in. Expect to pay $2'000 per year on accountants and lawyers, just to get it off your plate and so your government talks to them instead of you. You don't need insurance unless you're punching holes into walls -- and those premiums aren't a big deal either.

    Get decent business cards, and give them to your neighbours. Each of them works in an office building somewhere. And each of their employers needs networking done at some point.

    Take small jobs, they turn into big jobs. Take small clients, they turn into big clients. Take clients with bounded projects that have a start and an end. They'll become your best repeat business. Don't spend more than 25% of your typical month on a single client (with many exceptions of course).

    Small business helps small business. Talk to other small business owners. Even your competitors. It doesn't hurt my business to help my small-business competitors. It just improves both of our small businesses vs the many many others. If you've got no one to talk to, talk to me.

  • by BabaChazz ( 917957 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @02:55PM (#42497203)

    I'm afraid I have to agree with the consensus here. The big issue is the doctorate. In my experience, very nearly the only people who will accept someone with a Ph.D. behind his / her name is a university. And universities will be wary as well, they will think you expect to go tenure track, and you've already found how limited those slots are. You would probably have better luck with the employment if you dropped the Ph.D. off your resume; that's a bigger problem IMHO than the gap.

    The only alternative to the uni IT departments suggested earlier would be consulting; look for firms of consulting engineers, they like to be able to list Ph.D.s on their corporate CVs. I don't recommend going into business for yourself; that takes a vary particular mindset, and it's often a very thin existence.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @02:56PM (#42497207)

    Incidentally tell them you left it out as it isn't relevant to your current work desires.

    I often "leave out" that I worked at a grocery store in my sophomore year of high school. If you're so young you can't fill up a one page resume, you have to fill it up the blank page with something, anything, but over the age of 30 most probably have far too much resume fodder to fill the page.

    Now, if you were applying to become a physics instructor at a high school and lied about not having a phd then there's some issues, but networking hardware? I think you're OK there, at least morally and ethically.

  • by t0qer ( 230538 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @03:00PM (#42497227) Homepage Journal

    After a 12 year Hiatus (I got laid off in 2001) I'm finally getting back to IT, I start a new job monday, it pays a bundle, wife is happy, kids will have benefits..So what did I do in those 12 years?

    I worked at a karaoke bar in San Jose. My friends and I made a karaoke jukebox, tried to market it to karaoke companies (failed miserably, they're like the music companies battling technology in the 90's) It was great, it was fun for a while but no benefits, low pay, and an abusive owner finally made me start taking the steps to get out of it.

    2010 I tried running for city council. Lost but it got my foot in the door with local politicians. Last campaign season, I helped one candidate win by using a combination of twilio/openvbx for robocalls (at cost.. $0.02) 40,000 robocalls. Most candidates pay between $0.79 to $0.83 a call, so I consider it to be a pretty huge contribution.

    During my interview I was totally open and honest about my last 12 years. Why didn't I W2 for the last 12 years? Why are these gaps here in my employment? Lucky for me my hiring manager had been in a similar situation... The entire company was really impressed with all my political work in the last year. (In my new role, I'll be doing IT stuff in a board room, so knowing how to mind your political p's and q's to make a good initial impression was super important)
    When I was first laid off in 2001, I never dreamed of doing any kind of volunteer work or activism. I was in my late 20's, and too self centered to give a shit. I thought my salary was my worth, and working for free/volunteer was beneath me. Took a few years of eating humble pie in a karaoke bar to adjust that attitude.

    So my advice, find some local volunteer things to work on that appeal to you. See how you can wrangle your tech knowledge in there. Me? I just happened to love all the skullduggery and drama involved with politics. YMMV.

  • by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @03:25PM (#42497403)

    There are several comments here stating that the PhD means that hiring managers are scared of those. They are - but only if it's a "pure" PhD. I've got a lots of friends in academia who haven't spent a day in the industry. They are scared witless on what happens if their grant money expires (and are without tenure), since industry is such a different world and hiring managers know that they'd be like fish out of water.

    However, you seem to be in a very much similar situation as me. I completed my PhD last year. I happen to also have industry experience, including 9 years of working for an ISP, and a CCIE certificate. From my experience, it's a *very* attractive combination - to an emplyer, it means that you know what's going on in the real world and understand customers, and yet you can also look at the bleeding edge of research and maybe have some insight on how things at the horizon might affect your business in a few years - and maybe capitalize on those opportunities ahead of the curve. I know several people with similar backgrounds - in big companies they are usually located somewhere near CTOs office or similar positions, if not directly in R&D departments, but a few of them (myself included) deal with customers and their networks on a daily basis.

    That pause in your resume doesn't really matter *if* you can demonstrate that you haven't been in the ivory tower of universities but can actually deal with real-world problems.

  • I hate to say it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stox ( 131684 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @04:15PM (#42497809) Homepage

    Physics Phd's were very popular hires for High Frequency Trading firms due to their demonstrated problem solving abilities. This has now extended to some of the Fortune 500's in "Big Data" analysis teams. Stop looking at Physics jobs, and start looking at jobs which will benefit from the skill set you have developed to get your degree. You might be surprised.

  • by edremy ( 36408 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @04:41PM (#42498021) Journal
    This. Most of us in the IT leadership at the college where I work have Ph.Ds. Nobody blinks an eye, and we have a deal where we teach a class a year as well- helps us remember the actual goal of the college is. The networking guy has a masters in EE and does a lot of work with the astronomy department on the side.

    It can even be a bonus in other ways- one of our newer guys in datasystems teaches CS at a local community college on the side, and ended up recruiting one of his best students directly into an open position- he already knew what he was capable of.

  • Re:Hid your PhD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Sunday January 06, 2013 @04:54PM (#42498123) Journal

    3 academic jobs for every 10 PhDs granted? So the academic job market has gotten better, then? (:-)

    Back in the early 90s, a friend of mine tried to get a job as a physics professor, after doing electronics-related physics in industry for a while. First try got him into the top 3 of 600 applicants for small state college, and the next year (when candidate#1 had flaked out or gotten a better offer), he finally got the position. Paid dirt, and was totally out in the sticks (which did at least mean he could afford to live there.) On the other hand, back in the mid-80s, physics PhDs were getting jobs as quants on Wall Street, and the military-industrial complex was still hiring rocket scientists, so there weren't quite as many applicants for the academic jobs.

The best defense against logic is ignorance.