Thursday, December 27, 2007

IT people face road forks on their "online reputation" strategies

Well, I’ve been out of the “formal” job market for six years now, since the end of 2001 (with some little episodes along the way, such as writing a certification test in 2003). I do have some ideas about what I want to do – more details coming up on the main blog soon – but I still don’t rule out (even at 64) the idea of going back to a more convention It “job” or W-2 or even corp-to-corp contract. This may have come close to happening back in May.

One particular concern is this whole evolving idea of online “reputation.” I’ve pretty much cemented my “reputation” for better or worse, with these blogs and sites, and with the political involvement with the “don’t ask don’t tell” problem that I committed myself to in the early to mid 1990s. I’ve tried to segment the “reputation” with a site ( that search engines pick up first, that presents my I.T. resume and then explains what the other sites and blogs (that follow in the search engine results) are all about. I don’t really know yet how recruiters react to this. I set this up in the latter part of 2006. There has been a drop-off of contacts since mid to late 2007.

When you work for a staffing company and go to a client site (often with temporary relocation, living in an extended-stay motel or corporate apartment in another city) the staffing company wants to market you as an “expert” in the disciplines for which you were hired. Sometimes the list of required experience is quite long and specific (especially with state government contracts – Medicaid MMIS and welfare departments -- where, ironically, job description requirements are so specific as a way to prevent legal challenges for discrimination in hiring). In those cases, “reputation” is more likely to be perceived the way it used to be, from the resume and word of mouth. In other cases, though, clients may want to have reassurance that they can depend on the contractor as an “asset person” of last resort to deal with specific arcane problems in depth in long-standing technical areas (like, in the mainframe, DB2, IMS or CICS internals), or in client-server, many less-established and quickly evolving technologies (OOP). In these cases, it would sound as though staffing companies may start becoming more concerned with notions like “professional reputation management.”

Contracts in these areas can be quite challenging. A friend of mine took a contract a non-profit in the mid 1990s and fought IDMS and VSAM fires for six months (usually technology that should have been stable).

Most people with specific expertises that generate contracts today developed them by accretion, with a series of related jobs or contracts. Typically there was no conscious decision to become an “IMS expert” even though recruiters now scour the country for the few of them that remain for the few jobs that there are. It’s a kind of L’Hopital’s Rule problem (from calculus) in reverse. Because companies have been unpredictable and inconsistent, willing to dump people to eliminate redundancies of function that occur with corporate mergers, programmers and IT people have developed a short-term view of their own futures, and believed that they must be flexible, shift gears quickly, and wear many different hats at the same time. Yet the whole “online reputation” issue (that I have discussed on my other blogs) tends to create the impression that a “professional” nurtures and deploys his or her core skills so that others can count on them. There is a kind of perfect storm going on here.

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