After 35 Years, a Change of Gears

Data-center consultant leaves company after 35 year tenure and makes the jump to a higher growth IT group.


Kurtis Tatum had been working as a consultant at Unisys for the past 35 years and enjoyed his work. He’d done many different jobs there, and for the past five years had been traveling worldwide optimizing data centers. But last June, he decided that he needed to start thinking about looking for another job. He said he needed to be proactive, rather than react to the market.

“Unisys had gone through five CEOs in the past five years; I was concerned about stability,” he said, noting that the company had lost money every quarter for the past two-and-a-half years and colleagues had been laid off. And there was something else looming that made him take action: a 55th birthday. “I didn’t think my job was in jeopardy. But better to find a job when I want to then to have to find a job because I had to,” he said.

“If I had gotten laid off this year, I think it might have been more difficult to find a job. Despite what anyone says, there is an age bias out there. So I decided I would find a job on my own terms, and use as my leverage point that I didn’t have to take a job if I didn’t want it.”

In June, he started testing the waters, looking on Ladders to see what was happening in the market. By October, he signed up for TechnologyLadder, which, he said, “turned on all the benefits, and got me in touch with recruiters. Once I did that, I received quite a few inquiries.”

An advantage: cost-cutting know-how

Tatum was looking for the same type of job that he had at Unisys. As a consultant, he looked at client infrastructure and processes, working with clients to determine how to reduce costs at data centers and improve service. He says that it helped in his job search that his function was to help clients reduce costs, something that is valuable in today’s market. “With all the mergers that companies are going through, there’s a lot of overlap of processes. It’s a hot skill to have.”

Between October and December he interviewed with four companies. “Things happened much more quickly than I expected,” he said. And, while he didn’t have a tight timeline for success, he said, “I did want to secure another position some time in 2009.”

A recruiter for one of those companies, Siemens, first contacted him in late October about a position as an enterprise architect. The salary, however, was too low, and not something he was willing to pursue. He continued speaking to other companies, and then, in mid-January, the same recruiter called again about a more senior position at Siemens. Several interviews, both by phone and in person, were followed by negotiations on responsibilities and salary. He was hired in mid-March as practice lead for Siemens IT Solutions and Services.

Eyeing a challenge over a salary increase

Tatum notes that while salary was a sticking point for that first job back in October, “I wasn’t looking for a bigger salary; I was looking for a job with stability and innovation and a challenge.” And, ultimately, his new job came with a slight decrease in salary, although the full compensation package is slightly more. In his experience, said Tatum, salaries are down because of the economy. “If people are looking for a job with the expectation that they will get their salary matched or increased, they will be disappointed,” he said.

His new position, which starts in mid-April, appealed to him in great part because the company is growing. “They have money to invest and innovate,” he said. “The job is doing very similar work to what I am doing now. And they were looking to bring in senior people to help them grow. They liked the experience and skills I could bring to their team.”

Tatum said that while the economy has put a lot of people in his industry on edge, he believes there are a lot of jobs out there for people with the right skills. “I was concerned, especially at my age, about finding another job. But it seems to me that companies are looking for senior people. They need people who can come into a job and get things going right away,” he said. “I know that the senior people laid off at Unisys have had a better time than the young people with less experience.”

Experience counts for a lot, he said. But the most important thing is to be prepared for what could happen. “If you’re not looking around, if you don’t pop your head out once in a while, it will be devastating when you get laid off.”