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At Work

Tech Workers Manage Complex Balance of Work, Education and Home

By Carrie Johnson
Sunday, October 8, 2000; Page L01

If there's any doubt that keeping up with changes in technology can be its own full-time job, listen to the schedule of Andre Fraser.

Fraser, a product architect at USinternetworking Inc. in Annapolis, works a nine-hour day before driving home to his wife and their full house. That's full in the sense of the four personal computers and two Sun Microsystems servers that produce enough heat to make his home office feel like a microwave.

Thus ensconced, he reads white papers--those long, bland reports chronicling business trends--and surfs the Web in an effort to predict which way the undulating Internet sector will shift next. Fraser says he's often awake until 2 a.m., reading and studying to earn yet another certification to advance his computer skills.

"You can never have enough information," he says gleefully.

It could be worse. His wife, a lobbyist who is frequently an advocate on issues affecting the high-tech industry, at least understands his preoccupation.

As e-workers like Fraser scramble to follow the latest developments in their fields, many are finding that technical training consumes an increasing portion of their workday, often stealing into the lunch hour and the evening idyll.

The time crunch employees face reflects a broader negotiation between the once-separate domains of work and the classroom, experts say.

"This is part of the new approach to education and work," says Peter Saflund, associate director of the NorthWest Center for Emerging Technologies, a group in the state of Washington that has researched continuing education in the technology industry. "Education doesn't stop simply because you left school and went to work."

The issue of continuing education--or "lifelong learning," as it's known among teachers--has a particular impact on technology workers, who prize the currency of their skills. They wield certificates as badges of honor as well as a way to snag promotions and salary increases.

But making time for research is a challenge for people who already can log 60 hours of work each week. So is distinguishing among the community colleges, four-year universities and for-profit schools that roll out dozens of degree and certification programs to meet the demand for technical knowledge.

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