|Volume 1: No. 01|
Computists International is a networking group. Such groups have long existed: churches, clubs, professional societies (or philosophical/Royal societies), fraternal orders, businessmen's associations. Computists is unique in that it uses global networks to serve information professionals. (I'd like to thank Stephen Wolff and NSF for permitting trial use of the NSFNet backbone in delivering this service to the research community.)
Career networking has itself become a topic of study over the past few decades. Many books claim that businessmen have always networked, and that businesswomen need to learn this skill. Clubs and associations for businesswomen now exist in every major city. My observation, however, is that scientists and engineers are just as much in need of such support -- especially the men, who tend to discuss only technical issues even during family get-togethers.
I now put forth the thesis that technical information is almost irrelevant to career success. It's not what you know, or even who you know, that's most important; it's how you think. The main reason for studying technical literature is to track who is doing what, where, paid for by whom. The other common reason for reading technical journals is to absorb the flavor: what sort of material is presented, how the presentation is structured, how the arguments are supported. Only very rarely does an experienced professional read a paper in order to implement the algorithms or replicate the experiments.
(I often start discussions by making outrageous claims. If you disagree, please jump in and say so. You won't offend me.)
My thesis holds just as strongly in the business world. A chief determinant of entrepreneurial success is having parents who were in business, or having business experience of your own at an early age. Why? Because you learn to think like a businessman. There are a hundred things you have to know, of course, but running one business is much like running another. Once you absorb the thought patterns, you can wing it. An MBA degree teaches little about day-to-day business, but gives you vocabulary and thought patterns so that you can quickly learn a particular business. (You can then become an advisor on business in general -- but beware the inexperienced expert.)
A technical focus, on the other hand, leads one into dependence on the system. You seem to be "climbing the ladder," but really are making yourself more and more interchangeable with others in the same technical specialty. This robs you of job security while doing little to open up managerial options. It does permit you to find work easily at other companies, but only if the economy is good, your specialty is currently hot, and you are willing to move. Even then, you are likely to be filling a predefined "slot" instead of doing work that really interests you.
You can't ignore the technical side, but you owe it to yourself to develop professional contacts and personal skills as well. At the minimum, talk to others about funding sources instead of algorithms. Standard networking advice is to make your net as diverse as possible -- and to keep it refreshed with frequent news clippings, queries, introductions, lunches, and Christmas/birthday cards. (Networks are like dynamic RAM; they fade out if not refreshed.) You never know when someone you know will know someone you need to know.
If your friends' net addresses have stopped working, drop me a note. I'm pretty good at figuring out modern equivalents for old internet/bitnet/uucp addresses. I can sometimes come up with street addresses or phone numbers as well. And if I can't figure one out, perhaps the other Computists will know.
I promised to keep the Communique short, so that's enough for this issue. Send me your news, interests, problems, and comments, and tune in next week.