Finding Your Path as an IT Pro
Until recently, career paths for IT Professionals seemed well defined, straightforward, and advancement was more or less linear. After choosing an area of interest, technical languages and roles became apparent. Staying on the same path throughout your career was the norm. However, times have changed and to be successful we must adapt. The pace of change is rapid and employers need professionals who can learn new skills quickly - there is no longer a straight-line career path. After mastering one skill we must move on to the latest release as quickly as possible, constantly looking ahead to what skills are needed next.
My Personal Path
I earned my BA in Liberal Arts at a world-renowned engineering school and my major was in Theater. Not knowing exactly what career I wanted to pursue, I decided to earn an MBA with a focus on Marketing. Fast-forwarding a few years, I found myself working in a business role with one of the nations’ largest IT recruiting and staffing firms – but I still was not on a defined career path. Surrounded by IT recruiters, I discovered some common themes in the candidates that were chosen for placement - they were searching for people who were creative, could adapt quickly, and were eager to take on whatever challenges the client needed assistance with. These abilities are crucial for success in addition to typical traits such as communication skills, integrity, and knowledge.
I knew my talents were underutilized and soon an opportunity presented itself. A contract position that seemed to be a close match to my skills opened, and I went for it. Unfortunately, I only lasted one month. It was a terrible fit, and looking back I should have voiced my concerns right away. Armed with new lessons learned, a few months later I was placed on a highly technical team I was certainly underprepared for. My recruiter reassured me, she saw something in my ability to learn, listen and be creative. She was right…I flourished and within the span of a year was on my way to leading the team.
Failing is Necessary
Even though I failed the first time I persisted and branched out, making that mistake was crucial to my career growth. If you succeed at everything you attempt, try something that makes you uncomfortable and forces you to grow as a person. Making mistakes forced me to evaluate my path and readjust as needed. I learned not everyone has the same way to get from point A to B. For my path, I thought about what I could offer my company, what processes I could improve or impact. I strived to offer a solution when identifying a problem, and started many of my own projects – which gave me more leadership skills, as well as bolstered my project management.
Being interested in a project but not having the skills required for the team can be another opportunity for growth. Take a chance and get involved any way you can, even if it’s just to observe. Many times, just asking can give you a lead for a future opportunity. It’s even better if the project is fun or has high visibility to elevate your professional profile. To keep your path manageable, try to balance challenges with easy wins so your career doesn’t totally derail. Don’t try to prove too much at once.
You Are Enough
The IT Pro can sometimes be categorized as the “Jack or Jane of all trades”. Don’t be afraid to narrow your focus if you choose! To find the right path, it’s ideal to try on as many hats as possible, what you excel at will reveal itself. Being a consultant allows you to work short contracts, building on your skills and strengthening the foundation to your career. IT Pros can see the big picture, we’ve experienced numerous situations and aren’t afraid to say, “I’m not sure, let me research and I’ll get back to you.” These skills come in handy when you need to communicate with anyone from executives to the average end user, and for advancing in your career. Remember that your unique characteristics are strengths so use them to relate to your colleagues and connect with your end users.
Despite being an IT Pro with impressive technical abilities, admitting you don’t know everything goes a long way with establishing trust with business partners. Speak up and ask the questions. A big part of asking questions and learning from others is to actively listen, learn, and be humble. We all start somewhere as the newbie in the room, and we learn continuously on our path. Fostering other’s professional growth is an important part of the tech community.
If you’re unsure what path to start with, or really can’t afford to make mistakes in your position, search online in tech communities or to find local user groups to make connections. See what other IT Pros are doing. The Microsoft Tech Community is an incredible source of contacts and content. Check out Meetup.com to find user group events. Attend conferences and talk to other people in your sessions, and to the speaker! Most people love to talk about themselves and share their secrets, myself included! Ask questions and absorb details. To find a mentor, don’t just ask anyone, but instead get to know someone by asking questions about their work. Develop a professional relationship to see if you have a rapport, and let the conversation naturally lead to asking someone to mentor you.
Once you are on a path, don’t be afraid to change things up if you aren’t hitting goals or aren’t being challenged. As careers progress, different priorities emerge. Give back to the community by passing on your knowledge to new IT Pros, paying it forward to respect everyone who helped you along your path. Perhaps consulting no longer is ideal and you want to find a steady income as a permanent employee. Keep checking in with yourself, evaluating your impact, and learning new skills. That’s the beauty of the IT Pro, there is always a new rollout on the horizon!