Building a successful career in Information Systems, Software development or any IT related profession can be a daunting undertaking. With so many intelligent and driven young professionals entering the work force it’s critical to maintain a sharp skill set and develop a professional pedigree of qualities that remain in high demand by employers. If you’re like me 15 years ago you’re interested in taking your IT career to the next level and you may be asking yourself “where do I begin?”. While each individual is unique, there are some well proven tactics that can help your career shine above the rest. In this piece we will explore some of the tactics that have worked for me and hopefully can help you excel in your IT or Engineering career to the next level.
Tip #1: Build relationships:
Creating lasting relationships with the people you work with on a daily basis can be VERY challenging for IT professionals. People don’t generally become interested in computers as a way to enhance their social life. Most engineers that I know tend to air on the side of hermitology [the study of permanent personal isolation and the ability to cut off all direct communication with other humans]. While being introverted is a quality that has its benefits, in an effort to expand our horizons and gain traction in our careers it is important to learn to trust others. This involves building lasting relationships with people who can help us elevate our career. Once you have escaped from your proverbial shell, you will learn that the relationships you develop can help keep you employed and can even jumpstart your career. This means talking to people, listening and above all trusting others.
Tip # 2: Keep skill sets & expertise sharp (constantly re-invent your skill-set):
Continuous learning is the path to the force and the only way to become a Jedi – for an IT professional. While there may still be a multitude of Pascal programmer employment opportunities available on LinkedIn [or maybe not], maintaining pace with the hottest development trends and technologies is an absolute MUST. All joking aside, it’s important to keep up with the latest trends in Virtualization, Programming, Web Development solutions as well as software engineering processes and even hot tech toys. This is all in an effort to speak competently while in that future Architect interview.
Tip #3: Create an open source portfolio (graphics, code etc.):
Back in the stone-age days of the interwebs, we had SourceForge – for those who remember, it was all the rage and totally awesome – Now not so much. This now highly dated solution kick started the open source movement amongst technology professionals and encouraged people to share their solutions. Now days open source contributions serve as a resume in and of themselves. In 2016 we have GitHUB. In the modern day it is becoming more and more important to contribute to open source projects and publish your coding ninjitsu or elegant engineering solutions online. This serves as a reference point for future employers and can help elevate your career to the next level.
Tip #4: Learn completely and then teach:
By learning subject matter thoroughly and then teaching you can help show your co-workers that you have the technical breadth needed to perform, can articulate the concepts and nuances of a system in a clear and concise manner and have the ability to act as a point of truth within the organization. All in all teaching (even within an startup or enterprise) shows leadership and can help skyrocket your career.
Tip #5: Write & Publish your writings (build an online following):
Mastering the written word and publishing items under your own name not only gives you a sense of pride but also helps get your name out there. The more recognizable (or even googleable) your name is to others the more doors that can open for you. In addition writing and publishing helps clarify the thoughts in your mind into communicative words and strategies. Writing engaging pieces isn’t going to be an easy thing to do in the beginning, BUT with a bit of practice getting published is possible. With this tip the more you write the more your personal brand can be recognized as a thought leader in your respective space.
Tip #6: Learn to be confident in your own abilities:
This one is probably the hardest to do. It involves putting self-doubt and your own inhibitions aside and inserting a little assertiveness. You will need to be careful with this one so that you don’t come across as arrogant or egotistical but rather self assured in your own abilities and knowledge. Before you try and walk around with a narcissistic ego it’s important your 100% solid on your understanding of the technical details from which you are basing your platform. Nothing could be worse than a no it all who in reality knows nothing. The guiding point to this is to lead by thorough research and understanding, both of which will lead to confidence.
Tip #7: Treat your professional career as a branding exercise:
Jumping into enterprises is all about the brand of ‘you’ and what you create around your own name. This means performing the following tasks 100% accurately and with the mindset that an employer or potential employer will see your efforts:
- Create a LinkedIn profile that highlights your skills and professional pedigree
- Create a blog and write about your work and your technical passions
- Develop and constantly revise your resume. Get input from others on the content and formatting (THIS MATTERS). Make your resume stand out above everyone else’s
- Create an engaging cover letter for your resume with a clear set of professional objectives
- Develop code and post it on GITHUB or a Graphic portfolio and publish it. Be the best at what you do, don’t settle for good enough (noted above)
- Post your resume on EVERY job board possible so people can find you
If you can pull off doing these things effectively you can get noticed by hiring managers and recruiters. This can lead to better opportunities and advancements.
Tip #8: Don’t be arrogant or cutthroat but don’t let others step on you:
I am sorry to inform you, the professional world is NOT high school or community college. The general consensus in the business world is that people are working on their own careers to better their own personal financial positions. This means you WILL come across people who are cut throat and ruthless. You will encounter others who are passive aggressive, and even more who are less than easy to get along with. It doesn’t mean you need to become this, but rather be aware that it exists. The modern technology career field is a competition and sometimes you need to make tough decisions that are in your best interests in advancing your position. It also means you may need to cut ties with those who are preventing you from reaching your potential. Some of the highest-ranking corporate leaders are more than happy to take credit for their underling’s contributions; they continuously bully those underneath them, and stifle leadership potential of their employees. This is simply due to the fact that they are keenly aware of the “king of the hill” game they are playing and know that for every 20 worker bees there is only 1 leader. Advancing in an atmosphere like this is tough for those putting in the countless hours and showing dedication. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but rather know when to cut your losses and move on. At the same time be kind to those around you and have empathy for their unique positions and personal history.
Tip #9: Job Titles & Responsibilities matter:
Some people would argue with me on this. The job title you are in DOES make a difference in your career. Other employers will look at your resume and make a quick determination as to what grouping to put you in based solely on the previous titles you have held at other companies. If a previous employer hired you, or promoted you from a junior developer to a mid level, you can bet that your future employers will see this and take note. The logical reasoning is this:
“If company X thought he was senior, then he must be…”
The same basic idea applies to seniors, architects, managers etc. In some ways this results in a chicken and egg conundrum (how can you get senior if you haven’t been senior?). Push to gain advancements in your title and take on leadership roles where possible and then advertise it on your resume. Getting ahead is hard and you will often need to communicate with your boss that you want more in order to get more.
Tip #10: Be better than were and continuously strive to be better than you are:
This one is my own personal philosophy in life. It simply means pushing yourself to do more, be more than what you currently are and to never be satisfied with the status quo. The only limitations we have in life are the ones we place on ourselves. Some naysayers to this would say “I can’t do X because I don’t have Y degree or certificate”. In response to this I would say your allowing someone else to limit you based on an imaginary piece of paper? It is all a matter of perspective and willingness to try. So go out and do more, learn more and take a hard look in the mirror frequently and ask what else can I do?
These tips are personal to me they represent things I have found to help me in my career. It is my hope that they can also help others and encourage others to reach for the stars. I hope you enjoyed gaining some insight into the way I think and how I operate on a personal level and what I try to be. Let me know your thoughts… I would love to hear from you.