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Article by Mohan Babu


Mid career changes: Risks vs Rewards

Recently, I received a note from a reader that went like this “...I am an Associate Professor in Physics for the last 11 years in abcxx University in India. I recently completed my MBA with specialisation in Information Technology. I plan to come to the US but am not sure what to do exactly. Will my 11 years of experience pay back? I intend to leave this field of academics and do something in IT Management.”

This mail was quite thought provoking and made me don my thinking hat. A professor with over 11 years experience is probably a mid-career professional. If a person of his stature is planning to make a career move, he must have done his due diligence. I admire the mindset of professionals who are willing to wager what they have in order to take a shot at a second career, even if it means flying thousands of miles to a new country to begin afresh. I will dedicate this column to respond to this reader’s question.

Professor, Your mail was very thought provoking. Your concern is genuine and you seem to have a very good grasp of the direction in which you want to move your life and career; and you seem to be at a classic “strategic inflection point” in your career. Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, in his famous book `Only the Paranoid Survive’ illustrates the concept of strategic inflection points and how they affect businesses. He says, “Sooner or later, something fundamental in your business world will change....” After the change occurs, if you recognise the fundamental nature of the change, you can grow your business. Otherwise, if you do not recognise the changes taking place, your business starts declining.

In the same way, we need to constantly re-assess our personal goals and career-path and recognise the existence of strategic inflection points. The sooner we do that, the better prepared we are to see the ground shifting beneath our feet. You seem to have recognised the fundamental nature of changes taking place in our industry and want to be a part of the evolving opportunities.

For many of us, the IT revolution that engulfed us during the past decade provided a strategic inflection point. Most students and fresh graduates in the recent years were lead to believe that getting a foothold in the field of Information Technology was de rigueur. This thinking was reinforced by the fact that a passage to the West — US, UK or Canada was almost guaranteed to most IT professionals with a few years experience. Thousands jumped the bandwagon and many more contemplated changing horses in mid-stream. Of course, the downturn in the US economy that is sending shockwaves around the world has had a sobering affect on most of us in the field of Information Technology. This by itself is a strategic inflection point that most IT professionals are currently examining.

Many mid-career professionals like you, working in varied fields, have probably been hearing about ‘golden riches’ being reaped by Indian programmers and software professionals around the world. The media and grapevine have done their bit to glorify careers in IT. However, with the euphoria over the gold-rush subsiding, it is better to factor this (i.e. the hype) with a grain of salt. As I have mentioned in my earlier columns, with the economy in the US and other western nations slowing down, the competition for new and existing jobs is only bound to increase.
Taking a decision like shifting your entire career and re-focusing it requires a tremendous amount of determination and drive, which you seem to possess. May I suggest, professor, that you sit down and take a pragmatic look at the risk vs. rewards before you chalk out a course of action. Some of the factors you could consider include:
All that glitters is not gold: A career decision needs to be based on consistent facts and figures and not merely flavour of the day. It is a fact that a career in IT has a potential to skyrocket you to greener pastures and provide rewards and job-satisfaction that is hard to fathom. However, given the current economic climate, it is better to visit and re-visit your strategy. I would suggest that you cut through the buzzwords and focus on packaging yourself as an expert in certain areas of IT that you are going to be passionate about, not merely areas that happens to be the flavour of the day.

What have you to loose? If you currently have a lot going for you, taking a big risk in terms of shifting your career-focus as well as physical location by moving to the US may put you in a position where you could loose more than you could gain if things don’t go your way. I am not saying this to discourage you but just to prepare you for the worst so that you will be able to take everything in your stride. You might want to weigh the risks with the potential rewards in mind.

Clear Goals: What do you expect out of a move of this nature? Is it professional job satisfaction, or is it monetary gains, or a combination of both? Set your targets clearly and you will be able to work towards it.

Heart vs. Mind: Experts suggest that when it comes to a big decision like the one you are contemplating, think (and analyse) with your mind but listen to what your heart says. At the end of the day, you should be happy with the decision you take and it should help you further your professional and personal goals.

Exit Strategy: If, after considering all the factors, you decide to take the plunge, don’t burn your bridges. Keep your options open because even after making your move, you might have to rethink your strategy and, maybe, retract your steps.

If you have asked yourself these questions and you feel that you are willing to stick to your guns regardless of what happens, by all means go ahead and take the leap. Keep in mind that you are bound to hit a few road bumps and potholes when you embark on your journey into unchartered territory. Also remember that although you will find a number of friends and well-wishers on the way, you are still going to be on your own.

I wish you all the very best, Mohan Sitting here at my desk, responding to the professors’ mail made me think about my own goals and if I am readying to encountering my own inflection points. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by....”





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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