Dear Career Adviser:

I'm in my mid-40s and, until a few years ago, was a pretty good graphical user interface and object-oriented database (OOD) specialist with some additional work in the use of Motif and the X Window System. In 1993, I succumbed to my midlife crisis, going to school full-time to earn a Ph.D. in psychology.

I now realize I was happiest as a software engineer. I have some excellent grounding in OOD and object-oriented programming and have some up-to-date technical skills. I administer my own Linux server, developed my Web page and am learning Java, which is a lot like Ada. How do I explain my detour? - Psyched OutDear Psyched:

Online retailers have learned that for each extra click users must perform, the chance of potential buyers leaving a site increases by 50%.

Many are alarmed by typical browser-to-buyer conversion ratios, which now hover around 2%. That makes your combined computer science and cognitive psychology background perfect for a technical field called human-factors engineering, says Elizabeth Charnock, CEO of Troba Inc., a San Francisco-based start-up focusing on human-factors engineering tasks.

With your skill set, you could be in high demand to help e-commerce companies like Seattle-based Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. or consultancies such as Chicago-based Andersen Consulting Inc. and Boston-based Bain & Co. that focus on design, usability and buyer-conversion issues.

For human-factors engineering job listings, contact BayCHI (, the San Francisco Bay area chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction. Expect to earn about $50,000 to start and to get as much as $130,000 as your expertise increases and you're pressed to bring immediate value in a fast-moving marketplace.

"Dear Career Adviser:

I've been developing Web sites for about six years now, working mostly on the graphical end, using tools such as Flash, Photoshop and Director. I currently work at a Fortune 500 company, earning a salary of $56,000, and a start-up has offered me $80,000. With all the press about failed start-ups, I don't know whether to risk my stable job with its good benefits.

- Queasy in Queens

Dear Queasy:

Your quandary coincides with the biggest single month of dot-com job cuts, according to Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., which announced nearly 5,000 dot-com job cuts in its September data, for a total of 16,590 dot-com job cuts to date this year.

And you're right: In this job market, cash is the main lure firms use to attract new talent.

The key point to watch in this negotiation is the inflated cash this dot-com is using to attract its hires. To staff up, it could burn through all its money before addressing any of its primary business issues.

Therefore, be sure your new potential employer is either very well-funded or has an extraordinary business plan that will speedily bring in positive revenue. Otherwise, you could find yourself working at a company that's flat out of cash in short order.

"Dear Career Adviser:

I am one of the original employees at a dot-com and was CIO and senior vice president of operations and technology. We had a major project to rewrite our existing application into a Java-/XML-based format.

After six months, several hundred thousand dollars and numerous promises, our outsourced developers failed to deliver. We are seeking to recover our costs and have engaged another firm. I lost my CIO title and took a hit on my options. While I still report to the chief operating officer and have been told that the board still has confidence in me, I'm not feeling real secure right now. Should I start looking for another job?

- Shaky Ground

Dear Shaky:

Politics aside, as a CIO, you must set expectations and then deliver. But if there are problems, says Paul M. Lemerise, president of P. M. Lemerise & Associates Inc., a CIO consultancy in Indian Wells, Calif., then part of your job is to provide an early-warning system to the entire board so that quick corrective action can be taken. This includes holding the vendor accountable.

Lemerise asks: Did you, as CIO, establish a track record of documenting the problems and engage the COO's participation in vendor review meetings? Is there documentation that would hold up in a suit against the vendor, and is your demotion documented in your personnel file?

Because your company has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and your title is diminished, you should start looking elsewhere immediately, since your current management might just be buying time to conduct a search to replace you.

Once you have a firm offer in hand and give notice, management's reaction will tell you how they really feel. Most important, never again sit on poor vendor performance without taking immediate action.

Fran Quittel is an expert in high-tech careers and recruitment. Send questions to her at

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