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Dot-com or bust?

Also, what’s it like in programming?

Q: I was recently laid off when the dot-com company I worked for went dot-bust. I was in the marketing/development part of the company, so I don’t have programming skills. Am I crazy to want to get a similar job with another dot-com or should I shift into some other industry?

A: It all depends on your tolerance for risk. You’re on shaky ground when working for any start-up. You could find yourself out the door within a year through no fault of your own. If you’re up for that possibility, go ahead. If not, maybe you’re better off out of the dot-com world until the ground stops shaking.

While you’re waiting, you could earn some nice money and get some valuable experience by working for a Web consulting firm.

You could also look for a job as a Web site development coordinator for any firm with a medium or large site. A Web site is like an organic entity; when it grows, someone has to tend to it. To find this kind of a job, first find a few sites that you like and then check in with the human-resources department to see if they have any Web-related openings. You may have to explain the kind of job you’re looking for because HR folks use many different job titles when it comes to Web site coordination, including Creative Director, Web Programmer, Content Manager, and Database Manager, among others.

Q: Where can I go to learn about contracting myself out as a programmer/business analyst?

A: To contract yourself out, you need to do more than just find potential customers; you need to familiarize yourself with the legal and financial aspects of a life lived independently. Here are my short takes, based on my own experience:

To find work, go where the work is. Find companies that need your services and ask them for work–even if it’s just a small project–so that the two of you can get to know each other. Always help your customers achieve their goals. Many people can write a program; it’s the rare programmer who can write the program the customer needs to have. Know the IRS regulations on what constitutes an independent contract, and abide by them religiously. By doing this, you will sleep better and will make sure you are not setting up yourself or your client for tax hassles. Live within your means, and learn the basics of accounting and accounts-collection strategies. It’s all about cash flow when you’re on your own, and keeping expenses lower than income will help you hang in there over the dry spells. Knowing how to ask for your money without being nasty also helps alleviate cash-flow crises.

Here are a few Web sites that will help you learn more about contracting yourself out in the business world:

Independent contractor aggregator sites:

Independent Contractor Exchange or SoloGig.

Learning soft skills:

Take a test at Queendom.com or Franklin Covey.

IRS independent contractor rules and regulations:

Visit the IRS Web site, and Quicken.

Q: I’ve been taking classes in Java and C++ while working at my day job as a bank teller. I’ve got to get out from behind this counter! Help me out–am I doing the right thing taking these courses, or am I wasting my time?

A: Do you hate banking, or do you just want to make money? Learning to write programs is a marketable skill, but a lot of programming, jobs boil down to sweatshop piecework done on a computer. Unless you’re fast and good, you’ll be hard-pressed to make a nice living. And you’ll have to keep taking training classes to keep your skills up-to-date.

You’ll also need to find a way to gain experience in programming without having a job as a programmer. Not many companies are willing to hire a programmer without previous experience. Two ways to get experience include working as a volunteer writing programs for a non-profit, or writing and selling some shareware.

Bottom line: If your main objectives are to get out of the bank and find a career with long-term earning potential, programming may not fit the bill. There are lots of professions in and out of the computer industry that have more earnings potential than programming. But if you like dealing with people, working under pressure, and being satisfied with good clean code, keep coding.

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