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As 2002 draws to a close, many of us find ourselves reflecting on the past year. There are many things we can be thankful for, primarily that this year wasn't nearly as cataclysmic as last year. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those CEOs who was busted big time.

In many cases, the highest level of the corporate food chain is finally feeling the sting of the technology industry's "boom and crash." But those in the engineering trenches have been desperately treading water for the last couple of years.

An unfortunate result of this recent history is the following scenario that we've seen played out in numerous interviews and across many résumés. Perhaps the story may be familiar to you as well.

A senior engineer we know, who spent 10+ years going up a logical career ladder at a well-established company, was bitten by the pre-IPO bug in late 1999. He interviewed with a hot new startup, got a great offer, and gave notice to his long-time employer.

But on his first day at the new company, he discovered that the VP of engineering who hired him was gone. Six months later the company folded completely and the engineer set out on an odyssey from one job to another, only to find those companies downsizing or folding.

Suddenly the engineer's focus shifted from "Where is my career going?" to "Where is my next paycheck coming from?"

Through friends and networking contacts, he was able to get jobs unrelated to his core expertise, but he's smart, able to pick up new skills quickly - and there is that mortgage to consider. At first the move seemed interesting and exciting as he started learning new technologies. But the pattern of cutbacks and layoffs continued.

The result is a résumé that now lists three or four different jobs since 2000; they look like contracts, but were actually full-time positions. Anyone in a hiring position in the technology industry understands what's been going on over the past few years, and that companies folding is hardly a reflection on the candidate in front of them.

However, the biggest problem is that the multiple, short-term positions now listed on the résumé are in unrelated technology fields. With expertise that appears to be all over the map, it's increasingly difficult for him to get hired.

Especially now, as the industry is tightening up, managers are looking for candidates with more expertise in specific areas, not jacks of all trades.

This put the engineer in a twofold quandary with two burning questions: How do I get a job, or keep my current job? And how do I get my career back on track?

The biggest problem now is fear. Engineers don't want to leave their current job even if it's a dead end or not relevant to their primary skills. We see a lot of people who are staying on a sinking ship because they feel, "the devil they know is better than the devil they don't know."

Our best advice to engineers who need to steer their careers toward more reasonable shores is:

  • Do everything you can to stay working in your area of expertise, even if it's for a company that few have heard of. If you've been building core platforms for product companies and are currently in a small startup doing the same, stay there. Don't move to a network company building applications because you think they have a better business model. A good business model today could be another bankruptcy tomorrow.
  • Companies are looking for engineers who can come in and hit the ground running. Try to build on your core expertise and this does not mean simply technologies. Become a specialist in one area or domain. Companies are looking for engineers who can come in with proven experience in very specific areas. Right now companies are in the market to hire engineers with deep knowledge.
  • Candidates often think having diverse experiences on their résumé paints a picture of a seasoned engineer with a multitude of talents. However, in these times it confuses managers and dilutes your strength. Keep your résumé focused. Make sure whoever reads it knows what you can do.
  • Companies are in the mindset of swapping out engineers. They're strengthening their teams by removing the wheat from the chaff and adding senior engineers. You are valuable if you can bring specific talents to the company.
  • Stay focused and don't panic. Things will turn around, and when they do, specialization will be even more in demand.

    Author Bios
    Bill Baloglu is a principal at ObjectFocus (www. ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. Bill has extensive OO experience and has held software development and senior technical management positions at several Silicon Valley firms.

    Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal at ObjectFocus. His prior postion was at Renaissance Worldwide, where he held several senior management positions in the firm's Silicon Valley operations. [email protected]

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