The Four Tiers of Career Opportunity


The past three weeks will go down as one of the more awkward times in my life.  Sometimes, it is not best to be left on your own to speculate. While most would think that this immense amount of freedom and lack of responsibility would be amazing, it has been nothing short of stressful, and a lot of time spent living inside my own head, trying to figure out what it is I wanted to do next. But the show must go on, so I’ve slapped my “laid off” stripe of honor on my sleeve, and we’re plowing forward!

I thought I would write up a little “thinking out loud” synopsis of what I’ve been processing, pros vs cons, and ultimately where I’m leaning, in case any of you happen to be going through similar circumstances, or find yourself job hunting in our vast industry.

Opportunity Abounds

There is certainly no shortage of opportunity in this amazing industry in which we live and work.  It is also no longer limited to the Bay Area, or a requirement to be present there to participate.  What do I mean by that?  Well, let’s just say I’ve been contacted by more companies established OUTSIDE of Silicon Valley than those HQ’ed within it. El Segundo and the startup scene here in the Southland (Los Angeles) is thriving more than ever, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some interesting companies.

Video gaming, new media and entertainment, storage, containers, you-name-it.  Vendors, resellers, VARs, ISVs …

Basically I’m spoiled for choice, and that has made it not simpler, but infinitely more difficult than one would think.  Let me explain …

The Four Tiers

In my head, I’ve boiled this down to four tiers, and in a way it’s a nice way to summarize the greater IT industry landscape that exists today, specifically within the vendor community.

Note: I am in no way a VC, or have any bearing on any of these, but this is how I personally make sense of it all, and keep things together. 

Tier 1

Established company, publicly traded or privately held, but recognizable names. These tend to have the least amount of risk associated, smaller steps up the ladder in career growth, but give you that safe warm fuzzy feeling at night, especially because you know a lot of people there.

Tier 2

Established small company, on the verge of IPO or acquisition.  This is where I seem to be getting most of the inquiries from, and frankly, it’s the space that is most enticing, as these companies are in a position where they are ready for a Chief Evangelist to come on-board, and maybe haven’t had anyone step up to the plate quite yet. These tend to have a mild amount of risk associated respectively, but you’re able to make huge jumps up the career ladder, and at the same time you are able to carve out new ways of doing things in your vision.  With great power comes great responsibility however.

Tier 3

This is where things start getting interesting.  This might be an established startup, but perhaps have only seen a B and C round of funding. Typically still have yet to hit the 200-person milestone, but things are on the up-and-up for them.  They’ve got an established product, are selling it, and are in the phase of ramping up sales and support.  These tend to have a moderate amount of risk, but also a moderate to extreme level of potential reward in any sort of acquisition, or in the case of continued growth, you will be the one looked-to to build a practice around your focus area.

Tier 4

The beginnings of the beginning. These dudes are still putting the pieces together in the garage. Maybe they just got their first office, exec staff is established, but probably do not have more than 20 employees and a Series A round of funding.  This comes with the highest amount of risk, but is likely to reap the highest amount of reward over time.  The other added benefit here is getting to come in on the ground floor of the potential “next big thing,” and any true technologist will tell you that that is worth its weight in gold.

How to Decide?

All I can tell you for now is that I’m in talks with at least one company in each of those tiers, and it can be as frustrating as it is exciting. They all have their pluses and minuses, and it truly is an exercise in figuring out what is going to make you as an individual the happiest … not necessarily the most successful.

I know everyone is seemingly chomping at the bit waiting to find out where I’m headed next, and I promise that once a decision is made, you’ll all be the first to know!

In the meantime, I’ve got several pieces similar to this that I’m working on that I intend to publish while I’m still free and independent to do so.  My thoughts on the industry … where things stand … thoughts on evangelism … etc etc etc.

If you have any experiences to add, or think we can break out the tiers, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


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Simon Loftus
Simon Loftus
06/14/2015 04:56

Nick, all the best with your decision – your posts have always been a great source of knowledge to me and I’m still scratching my head as to ‘how’ what happened to you, happened.

Reply to  Simon Loftus
06/29/2015 14:13

Thank you Simon!

Mike Riley
Mike Riley
06/14/2015 17:20

Nick – I’ll be following you! No matter where you end up, you’ll make a significant contribution to that company and continue to make an impact on the technology industry. No doubt in my mind!

Reply to  Mike Riley
06/29/2015 14:13

Thank you Mike!

Romuald Vandepoel
Romuald Vandepoel
06/26/2015 01:28

Nick, you might have missed a 5th one if we are looking at the full
spectrum of career opportunity and not only as an employee; self
entrepreneur or how to provide customers and partners with your
tremendous experience and corporate-free honest opinion, the famous
really true IMHO expertize.

Reply to  Romuald Vandepoel
06/29/2015 14:12

Romuald, excellent point! It’s certainly not something that I overlooked. I learned a lot of hard lessons by tying a lot of the content here to NetApp directly. From now forward, will always operate as an independent entity, free from employer influence. My hope is that it becomes its own community. “Wave 2” of the site will be launching very soon, with a complete re-brand, a new network of podcasts, and more than just a blog. Believe me, there is a point where being independent is ideal, but it has to generate enough revenue for survival, and it simply… Read more »

Romuald Vandepoel
Romuald Vandepoel
Reply to  that1guynick
06/30/2015 08:53

Cool! if you need hands for EMEA service delivery, I am all in ;)

07/09/2015 20:29

Nick, will keep reading this blog and looking forward to hear from your view about the industry. I like how you break down the complexity and make it simple to understand.

Best wishes.

–khoo from Malaysia

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