An important component of any Information Technology (IT) organization within a company is a business continuity and disaster recovery plan. What happens when disaster strikes? How will you keep your operations running when a piece of ransomware tears through your organization and leaves your data inaccessible? How will you get back online as quickly as possible, with minimal inconvenience to your customers and clients?
Ensuring business continuity entails developing and implementing strategies for supporting operations even when the primary means of accomplishing them is no longer available. Often, this involves adding redundancy to the system. The power grid is designed this way, for example. There are many paths leading from where the power is generated to where it is consumed. So, when one transmission path goes away, others are there to carry that power to where it is needed. The system is designed to be able to withstand any single outage. No single contingency situation will disrupt the system’s ability to serve all its customers.
Information systems are often designed using a similar single-outage-contingency philosophy. No single network element or data system failure will disrupt the operation of the business for longer than a specified small period of time. The critical nature of the business determines the duration of how long it can stand to be disrupted. The system is deemed to protect business continuity and recover well from adverse situations if it can restore full operation within that time frame. So, system engineers designate backup systems that are refreshed on set schedules with the contents of the live system, ready to be activated and plugged into the live system when needed. Companies also sometimes employ multiple internet service providers, multiple DNS servers, and backup offsite cloud storage and processing systems so that they can return to normal operations as quickly as possible in the wake of an emergency. In some respects, this is just common sense. Regardless, it is responsible IT practice.
In conducting your career, you should employ similar diligence in ensuring you always have a way out of whatever regrettable situation you find yourself. You should never assume your current trajectory will lead you where you think. There will be unforeseen twists and turns, and that bridge you were counting on to help you cross into what you thought was your next home, the one you thought would lead you to better opportunities and new challenges – might be too cracked to allow passage. It might stay out of service indefinitely. You need an exit strategy. You need a way to keep moving forward, even if that involves pursuing a completely different direction.
You may arrive at a dead end in the course of your career. Opportunities you thought lay ahead of you end up not, and you find yourself stuck with no viable option out. Usually it’s a temporary situation, and abandoned bridges may one day be restored, or perhaps a rescue team will come find you with an air lift and a rope ladder. When opportunities become dead ends, though, you feel as if you were stuck deep down in an abandoned well with no one in earshot. It is an awful feeling, a helpless one.
My hope is that this will serve as a cautionary tale. Pursue other interests. If you have a hobby, or if there is a skill you practice with unique deftness, or if there is a corner of your day job that you see an opportunity to expand in a distinct way that doesn’t violate your agreement with your employer, think about how to monetize that. Consider how it might become your exit if your day job ends up being a dead end. You always need to have a backup plan.
As in information technology and power grid operations, it is important to have options. Plan your career accordingly.