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trapped in the technical ghetto?

I've been in my post for 4 or 5 years now. I'm a systems engineer at a major telecoms manufacturer.  I'm a pretty good developer (I'm the goto guy), and an OK systems engineer (read fairly picky bastard who wants to get to the bottom of things).

The problem is, I've never ever seen a customer. Ever. Apparantly in a farway land called marketing there are people who deal with customers (and maybe also in network support, and in product management).

I'd lke to go and find some customers and understand what they want. In fact, I've been saying this for several years. I'd like to become a better systems engineer, by learning more about the way that customers want to use our kit

But whenever I go and talk to my boss about actually doing it, or apply for a transfer or secondment to another group so I can actually find these things out, he blocks it!

Why - because I'm too good at what I do for him to let me go (we do have a recruitment freeze at the moment). I'm beginning to feel that I'm trapped in a technical ghetto, because my "special" technical skills mean I'm too valuable to be allowed to do anything else.

Any advice?

regards

treefrog
Friday, January 23, 2004

Stop being "goto guy". Become an "if then else" guy. :)

Sorry I have no advice
Friday, January 23, 2004

Become a gosub guy. Goto is so outdated.

Anonymizer
Friday, January 23, 2004

Your're the Goto Guy?

Everyone knows you shouldn't use "goto".  Change your name to Treefrog++ and become more Object Oriented. 

Arrogant Prick
Friday, January 23, 2004

I'm in a very similar situation - in my programming job several years, virtually never see customers. I think the problem with your approach is that you're asking for too large a change (transfer or part-time loan to another group) all at once. Doing this makes your boss see only negatives (he loses you) and no positives. Instead, get involved working with a customer in a small way to start with - for instance, find out who some of the support people are, and go chat with them over lunch, and mention that you'd like to find out more about what customers are thinking so you can design better products (support people will love you if you say that), and they'll start venting; then, tell them that if they've got a prickly customer issue you'd be delighted to help them out.

You won't have to wait long, and there will be some customer issue you're involved in understanding and solving.

Also, find out who some of the nearby sales people for your product line are, and tell them you'd like to tag along on some sales calls.

Do this for a few months, and you'll be able to decide if you like it. If so, you'll have some contacts in other departments who will be able to pull you away from your current boss ("he's already doing such a great job working with us"), and you'll have much more leverage. Good luck!

(I've discovered there are many interpersonal things that are very hard to accomplish immediately, but which are quite easy if you're willing to work at them a little bit at a time for several months).

Exception guy
Friday, January 23, 2004

Leave. Seriously.

IMO, one of the tenets of good management is to promote good people and/or provide them opportunities, even if it's painful.  In the long run, not doing so will hurt the company more than the short term pain of their loss to another position within the organization.  Some companies understand this, and it it pays off because they retain good people.

But in your case, it you try to make this argument (move me or lose me), it will come off as a threat. It's a no win situation.  So, your best bet is to bide your time, network, and keep an eye out for good opportunities.

YAAP
Friday, January 23, 2004

" I'm a pretty good developer (I'm the goto guy)"

Is this Wayne again?

QuicherBichin
Friday, January 23, 2004

Don't be hatin' on Wayne!

Wayne's homey
Friday, January 23, 2004

Well-well look. I already told you: I deal with the !@%& !@^* customers so the engineers don't have to! I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can't you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?

Tom Smykowski
Friday, January 23, 2004

I work for a very small company, so contact with customers is inevitable... and let me tell you that it gets real old real fast. My worst days are the ones when I have to fill in on tech support, instead of doing my real job - programming. If you have a product development department, that would be another good place to search out people to talk to. They usually have a pretty good line on what customers are wishing for and talking about.

HeyCoolAid!
Friday, January 23, 2004

Exception guy has excellent advice for you.

Follow it.!!

What you are doing is beause it's what you have selected to do. Not just beause your boss wants.  You have your own methods of dealing with technical things. You can get to know the detail in depth for systems.  You can transfer your skill for human systems. Tow-way interactions may slow you down at times, but understanding the system is the key to start, atleast for you.

artist
Friday, January 23, 2004

I can comment on both aspects of this problem...

....when I joined my current job, there was a trench mentality and the developers minimised real dialogue with the users.  Users have to write specs. Although I made suggestions that we should get involved in the users more, in the end, I had to just get out there and start making friends with the users by myself. The users know and trust me now. If I was in your situation, I would try to make some personal bridges with the sales people - sounds like they're your best chance to get a connection with the end users.

...on the subject of being blocked by the boss, I've been shafted by a bait-and-switch job. I was quite disenchanted with my position but I was persuaded to stay because I was told I could move to A Department More Interesting, a place I really wanted to go. This wasn't proposed by my boss, so after I agreed to stay, my boss has pretty much killed the offer behind the scenes. I'm faced with lots of official reasons why I can't move. My decision: I'm leaving in the summer.

Shodan
Friday, January 23, 2004

treefrog, if you are as "goto" as your post suggests, it is likely that the sales/marketing/design teams may already know you. Approach them directly. Say that you'd like to improve your understanding of the product from a customer perspective, and ask if you can get involved (perhaps) in some pre-sales activities.

HeWhoMustBeConfused
Friday, January 23, 2004

I agree with the people above who directed you to make direct contact with people closer to the customer as a first step.  That's a specific form of what is generally perhaps the most important tactic of employeeship: get to know people throughout your company on a human level, and talk to them frequently and directly about everything.  Drink with them whenever you can.  And don't just strive to know the obvious movers and shakers, but everyone at every level.  This will be very good for you, and (not that it matters as much) good for the company too.  Plus, getting to know your fellow humans is universally good advice.

If you're effective (and controllable), your manager will always fight to keep you.  But if you're reaching out for a richer role, any superb manager (of the 3% out there) would try to keep you *and* help you gain that richer role at the same time.  Chances are if he hasn't suggested ways other than transfer that you could get closer to the customer, he's of the most common type of manager I'll call the pigeonholing manager.  The pigeonholer positions himself as the nexus of information, striving so that hardly anybody learns anything without his intervention, thereby securing his position.

He is a menace to be thwarted.  Thwarting his information hoarding will be good for the company, because having such information bottlenecks invariably leads to miscommunication and mistakes, and hoarders tend to withhold information that doesn't support their own agenda.  But he's also easy to thwart.  You simply act as if you have no manager and must discover and transmit all information without him.  Never fully trust the information he gives you, and never fully trust that he's transmitting what you suggest outside your group.  He can still harm you, so you'll probably need to act this way under the guise of social relationships rather than overt subversion, and don't let him become aware your efforts or nor confront him about his pigeonholing.  Also, when in the pigeonholer's presence, avoid revealing to him who told you this or that, using phrasings like "I overheard that..." so that he cannot move against your contacts.

Also try to read a few books on the pop-psychology of the workplace.  You might discover other fun things about your workplace and your coworkers that you had not noticed.

Have fun, and welcome to the metaworld of corporate life.

veal
Saturday, January 24, 2004

Not dealing with customers can also be viewed as a huge plus. 

Bella
Sunday, January 25, 2004

Bella, welcome back!
How is it going?

Floridian
Sunday, January 25, 2004

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