Dear Career Adviser

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - I've been a technical writer for a long time, working at a large financial institution with mainframe and client/server technology and systems. Now I long to work at a newer company with Web-based projects, but I'm concerned that my skills need a major upgrade. What do I need to do? Will someone hire me without experience? - Writing WendyDear Wendy:

Three essential problems define your dilemma, says recruiter Sherry Epleyp at Advances Unlimited in Larkspur, California. The first is that while you know financial systems, you don't know how to express this information via the new medium of the Web.

Second, your technical skills do require an upgrade.

Third, if you target startups, you'll be competing against new graduates, some of whom read code and have computer science degrees.

Don't interview until you have a basic knowledge of technologies such as TCP/IP, HTTP and the Internet programming language HTML. You'll also want some hands-on expertise in graphics and Web-development software like Photoshop, PageMaker, FrameMaker and Acrobat PDF from Adobe Systems Inc., RoboHelp from eHelp Corp. (formerly Blue Sky Software Corp.), CorelDraw from Corel Corp., PowerPoint from Microsoft Corp. and DreamWeaver from Macromedia Inc.

To find resources to update your skills, visit the home page for the Society for Technical Communications (STC) at www.stc-va.org and read Intercom, the STC magazine. Then, start building a Web site and developing Web documentation, even if you must offer free services to a friend.

Last, don't get stuck on maintaining your salary. Getting into this arena will be well worth it a year from now.

Dear Career Adviser:

I'm a technical consultant making excellent money as an Oracle database administrator. Some of the younger companies I'm working for seem promising. Is there a way for me to participate in the stock program of a pre-initial public offering company as a consultant. What should I ask for? - Options for OttoDear Otto:

Only you can determine if the company has a promising future and whether taking any of your fee in stock is wise. If so, then you and the company will establish how you earn the right to these shares. Will you get them as options or an outright grant?

According to attorney Patricia G. Copeland, a partner at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP in Palo Alto, California, "consultants can sometimes receive options and share grants in lieu of cash, particularly if the consultant wants the potential stock upside and the company desires to reward the consultant for services rendered."

Given your consultant status, a company can decide to grant you shares, create an option schedule whereby shares are granted during the term of your services or reward you with shares outright because of superior performance on a project.

Just remember that if you're granted an option for shares, you'll need to know how long you have to exercise it. Must you exercise the option when you finish the project, or does the term extend longer? Be sure to consult a tax attorney regarding applicable Internal Revenue Service code, including the "83B election" provision for how Uncle Sam participates in your potential windfall.

Dear Career Adviser:

I've been working as a LAN administrator for a state government. I'm working toward my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification. I have also worked with server upgrades, T1 installations, setting up new user accounts, monitoring the network, installing server patches and antivirus updates, doing PC support and troubleshooting. We have a 60-user, Windows 98 network using Novell NetWare 5, Microsoft Office 2000 and various Oracle database programs.

What skills do I need to add to grow my career and expand my possibilities, especially in some of the hotter industries outside government? - Outta StateDear State:

According to a Cisco Systems Inc. insider, Web editors might be heroes, and developers might be demigods, but the true gods of the industry are systems administrators and webmasters. In short, your compensation would expand dramatically if you take your LAN administration background and work toward a Unix systems administrator-level career.

A good way to explore this possibility is to visit the Cisco jobs site at www.cisco.com/pcgi bin/jobs.pl to see what Cisco - and by default the industry - wants.

You'll see that your chances improve by getting the requisite credentials.

Also, try to expand your work experience into diverse PC/Windows NT and Unix environments involving SunOS, Sun Solaris, HP/UX and perhaps even Linux. You can find Cisco classes at www.cisco.com/warp/public/10/wwtraining.

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