Career Advisor by Edgar Saadi

Advancement, burnout, and the love of money

This month, we tackle dilemmas involving skills improvement, burnout battles, and the sole pursuit of more $$$

November  1997
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Are you a system administrator whose job feels a tad stale? Should you make the move to Web development? We offer advice for one troubled sys admin; plus we consider alternatives for a burned out worker and a money maniac. (1,200 words)

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Dear Edgar,

Recently I read your SunWorld Career Advisor column. It's really interesting and useful. After reading this I still have few questions in my mind regarding my own career.

I am an experienced Unix systems administrator (eight years) and have worked on a variety of Unix platforms. I feel that there are not enough jobs in systems administration where you can expect $75-80K a year. In other words, companies do not seem to spend more than $60-65K for their systems administrators.

Sometimes I feel that it's better to move into Web development where there seems to be plenty job openings to choose from. But I currently do not have any professional development experience. This could lead to a job with reduced compensation.

What additional skills should I gather in order to add more value to my systems administration skills so that I can keep moving ahead as far as job duties and salary are concerned?

Looking for More

Dear More,

There are plenty of systems administrators who make 70K+, but, as with most other jobs, salary level is dependent on many factors. Aside from experience, there is the question of markets. If you're working in a sleepy, low-tech area miles from a big city in which there is not a huge demand for professionals of your skill set, then the market will most probably keep you from ever reaching as high a pay rate as you would like.

If, on the other hand, you are working somewhere like Manhattan and have a good understanding of the financial world, or in Silicon Valley and specialize in working on the latest platforms, the market will be willing to offer you much more.

You must make a realistic assessment of what you want in a job. Some of the systems administration gurus working in the financial scene in downtown Manhattan are making top dollar, but also working grueling fourteen hour days.

Aside from these specialized, high-paid markets, the other avenue open to you is management. You will have to become more hands-off with the technology, but will certainly be paid more for such work. With eight years experience I should think that you would be qualified to advance to a management position.

You're right in your assumption that a quick switch over to Web development would set you back in your salary, particularly since you don't have any professional experience in the area. Realize, however, that the world of the Web involves a lot of people with systems administration skills -- to set up the firewalls, servers, and file hierarchies, as well as write CGI scripts in Perl or C. If you really want to go into the development side of things, using Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX, you will have to put in a couple years after which time you may indeed surpass your current salary roadblocks. But again, examine your motivation. Is it purely for money, or is it what you want to do?

If you don't like what you're doing, it's very difficult to succeed.


Are you burned out?
Dear Edgar,

Could you please address burnout? I have gone through it and "recovered" many times in the same job and same nature of work, but now I am in burnout mode again and feel it's time for a different solution than just riding it out. A book I have read says that if you can't change the job situation, maybe you'll have to change jobs.

Even if you know that the particular type of work you would be doing in the new job is what tends to keep you motivated, what are the possible problems of switching jobs during a period of burnout?

Burned Out

Dear Burned Out,

Everyone experiences burnout in varying degrees at one time or another. Sometimes all it takes is a few days off to get you back on track. Other times it takes a reworking of your job description and the nature of your projects. But if you've come to the point where you have had it with a given job and none of this is working, then yes, it may be time to change jobs. Sometimes you just need to switch to an entirely new environment: sit at a new desk, look out a different window, deal with another group of people, etc.

And if you foresee excitement in a future job that you've lined up, but still don't feel up for it, it may be the time to take an extended leave. You can't do this many times in your career, but the last thing you want to do is drag yourself into a new position with the bad taste of the last situation still lingering in your mouth, continuing the state of languor and lack of motivation. If this means that you need to take a month off to get yourself back in shape, then do it. Even if you have to get away for a few months and rethink your career goals and what you want, this is better than landing into something that will put you right back into the burnout mindset. Be careful, however, that you don't take off too much time. It's like taking a 45 minute nap before a night on the town. If the short nap slips into a couple hours of sleep, you're out for the night.

All that matters is... money?
Hi Edgar,

I have five years of IT experience. During these five years I have worked in varied fields like Unix and RDBMS internals, X Windows and Motif, DCE, Encina, etc. After Java got hot, I started learning Java on my own -- seven months back. Suddenly I heard from my friends that if you want money then ERP is the field to watch. This has radically changed my ideas because I never thought of SAP, BAAN, PeopleSoft, Oracle Financials, etc. Moreover I have no finance experience. Now I am at a loss as to what to do. Can you guide me please? Money is the single priority in life for me.


Dear Money Hungry,

ERP is an enterprisewide application that is indeed gaining a lot of interest as of late. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's right for you to go into.

Though it's important that you recognize what is becoming hot, in order to really help your career you must build a resume of expertise in some core technologies. Java exploded, and you chased it. Now you're trying to run after the hottest application -- rather than stick with something and take it to fruition. I often write about how it's crucial in this industry to stay on top of what's new; however, I sometimes forget to stress the importance of becoming truly proficient in a particular area. As in the field of medicine, engineers must specialize in their studies. You don't often find a person in the medical profession who is an internal surgeon one day and a orthopedist the next. This approach will surely leave you a jack of all trades and master of none.

Don't just chase the money, or your skill set will suffer. There is no golden technology which will prove itself to be an instant-win lottery card with the lucky number. If you make the financial picture the main thrust, you may find yourself lost in a sea of half-baked skills. That said, yes, ERP looks like an interesting technology.


About the author
[Edgar Saadi's photo] Edgar Saadi is senior vice president for Pencom Systems Inc., the largest open systems/advanced systems recruiting firm in the U.S. He specializes in guiding advanced systems careers and helping employees explore all staffing alternatives.

Reach Edgar at

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