As you may already know, in June 2000, I left behind a 12 year career in the police force in the UK and went into IT. I’d had enough, I wanted a change, and IT seemed to offer everything I was looking for at the time.
I started off working on a helpdesk for Yellow Pages. I was bored out of my mind after the first month. It was first line desktop support and was supporting customers who seemed to have the same issues as my grandparents, e.g., they didn’t know what a mouse was, where to find a spell checker, or how to type a url into an address bar.
Before I went insane, I decided to take some exams and then leave. I studied hard and passed my MCSE and CCNA and found myself working for Cisco systems doing WAN support and, in particular, serial lines, Frame Relay, and NAT. I really enjoyed it because it was pretty technical and you were encouraged to take exams and progress.
Two years into that job somebody high up in Cisco decided that they should cut around 5,000 employees and outsource much of the support to third world countries to save money. My entire department was let go, and we had to find other jobs just as the IT industry was taking a massive nose dive.
I did some freelance work but then landed a network support role for the largest telecoms company in the UK. We supported some very large customers, including Lloyds Bank, 10 Downing Street, and several airlines. It was very well paid: twice what I had been earning as a police sergeant.
I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. You see, the role involved some shift work and then being on call every other week. I’d regularly be woken up by my pager at 2 am to join a conference call to deal with a network issue. Most of the time, it wasn’t even a network issue, it was a server or a firewall and down to another team to fix, but as you probably know, somebody always blames the network first.
The other problem was the workload. There was actually very little work to do. Maybe one hour per day we dealt with tickets, and the rest of the time, we had nothing to do. We weren’t allowed to surf the web, so our boss would make up trivial tasks for us to complete, like checking the serial numbers of 100 routers against a spreadsheet.
The money was really good though, and I really needed it at the time so felt sort of stuck. But a couple of things forced my hand.
Firstly, the boss found out I could touch type, and one day he banged a big pile of handwritten notes on my desk and told me to type them up for the next day. Like I was his secretary or something! I was furious, but I didn’t say anything.
A few days later, I asked for a day off to take my daughter out for her birthday. My boss said yes, but then the day before, he changed his mind and said he needed me for the day. I was livid. I went home and realized I was angry with myself. I’d allowed myself to become too comfortable in the role. I wasn’t learning anything. In fact, I was probably going backwards in terms of skills. I also realized that I much preferred being my own boss. I knew if I worked hard, I could make it as a freelance IT consultant.
The next day, I handed in my notice. It felt fantastic. I’d taken back control of my career. Of course, it was scary, but I never looked back. I had to learn quite a few things, including the following:
- How to market myself
- How to find customers
- How to bid for high paying customers
- How to get meetings with decision makers
- How to avoid legal issues
- The best way to form a company or corporation
- How to increase my rates without upsetting customers
I put myself on courses, read hundreds of books, hired a business coach, and made lots of mistakes along the way, but I eventually built a successful IT company, which I sold five years later.
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