Dear Career Adviser

FRAMINGHAM (01/31/2000) - Dear Career Adviser:

I am a "switch hitter," with 60 percent Oracle Corp. database-administrator consulting and 40 percent Unix system-administration and NT consulting. I travel three weeks per month. For two years, I've been working for a vendor, implementing its products. I write custom emitter-coupled logic (ECL) [a subset language of Tool Command Language] scripts that access Oracle Dynamic Performance Views for information, parse it, display it in various viewing formats for database administrator usage and display information in HTML format for Web page display.

I have heavy networking experience, I'm a Certified NetWare Engineer and am also formally trained in Oracle database administration, backup/recovery and Oracle networks. Do I meet the criteria for a senior Oracle database administrator? What should I do from here?

- Boldness in 2000

Dear Boldness:

Although you are only a two-year Oracle database administrator, you are really more valuable than the average junior Oracle administrator because you have a solid networking background plus a mix of Oracle and Unix skills, which is what most corporations want, says Patty Taylor, senior vice president of consulting at Smartsource Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif. Your ECL experience and ability to travel also make you a candidate in demand.

To become a project architect or senior database administrator, you would need to stay with a project over its full life cycle. That would increase your credibility and help you become an expert consultant once you show you've endured the rigors of testing the systems you developed.

Dear Career Adviser:

I am a seven-year programmer with the opportunity to join a relatively new company specializing in e-commerce networking infrastructure. They just went public. How should I evaluate this opportunity since I appear to have missed the boat in terms of its initial public offering?

- Maybe Missed the Boat

Dear Maybe:

Essentially, you're asking both a math and a career question. No doubt you're enticed by the $39 billion worth of pre-IPO options that are about to be exercised this year, and you're correct that your best chances for a huge payoff come from holding pre-IPO stock. However, according to Jay Ritter, Cordell Professor of Finance at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., "the chance of a big winner on a point-forward basis is low, and the upside potential is especially low if the valuation of the company is already high."

But regardless of IPO status, technical careers get good long-term boosts from work done in high-profile companies that are more than "one-trick ponies," which offer neat technology where you personally do "cool" work. It's this sentence that should become your mantra.

Even recently public companies like Commerce One Inc. or AskJeeves Inc. have also shown post-IPO stock splits and excellent market strategies that reward later hires, as do even later-stage high-profile networking companies whose stock is on an upward curve. In short, given the volatility of dot-coms, you either must guess lucky or just work on something so cool that no matter what happens, you win.

Dear Career Adviser:

I am here from another country with a degree in computer science from a well-known university. I work as a software architect. But when I open my mouth, people say they can't understand me. Please rewrite my letter if necessary. I am embarrassed. Thank you.

- Speechless in Seattle

Dear Speechless:

Many technical people from abroad are focusing on this issue to advance from individual contributor to team manager roles, where communication is key.

First, understand that many adults who learned English mostly through reading have this problem and that after age 6 or 7, our capacity to learn new sounds outside our native language diminishes.

David Kertzner at ProActive English in San Francisco provides speech training to technical professionals. He says that for better speaking abilities, you'll need to capture the sounds, patterns and rhythms of spoken English. Because nervousness tends to speed speech up, first and foremost slow down your speed of speech in both face-to-face and, particularly, phone communication, where people can't see you for visual cues. Practice the rhythm patterns and breath groups of spoken English.

English as a Second Language classes will probably be too basic, so contact a college or university speech department to find an expert who specializes in accent reduction. Budget at least three to four months of one- to one-and-a-half-hour classes once or twice per week.

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