Earlier this year, I was part of a conference call to discuss writing articles for this work blog. It was an interesting discussion, and I felt compelled to write down my answer to the question “what are folks who are occupationally displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic going to do?”
I thought about my own experiences related to jumping out of a relatively secure future and employment stability with a large telecommunications provider into my own company – and before that jumping back into school to get professionally trained in all things computer networking. So of course, I volunteered to share those experiences in a blog post, and this writing is me being held accountable for said post.
A Bit of Background
I graduated from high school in 1982 and immediately joined the United States Army as a 36-Kilo, which is a Tactical Wire Operations Specialist. I went to boot camp, lost 70 pounds, then went on to Ft. Gordon, GA for training. Just to be clear, a 36-Kilo is a very fancy way of saying that I was taught to climb telephone poles and hang wire between two points in any given environment and hook them up to a mechanically operated switchboard and facilitate communications between any two given stations.
As glamorous as this might sound, there is nothing glamorous about trudging through the mud and trying to find and fix a break in the wire where an M-1 Abrams Tank has chewed it up, but necessary none the less. I loved my time in the Army and loved the men and women I served with and under and would not undo those experiences for anything. Then in 1984, after choosing not to re-enlist, I was discharged. I tried to attend University in the Fall of 1984, but my addiction issues stood directly in the way of any measurable success. I was absolutely defeated. I re-enlisted, went back to Ft. Gordon to pursue a different communications job field, and again was defeated by my addiction.
But I was able to overcome my addiction issues and met with success in the summer of 1987. Now you might ask yourself what this has to do with a reality of unemployment due to the pandemic, and I offer this as a response to that question. The only one that stands in the way of my own success and achievement is me, or said more poetically, I own all the choices and decisions and they in sum define me. If you feel defeated by the presence of the pandemic, rather than drowning in the desperation of that defeat, treat it as an opportunity to re-evaluate what once may have only been a thought or vision of what could be and move in that direction.
Fast forward several years, both stable in recovery and employment, I found myself working for an exceptionally large telecommunications provider as a technician and was presented with the opportunity to return to college yet again. So, I took that opportunity, and started a progression toward an undergraduate degree in Technical Management. I managed to finish that degree in early 2010, making the necessary sacrifices to do the work. That is the second bit of what I hope this blog post provides, which is resolved to engage the process in becoming successful. As we all have experienced, there are no free lunches really, but only the opportunity to do the work to achieve the vision of who and where we want to be. When I finished that degree, and achieved my first two Cisco certifications, I was no longer afraid of what might happen should the telephone company decide they no longer needed me as a technician. There was a liberation and freedom immeasurable in intensity and value that was mine forever. There was also a deep sense of gratitude for all the people that had supported and sustained that process, namely my family and my employer. Hence the third point I want to bring to your attention – it may become necessary to ask for the support of those who depend on you, and it is ok to ask for that support.
Let’s Get Technical
When I began my career at BellSouth, for every job opening there, approximately 20-40 people would apply. Competition for jobs was high just for the opportunity to become gainfully employed. I will point out that in the Computer Sciences arena, the exact opposite is true. On any given day and in any given market, there are an average of 5-10 jobs per single applicant. Now this might not be the case in Wheatland, WY, but certainly the case in the major metropolitan areas that make up our great nation. In addition, some of the jobs that are available want applicants to work remotely, which means that if you are fortunate enough to live where broadband internet access is available, the criteria to connect and meaningfully contribute have already been met. From my perspective, jobs and career fields in the IT ecosystem can be fundamentally broken up into two major categories, those being hardware and software. Hardware is of course all the elements that make up a computer network, either on site or in the cloud. Software would be more the development side and producing the applications we use in our production networks. Now there’s plenty of sub-categories, but the point is there is something out there to find and capture your attention and passion, and that would be the direction to go. The question now becomes how to discover that? Simple really, do the research.
If the pending question in your mind is what to do now that you have been displaced by being classified as non-essential, perhaps the answer is to become essential. In the time since we have all be self-quarantined, and stay at home orders have been put in place to flatten the spread and destruction of the virus, my work has not diminished. In fact, I think it has increased a bit. My paycheck has not been interrupted, nor have my responsibilities. I still love what I do and the folks for whom I do it. I still look forward to learning new things and translating that to those that are learning. My father, who is one of my biggest advocates, once told me to find what I loved and that the money would follow. So my final point is I challenge you to do the same. Find what you love, and ask the million-dollar question of yourself: is now the time? Talk to your families, your mentors, people you respect and trust, and find your own answer to that question – then if the answer is affirmative, engage the process.
Best of success to you all as the journey continues. Stay safe, take excellent care of yourselves, and know that your best days lie ahead of you.
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