Choice–Where is your IT career going?

Tough Decisions Ahead Road Sign

“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice.

It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

William Jennings Bryan

In his memoir “Idea Man” he quotes his colleagues where he worked as a programmer “It was crazy they said, to ditch an established firm for some fly-by-night start-up … Your job’s safe here at Honeywell, they kept telling me. You can work here for years.”

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, one of Time Magazines 100 most influential people in the world and today one of the wealthiest… what if he had stayed there?

In 1982 I was in the co-op Mathematics C&O program at the University of Waterloo. I had spent a number of co-op terms building cool chemical lab application and real-time process control systems for Dow Chemical on DEC PDP, Harris and Perkin-Elmer mini-computers. Approaching the summer of 82 the US/Canada economic recession had deepened and few if any co-op students were getting placements.  I did not want to wait to see if I would go back to Dow or not (I was asked back) and decided to accept a contract job to develop a package design solution for a packaging company. Out of this effort was born my own company that ran for a number of years selling software applications to paper mills, corrugated “board” producers and box manufacturers. I got the opportunity to be a software architect, CEO, employer, work with client CEO’s across the world, be a conference speaker, lead an industry on technical innovation and make a bunch of money in the process. …. what if I had just gone back to Dow Chemical  for the last co-op work term?

Our professional careers are driven by how smart we are, how hard we work, how good we are,  our principles/ethics but to a very large extent our career choices moment by moment.

Not all of us will have Paul Allen’esque type opportunities and choices, but way too few of us take any chance at all.  Every month I meet people in IT who have brilliant entrepreneurial ideas, that could make millions and yet almost none of them ever act on them. For the people who are thinking of either:

  • getting out of the IT department and into contract consulting
  • starting your own business
  • developing something cool to sell
  • changing your career

Here are 20 career condition tests to apply, both negative and positive, before you make the leap. If some of them are true …


  • You’ve made an error that will haunt your career at your current place for a while.
  • You’ve burned your bridges with your colleagues and are not getting along well.
  • Your stress level is too high at work and it is affecting your physical or mental health
  • You feel unchallenged and underutilized.
  • You know that you are under compensated for what you do and attempts to get this remediated have failed.
  • The company is experiencing a downward financial spiral or just starting to be aimless.
  • Relationship with your boss is damaged and the effort to repair it is just too high or will take too long.
  • Your life has changed and you need to move on.
  • Your principles differ from that of the company you work for and it’s impacting your work.
  • You’ve stopped enjoying your job.
  • You have the financial strength to cover your obligations while growing a new career
  • You can sellyourself or your product to potential clients/customers
  • You know your potential client and customers
  • Extra hours and effort is not a lifestyle killing or family-threatening issue
  • Your family is supportive
  • You are convinced there is a market for your services  or product at a price-point that is profitable
  • You are highly self-disciplined
  • You can afford to fail without becoming suicidal or tearing your family apart.
  • Just the idea of the new career or product brings a smile to your face
  • You are thinking about it… everyday.

If you went through the list and made the decision to leap, just remember when you are the next Paul Allen or Bill Gates who talked you into it!


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