Sunday, September 25, 2011

Learnings from working with unemployed IT professionals.

One of the things about my current job is that I can afford to take a short time off work to spend half a day helping unemployed IT professionals get new jobs. This week I was able to perform screening interviews for a job I used to have with a major tech firm about 4 years ago.

Here are my observations. This observation is probably one small sample of unemployed IT professionals so that there is unlikely to be of any statistical significance. I think my learnings can help the reader protect their careers as they get into middle age.

a) Generally speaking, those above their 40s with a salary above $7,000 are at risk.

There is a large number of unemployed folks who have a previous salary of over $7,000 and above the age of 40. If you belong to this category, my only advice is that you begin to curtail your home expenses aggressively, start investing for yields and possibly spend your weekends getting your taxi license or giving tuition. Don't let the MNC you work for pink slip you into doing this out of necessity.

b) Most candidates lack communication skills, technical skills or both.

One of the trends I noticed amongst candidates is that they don't really have the right skills to explain complicated technical concepts to non-technical customers. People with a sales background can speak really well but can seldom dig within a component like a router to explain to me that they can understand IP address, packet sizes, etc... The technical folks who can do so somehow fail to inspire confidence in the customer. This serves to confirm that professionals who have both can develop more career resilience. Technical professionals should join a Toastmasters club, sales professionals probably need a to get a good technical credential like A+ or a Masters in Technology to remain competitive.

c) Foreigners are cheaper and better than Singaporeans.

It saddens me to say this but this is an inconvenient truth which I must emphasize to all my readers. Of all the candidates I interview, those who were given the highest grades were all Singapore PRs. Singapore PRs generally have lower pay scales and somehow combine technical savvy with better communication skills. I imagine that the local candidates who got through the screen would have to contend with pretty fierce competition. I pray we will learn that the deck is becoming increasingly stacked against us and it's time to call in favours and network with other Singaporeans to work better in this industry.

( If you want to know, I did ask the coordinator if we should only allow Singaporeans through the screen or forbid PRs altogether. After all, we believe that Singaporeans should come first. While this idea is nice, my organization cannot afford to lose its credibility to the MNCs as well, so that this is not an easy balancing act to do. )

d) Read here for the most controversial finding.

I am not trying to nasty or suggest that a statistical reality exists here, but a lot of the resumes I reviewed had Hwa Chong Junior College in it. It took me a while to decide whether to blog about this since I have no explanation for this finding. After all, HCJC is an elite institution in Singapore. A good way to explain it is that many HCJC alumni are mathematically inclined so would have been attracted to IT as an industry. I think there are worse ways to interpret these observations but I am not out to start a flame war here. ( Note that, personally, I'd rather there'll be less NJCians like myself in politics or the civil service. )

Nevertheless note that I speak on this blog as a ultra-capitalist finance author and not my day alter ego as an bleeding heart liberal IT manager and HDB uncle in a labour union.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What will you be doing in your miserable 40s ?

"At 15 I set my heart on learning; at 30 I firmly took my stand; at 40 I had no delusions; at 50 I knew the Mandate of Heaven; at 60 my ear was attuned; at 70 I followed my heart's desire without overstepping the boundaries of right." - Confucius

Confucius was wrong, he never was an IT guy and given the complexity of the modern era, having no delusions in only the first step in planning for your 40s.

A recurring theme in my discussions with my IT team-mates ( who are coincidentally my age ) is that our career mobility faces a drastic reduction the moment we hit our 40s. This means that by the age of 40, it is vitally important that we position ourselves in a place where we can hold onto a job.

For IT professionals, this is bad news. The industry places a very low premium on the experience of most technical professionals, so to survive, we have to perform a balancing act of developing domain knowledge that is largely experience-driven versus keeping up with the latest developments in modern technology.

In the my current environment in NTUC, I urge my team not to benchmark internally, as others within NTUC become more valuable with more social capital, but for us IT guys, we need to convince ourselves that we can find employment somewhere else at the drop of a hat. It's too easy to get complacent in labour union.

So for myself, I have to lead from the front, I just scored my CGEIT, in the middle of my TOGAF certification and very likely to end the year with CRISC. My team has been asked to focus on security management, cloud computing and consumerization to remain relevant for the rest of the industry.

But somehow at the back of mind, for the generation of Gen-X executives, staying relevant within the industry is not enough, here are some of my thoughts which I may not find comfortable echoing within my workplace :

a) Your career income flow is only one flow.

While your dividend income moves with the markets, your earned income has a fluctuation of it's own. The amount of effort you need to maintain your earned income flow depends very much on political connections in the office and how useful you can make yourself to your superiors. You can have a few key projects in a peaceful year but staff turnover can result in a new boss the following year which can result in a personality clash. Having two flows with two different sources of risk can ease you into your 40s in a much easier manner.

b) Your 40s are going to be your most miserable years in your life.

My studies in psychology confirm that our 40s are likely to be our most miserable years. Our careers will become fixed at this stage and we're not likely to climb much further. Family men have mortgages to handle and young kids cope with. It is also logical that many of us will starting losing our parents to old age at this stage of our lives.

Singles are slightly luckier, but they will need to take their parents health as a key consideration for planning their career in their 40s.

c) Gen-X needs to loosen up.

Somehow I think that Gen-Y's priorities are very different and very new age. They probably will not face the same kind of misery we will eventually face because they were never sold to the world of corporate employment and mindless consumerism we were sold to in the 80s and 90s.

While Singaporean used to scoff at making meaning through artistic endeavour in our youth, it's time to use our financial independence to earn back at least a small part of our souls. This means doing something to enrich our experiences through art, entrepreneurship,travel or meditation.

This last point on loosening up is my weakest suit. I'm aggressively pursuing artistic pursuits and using this market downturn to pay for some courses.

Time will tell if I can succeed when I hit my big 4-0 in 2014.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

People who read "The Secret" hate me !

A series of events triggered this blog posting. I'm slowly coming to realize that there is a class of readers who absolutely hate my writings and form the core group of people who are my biggest critics.

This started when a colleague told me that he liked my writings but his friend does'nt, I asked him if his friend ever did MLM, and he said yes and then went on to say that his friend is also a fan of Rhonda Byrnes' best-seller The Secret. I asked if his friend has any alternative to my system of wealth management system and did not manage to get any answer.

Anyway, to my critics, my ideas are too conservative, conformist and conventional. To them, working hard, living frugally and investing intelligently is very boring. A life coach and insurance agent once admonished me for intellectualizing too much, to which I replied that I am sure that their commissions would be much higher if everybody stopped intellectualizing in this world.

I think I'm starting to get a grip on who my biggest critics are :

a) Someone who does MLM and thinks that its the best thing in the world.
b) Someone who likes authors like Rhonda Byrnes, Paul Coelho or Harv Eker.
c) Someone who focuses on the aspirational aspect of internet marketing but not the techniques will probably hate the stuff I write about.
c) Someone who is intuitive and not very judgemental and possibly not data driven, because they don't want to be challenged with statistics or proofs of concept.
d) Someone who aspires to be special and non-conformist and think that people who do a decent job are robots controlled by the Men in White.

A large part of my second book Harvesting the Fruits of Prosperity addresses my critics so much so that I wrote a special section on why MLM doesn't work most of the time. I shall not repeat them here.

Perhaps in a future piece of work, I will explain why concepts in The Secret are not designed to be falsifiable but I will need to draw some concepts from Philosophy to launch a credible attack on it.