There’s a real danger in this field of being snapped up by the wrong kind of company. Folks leaving QU with an ICM Masters should be prepared to really take a look at what kind of company culture they’re stepping into. The internet really is on the cutting edge of sweeping social and cultural reform, and the Baby Boomers currently occupying the upper tiers of management in corporations across the country have really not kept up on the emerging changes for the most part. Yes, there are plenty of Boomers who were and remain instrumental in the development and spread of the internet, but as a generational tendency ‘Boomer’ is not exactly synonymous with ‘Technologically Savvy’.
This creates a division between tech progressive ideas of Xers and Ys and the vestigial corporate culture. Businesses seem to be trying like mad to make money off of the internet but they’re treating it the same way they’ve been treating every other change to come along. It’s a commodity, a tool, a widget or a ‘thing’ that can be purchased and plugged in to make money. Trouble is, the internet is really reforming a lot of the basic business models, or at the very least it’s wreaking havoc on the traditional patterns of development. This sets up any interactive department for failure from the beginning.
I don’t have a comprehensive list to offer of things to watch out for, but I’ll take a stab at some of the larger issues I’m finding on my own.
Senior Managers are apparently willfully blind. They either don’t see the fact that their core business model is drastically changing, or else they think that someone else will handle it for them and they’ll be able to just continue to rely on the same old tricks that got them to senior management in the first place. Be very, very careful during interviews to pick the brain of the line manager you’ll be working for. If your future supervisor doesn’t understand the first thing about internet technology, then you’ll need to be extra careful about accepting the position. Your manager doesn’t need to know more than you, but they certainly need to know something about the internet and internet-based business models and development cycles. Without that basic level of competency from your manager, you really need to think twice about accepting the position.
More importantly perhaps than having Senior Management connection and understanding for the work that you do is having a budget. If you don’t have a manager who can keep up with the vision and the knowledge about interactive communications, then you seriously need to establish what your operations budget will be. If the answer is ‘zero’, beware! Beware, beware, BEWARE! Any company which doesn’t have a running capital expenditure budget aimed at the internet doesn’t understand the basic rule of thumb concerning online… Online projects can only produce a Return -after- there’s an Investment. No investment, no return.
While it might seem like this is common sense for every project, with many other projects the investment is a soft cost, like work hours and operations chargebacks. With Internet projects, you can figure that you’re going to be needing some hardware investments and upgrades *every single year*. Sometimes, every single quarter. If you can’t make the Investment in the first place, there is no hope in hell for you to be able to maintain or sustain the project (whatever it is) through its lifecycle in order to see a Return.
We may not be on the cutting edge of this industry, since I fully believe the internet is expanding simultaneously in myriad directions and there isn’t just one cutting edge to stay on. But we do need to accept that for the next 30-50 years, our job is going to require client and boss education on a scale that no other field needs to worry about currently. Part of that education involves boiling down exactly what is covered by each position within the field. While some folks might not mind wearing more than one hat all the time, others choose to specialize in narrow niches.
For professionals who are in the Niche approach to the internet, or for those who are playing the Consultant game, it becomes very important to spell everything out as plainly as possible up front that what you provide is only the thinking and planning or original build. Educate your customers before you begin that there are ongoing costs associated with online projects, and these costs can sometimes be prohibitive. Since you’re the one who’s setting everything up, get your client thinking in the right direction by addressing the need for training for the operator of the system or webmaster once everything is done.
Otherwise you’ll end up with horrible scope creep, or at the very least hurt feelings as the client or worse, your boss, feels that you haven’t delivered a full bucket of goods because you aren’t there to magically make it happen for them after the project is built.
The comp sci folks in any corporation will either love us or hate us, and it’s actually our responsibility to make them love us. If you are being hired to create or spearhead a department where none existed before, then you should ask to interview someone from IT since there’s going to be tons of interplay between your department and theirs. If there isn’t, then you have a problem on your hands. Winning over IT from the beginning can really make a difference.
Beware of hostile IT. And by ‘hostile’, I mean generally any IT department who exists in a silo, who doesn’t understand from the getgo that Enterprise IT plans -will- need to compromise at some point or another to make the technology solutions and internet business models work. Or, of course, bitter and hostile IT workers also qualify for the ‘hostile’ label. Wherever you find a hostile IT department (be it active war or cold war), your job there will be frustrating as hell. You can successfully navigate them, but only if you have active and comprehending Senior Management support. A budget won’t help you out when it comes to hostile IT, so you’ll need management comprehension and support.
The good news is that by over-communicating and being vocal with praise and public with thanks, you can help turn a hostile IT situation into a cooperative one. Another major source of brownie points with previously estranged IT departments comes by looking at rosters of meetings and checking to be certain that any discussion or planning which impacts enterprise IT solutions or procedures will also include representatives from the IT department. But even so, if you can avoid landing a job with a hostile IT relationship already in place, do so. If you can’t, then roll up your sleeves and start building relationships on a better note whenever possible.
There are always going to be better and worse places to work. Just avoid the major pitfalls above, or risk being the one guy everyone goes to in order to get answers and work done, with unrealistic expectations, not being given the tools or the opportunity or support to actually produce the goods desired. Similar to other professions, but with the added caveat that for companies who are making fumbling attempts to leverage the internet in their business models appropriately the new hire from Interactive Communications is going to be under a microscope. Take a deep breath and practice saying ‘no’ as kindly as possible. Save every email forever. CYA is rule #1 in bad ICM situations, but communication helps turn those situations around. Sometimes.
And if all else fails, you can leave by the same door you entered. Not every company is created equal, and there aren’t too many folks with the broad thought leadership training in interactive communications out there yet. Oh, to be sure there is a pool of dedicated and experienced professionals which is growing daily, but we’re still not at market saturation yet. And when you understand that, you can begin to actually negotiate in job offers. If not to get more money, then to at least help that company learn how to set things up and go to market with an internet business model. If nothing else, it will help make your stay with the company less frustrating, and perhaps a little longer, too.