Taking the Job Public

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - There's a widespread notion about working for the government or a university is that the pace is slower, the bureaucracy stifling and the technology outdated. But some network executives who have made the switch from the private sector say those are misconceptions.

For example, many IT professionals say universities offer a great opportunity to work with and research new technologies. Gary Corbett, director of telecommunications and network services at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, also says there's plenty of work to keep his 65-person IT staff busy. "It's even more difficult than in a corporate setting because at least at most offices, people go home at night," he says. "A university has people working and studying all night long, and IT must work around that."

And while it's generally true that salaries are lower in the public sector, the three IT workers Network World interviewed all got raises when they switched over from corporate jobs. The profiles below highlight some of the reasons they made the move.

NAME: BRENT BARTON

Job: Senior LAN administrator

Employer: Public Employee Health Plan, State of UtahLength of time in current position: Since November 1999Most recent job in the private sector: Web site manager/ IS manager, Simmons Media Group in Salt Lake City, August 1985 to November 1999.

Reason for changing jobs: More opportunities, more compensation, better benefits. At his pension plan introduction, Barton learned that if he retired at age 56, every year thereafter he'd get 60 percent of the average of his highest three years' salary. "I thought, 'I don't ever want to leave,' " he says.

How the public sector differs: There was more job stress in the private sector and too much emphasis on the bottom line. "It was very difficult to get more resources and more people," he says.

Barton describes his former employer as "old school" and says he felt pigeonholed. "We just had Novell and a few Internet technologies to work with.

Here, there's also Linux, mainframes, NT - there's a lot to learn." But he is quick to note that his friends who work for dot-com firms don't face the same kind of restraints he did. "They're all about technology."

Best thing about current job: The workload is more reasonable and the compensation is higher than at his previous job.

Worst thing about current job: Can't wear shorts to work anymore.

Would you ever return to the private sector? Yes, to get back to a faster pace and to wear shorts again!

NAME: TONY CARDENAS

Job: Network services manager

Employer: Oregon Public Education Network, State of OregonLength of time in current position: Since January 2000Most recent job in the private sector: Senior network engineer, The Network Group (now Infogroup Northwest), a network integrator in Eugene, Oregon, November 1991 to November 1995.

Reason for changing jobs: Former position required too much travel, long hours and time away from family.

How the public sector differs: Burnt out by 80-hour workweeks with a network integration firm, Cardenas took a job as network administrator for the Tillamook School District on the Oregon coast. He helped create one of the most wired school districts in the state, but this was no easy feat.

"The lack of business sense in public education makes it hard to accomplish things," he says. For example, Cardenas says that in a school district special interests often prevail over business sense.

Best thing about current job: Great opportunity for experience, exposure, skill building, and best of all, I can be with my family.

Worst thing about current job: Highly political.

Would you ever return to the private sector? Yes, but not for a consulting firm or network integrator.

NAME: GARY CORBETT

Job: Director of telecommunications and network servicesEmployer: Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.

Length of time in current position: Since August 1996Most recent job in the private sector: Systems engineer, federal government group of Motorola in Washington, D.C., June 1984 to March 1987.

Reason for changing jobs: Personal reasons.

How the public sector differs: Before taking a job at Northwestern, Corbett spent seven years as director of telecommunications at the University of Maine in Orono. The advantages of working for a university are that "it's not subject to any business cycle and you're not going to get downsized or right-sized," he says. When he worked at Motorola, he says he sometimes felt like salespeople controlled engineering decisions.

Best thing about current job: Diversity of technology, fast pace of change, job stability.

Worst thing about current job: Cold Illinois winters.

Would you ever return to the private sector? No, not as long as my job remains challenging.

Raths is a freelance writer in Kailua, Hawaii. He can be reached at draths@hawaii.rr.com.

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