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Does a job for my skillset exist?

I'm in my mid-20s and have a CS degree. I've held many internships and a couple of full-time jobs, in which I've worked in software development, tech support, and systems administration, occasionally all three at once. I've worked in a handful of small companies and one large company, none of which were tech companies. My employers have always been happy with my work.

I'm about to start looking for a job.  Although I've worked successfully in various tech roles, I've never really identified with a specific type of job role, like "systems administrator." I've always seen myself as more of a technical generalist, big-picture kind of person, without deep knowledge of a specific niche but with a high technical aptitude and the ability to figure things out to get a job done.

More than one of my employers have said that although I'm a decent [software dev|sys admin|support tech], the real value I provide is as a "solution guy" -- my tendency to question the ways things are done, to find ways to streamline work processes, to conceptualize technical solutions to nontechnical problems -- and then have sufficient breadth of background to know what's involved in implementing those solutions, often being able to do so by myself. For example:

- In one sys admin role, I proposed and developed an automated process for rolling out updates for an oft-updated piece of desktop software. Updates had previously deployed manually. I wrote scripts and designed processes to automate a variety of tasks, such as deploying applications to servers. These steps saved many hours per month of manual effort.

- Working in a small office, I recognized the need for an application to replace the paper/email/Word/shouting-across-the-room-based workflow system we'd been using, and designed and developed such a system, which was extremely well received.

- Working in a tutoring center, I designed an application to replace a convoluted paper-based system of managing schedules, payroll, attendance, contact info, etc.

So my question is: is there a job that suits me better than just being a "developer" or a "sys admin"? Or do I just need to shut the hell up, pick a specialization, and become an expert?

Friday, June 15, 2007
Have you considered the Fog Creek Software Management Program?
Sumana Harihareswara Send private email
Friday, June 15, 2007
as much as you might like to become an "expert" it doesn't always work out that way. Unfortunately, i feel like a "jack of all trades".
Patrick From An IBank Send private email
Friday, June 15, 2007
You sound like "tech support guy who does some development too". You could work in a typical corporate IT department (for a non-tech company like gov't, academic, banking, etc) doing whatever needs to be done. In this type of corp environment you could also look at becoming a "business analyst" (that would be one of the career tracks, that and IT team leader). If you want to be a "real developer" or a "real sys admin", and perform those tasks in a tech focused company, you should probably specialize. Just my opinion.
Friday, June 15, 2007
That's what you'd call a 'consultant'.  The real ones are worth their weight in gold, although a quick visit to will show you why they get a bad name.
Grant Send private email
Friday, June 15, 2007
You sound a lot like me. I've worked at small companies and now I'm at a big company. At the small places I did about everything from meeting with the customer to finding their issues, proposing solutions, budget, plan, build test and deploy. Now I'm at an F100. I was in a group outside of IT but we got disbanded and brought into the fold. Existing IT has people dedicated to a very limited focus. I mean it's so bad that when I asked for a list of users some "IT person" sent me screen shots of users from their GUI. I've never seen a system administrator script anything. They use GUI's. If it can't be done with the tool IT bought then it can't be done. The developers are not much better. Everything is done by tools. Most IT folks are automatons. They boast about never looking at a computer when they go home.  The original code I've seen them write in VB doesn't inspire confidence. Perhaps this is a reason why IT managers are always trying to find an existing "solution" ... what they really don't want is their own people creating solutions. It's like the want to severely restrict the playground to minimize towers of babel I guess but it's sad. I'm working on an SOA project right now where corp spent millions on cots and they don't know how it works and don't pay attention to the details cus they think that their cots is going to solve everything and I have to write all kinds of workarounds for their failures.  I even found a solution for a problem that was in their cots but they then said they did not buy that component so now I had to map into their business names because they "could not do that". Never in my life have I heard so much "we cannot do that" ... I'm a LAMP developer and I've never said something could not be done. We have the source code. We can modify and recompile if necessary but most IT people ... well... they seem to hide behind their ignorance or weakness of cots they choose.

Dude .. I'm ranting. I'm an anomaly in our IT group. I manage all servers and the software on them as well as do development. They want to break this up but they seem to be paralyzed ... I mean they should have done this a year ago.

If I were you I'd stay at a small place. Corporate IT is imho stifling. It's almost like they need groups and meetings and processes to protect themselves from themselves. You'll find all kinds of people involved in IT who should not be there. Not the developers (not that they are that great) ... I'm talking about the analysts and project managers. Most of these people should be working at macdonalds.  Glibness rules.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
@Sumana -- I may just apply, although it doesn't look like you're looking for anybody for another few months at least based on FC's website.

@ABC/curdDeveloper -- I've worked in corporate IT -- that's where the stuff mentioned in my first bullet point took place -- and I found curdDeveloper's description very accurate. It was a stifling environment where nobody had any interest in technology and where everybody was perfectly happy just doing their meaningless little role as they watched the clock tick toward quitting time. Outside-the-box thinking and questioning the way things were done was actively discouraged, since many of these people could've been automated right out of a job if anybody looked too closely at what they were doing. My direct manager did appreciate my efforts, I think, but trying to get anything done in that place was like pushing on a string.

@Grant -- is there a specific type of consulting you're referring to?

Thanks for all the replies, guys!
Saturday, June 16, 2007
You want to be looking at medium sized companies, gretaer than 100 but less than 1000 people. Less than 100 forces you to be a jack of all trades and never have deep knowledge of anything IT. They only value people who have knowledge of their business domain. Take a law office or accounting firm. They can't view IT as anything other than office help like the cleaning crew.

If you go to a big company you'll be so specialized that you live in a pigeon hole. A developer wouldn't dare unplug and move a computer. That's a sysadmin's job. A sysadmin wouldn't write a script. That's coding and only developers can do that.

Go to a mid-sized company and you will be able to do tasks outside the silo but you won't be spread so thin as to never become expert in any area. You'll end up doing what you prove to be best at.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
I personally think that trying to say you have limited skills is the kiss of death in the IT industry. As Joel says, technologies change, good companies are looking for smart people that can change fast.

I have worked to rebrand my own resume and my own efforts to find work in this light, by organizing myself into disciplines of focus rather than specific skills. For me, they are usability, development, technical communicaiton, process/methodology and data architecture. It sounds we're similar, but you have a strong emphasis on workflow and creative technical implementation.

Feel free to click through to my site and resume and email me directly to chat further.
Robby Slaughter Send private email
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Not all corporate IT departments are full of drones.  I work in a good one.  Yes, there are the career folks who will never leave and are sometimes hard pressed to change.  But it's about the management of these departments.  If they tolerate the attitudes spoken of by some other posts, then yes, it will be a bad experience. I don't think it's good to stereotype an cross sections of the industry.  I once worked for a company with between 100 to 1000 people.  That wasn't so hot either.
Stephen Rylander
Monday, June 18, 2007
@OP - if you have people skills and the ability to to get along with sales guys, you might also consider a Sales Engineer role at a technical company -- in other words, being the "go to" tech guy supporting a sales team and helping solve client problems.

Alternately, the role of Technical Evangelist.
Lux Send private email
Monday, June 18, 2007
"@ABC/curdDeveloper -- I've worked in corporate IT -- [...] It was a stifling environment where nobody had any interest in technology [...]"

I never said that was not the case.

You described your skillset and asked "does a job for my skillset exist". Yes, corporate IT. If you want to do something else then gain some additional expertise.
Monday, June 18, 2007
I am running into the same problem. I had my role described as a "hybrid" position, which I think suits me. I don't write large scale applications (like FogBugz), but I do some development work. I don't install operating systems, but I do some system monitoring.  A lot of the programming I do acts a "glue" to other larger applications.  So I am searching the job boards, trying to figure out what to apply to. I don't think I could get a developer job. I don't think I could do a sys admin job and have to configure Apache and Nachios all day.  So who knows. System analyst? maybe. Business Analyst, I guess.  Not really sure on any advice, just wanted to share that you are not alone.
Geo Woods Send private email
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Add one here too.

I was hired as a developer and my title is developer as well.
However I am doing "all kinds of" development. From php to C# to some java plus some server deployment/installation/monitoring. End up I am doing all sorts of the programming languages and not good at any of them due to the project scales and project timelines.  I do "some" of work system admins are doing and I can't call myself a system admin at all.

BTW.. I am working in Corp. IT..

How to specialize on development in certain area? Go to a software company? Is system admin path a better one than software developement in the states?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

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