career changes: Risks vs Rewards
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.
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
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.
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