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On the move

Also, two-year CSCI degrees.

Q: I want to move to another part of the country–only I’m not sure where. I live in Florida now and although I love the weather, I recently lost my job when the Web site development firm I worked for folded in the dot-com bust. There aren’t many companies around that are interested in the kind of work I want to do–developing Web sites for businesses. What’s my first step?

A: If you are open to moving anywhere in the country, the first step would be to consider areas where Web development is a burgeoning industry. Through the magic of the Internet, I can point you to a few sites that provide this kind of information.

Start at flipdog.com, where you can find a state-by-state rundown of IT job opportunities. Top 10 states for IT jobs in the fall included Massachusetts in first place (particularly Boston and the surrounding suburbs) and Virginia in second place. The state on the list with the warmest climate is California, ranked in ninth place.

When you’re finished at flipdog.com, head to a site called BestJobsUSA.com. This site isn’t limited to IT jobs, but it does have an interesting ongoing feature called America’s Best Places to Live and Work. I have noticed that sometimes the best place to find an IT job is the best place to find a job–period. A healthy local economy means that companies have money to spend on projects that help them build their businesses, and that includes Web sites.

BestJobsUSA lists Sarasota, Fla., as the third-best place in the country to live and work. Austin, Texas, comes in first, with Raleigh, N.C., coming in second. BestJobsUSA says the expected job growth rate for the Sarasota area is 30 percent over the next decade and that many high-tech firms are relocating or opening branch offices there. Since you’re already in Florida, maybe Sarasota would be easier for you to explore than out-of-state locations.

Q: I have more than 25 years of experience as a writer, editor, designer, copywriter, and speechwriter. I know page layout, basic word processing and am the president/founder of a Palm user group. Where do my skills fit into the computer field? If they don’t fit, what programs/skills do I need to learn to be in demand?

A: It’s unfortunate that salaries for people who work in editorial positions for magazines and newspapers tend to be lower than the salaries of those doing basically the same tasks in other kinds of organizations. That means that people like you, with a lot of experience, get to the top of the editorial pay scale and leave the field looking for jobs that pay more. With your background and skills, I would suggest you consider technical writing. Don’t worry–there is more to technical writing than writing instruction manuals for software. In my book, if you write about computers and IT, you’re a technical writer.

The problem you may encounter as you shift into technical writing or any other segment of IT is the fact that you haven’t worked for an IT company. To overcome this hurdle, you may have to keep the job you have now and find some freelance technical writing assignments for your spare time.

You could also try to land a job with a large marketing department inside an IT company to oversee the development of marketing materials, including white papers, Web content, and, yes, technical documentation. Some of the large public relations and marketing firms have IT departments and need the same kinds of writing and editorial help as large IT companies.

Q: My local community college is offering a two-year computer science degree. I’m in my late 20s, but never got a college degree. As you can guess, I’m not much for schooling, but I’m interested in getting a better-paying job doing something with computers. I have a flexible schedule, so I can take courses during the day. My question: Is a two-year degree enough?

A: Is it enough for get you a good job doing something in IT? I’m sorry to say it isn’t in today’s job market. It’s just not focused enough. You need to beef up your credentials by getting a part-time job doing something related to computers. And when I say something, I mean anything a company will pay you to do. If it’s installing software, working on the help desk, or picking up broken computers for repair, that’s good enough.

You also need to document your skills in some way so that when you’re finished with your studies you can prove you learned something. A certification will help you prove you can get the job done–but make sure it’s related to the kind of work you want to do when you graduate.

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