will code for food
… or how to avoid needing this shirt.

Your boss sucks, and so does this economy. I try to be a good boss, but realistically I probably suck too. Since I'm that guy … and I'm the guy who decides things, let me tell you 5 ways — at least in my mind — that will help you keep your job at a smaller IT firm.

0. Learn to be useful in another IT capacity

If you stink at HTML, learn it better. Developers frequently won't know all of the pains of cutting HTML pixel-perfect or dealing with Photoshop; but acting in the capacity of a "designer-lite" who takes over when the regular designer is too busy smoking marijuana to make simple modifications or re-cut images can be a great solution to an approaching deadline. It makes you less dispensable and more appreciated.

1. Learn to be useful in another IT-related capacity

For example, can you write decent copy or write manuals and FAQs for clients who actually want to read? That can help. Small companies cannot afford dedicated technical writers. Kudos if you don't need to spellcheck it — but even if you make a few mistakes it still helps a lot. Be realistic. If you know you make a few mistakes, vet it a bit extra. If you're English-impaired, don't do it at all if it makes you that nervous. Just because it isn't IT doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't do it. Never say "this isn't my job." This, again, makes you less dispensable and more appreciated.

Of course if you think it will damage your ability to finish your primary work or sink you, respond that you're overworked — not that it's not your job.

2. Don't Complain (Detectably)

Suck it up. Inhale. Breathe deeply. And exhale quietly! The walls have ears, and your company can legally and ethically read your emails and sniff your packets — especially at an IT firm. Just like I know my employees can read this, you should know that everything at a corporation is public and property of the company. Tell your dog, not your boss. Stick pins in a voodoo doll named "the man" at home. Just leave it at home.

3. Your Boss is Human — Really!

When finances are tight tempers can fly. Know whom you're dealing with; and know your boss can have a bad day too. Entire countries are going Chapter 11. People may not be paying your company on time, and the job of the "leader" is to manage everything and isolate your paycheck from the madness that ensues around you. Cut the boss some slack — especially at a small firm.

4. Be a Rockstar (in Moderation)

Instead of playing Guitar Hero 24/7 [and wasting your life], spend some time reading some technical books or online tutorials at home to brush up of your own volition. You're supposedly interested in it anyway, right? Some small firms don't have toxic politics — others do. Depending on how toxic the environment is, you may only want to shine in moderation. But so long as you don't rile anyone up too badly, be a rockstar to that extent. Don't rub it in anyone's face, of course; but that, also, makes you less dispensable.

It's ultimately about making yourself known for being versatile and helpful. And it's about not just fitting in one neat compartment — because those may be a dime-a-dozen in 2009. All this should help. I promise. Seriously, it may get brutal out there.

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