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7 Ways to Elevate your Career in Tech

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In this guide, I outline 7 key steps to help technology professionals grow their careers. Whether you have been working in technology for 10 years or for 10 days, follow these steps to help you achieve your career goals and pursue your passions.
Working in technology guarantees a challenging and fast-moving career. As new technologies emerge, new opportunities are created, and at the same time older job functions are retired. These constant fluctuations make the career path of an IT professional a winding road full of learning and personal growth.

To achieve long-term stability in your career, you come to realize that it’s time to take a more active role in the direction of your career path. You might decide that you’d rather be a team lead than a team member, or that you want to manage IT operations for a multinational corporation, or perhaps you want to become an expert in a specific technology. Whichever path you choose, it’s vital to understand the importance of carefully planning and managing your career to reach that goal.

In this guide, I outline 7 key steps to help you grow your career in technology. Whether you have been working in technology for over 10 years or for less than 10 days, follow these steps to help you take control of your career and get the job you want.


Understand your Passions, Goals, and Skills


Identifying your passions is a critical step in building a rewarding and successful career. Start by thinking about what energizes you; what makes you feel fulfilled. Next, write them down and try to align them with a specific job function or an organization which can provide you the opportunities to engage your passions.


Goals
 

Next, decide on what your goals are, both for your personal life, and for your career. Start by determining your short-term goals (1-3 years), medium-term goals (3-10 years), and long-term goals (10+ years). Then reflect and ask yourself the following questions:
 
  1. Are you in a job that will move you towards your goals?
  2. If not, are you looking for a job that will allow you to work toward them?
  3. Are you willing to grow and change to achieve your new goals?
The purpose of this exercise is to help you define what you want to achieve in your career. Remember to make your goals realistic, and to define logical steps for how you can meet them. Once you determine what your goals are, start an action plan by prioritizing the steps you’ll need to take to get to your destinations. By setting priorities you can avoid feeling overwhelmed and keep yourself focused on what’s most important.
 

Close the Gap Between the Skills you Have and the Skills you Need


Finally, reflect on your talents and skills. What skills and natural talents do you have now that will help you move forward, and what skills will you need in order to pursue your passions and reach your goals? Identify any gaps between your current skills and the skills you need then create a plan for closing that gap. For example, you might be missing hard technical skills like learning a new programming language or to develop your soft skills like becoming a better communicator.

Your personal development plan will be the key to your success. The more detailed your plan is to close that gap, the more successful you will be in your career. Remember that getting the skills you need is only half the battle; how you present them to future employers is just as (if not more) important. Try to think beyond simply listing skills on your resume, how can you better showcase these new talents and abilities? Try preparing examples to demonstrate during interviews and providing relevant experiences in your career. These actions will help set you apart from the crowd and leave a positive impact on potential employers.


Get Back to the Basics
 

Being able to Google almost anything is a useful ability in our tech-focused world, but that doesn’t mean a well-rounded education is obsolete. Many IT professionals find that a B.S. in Computer Science proves well worth the time and money invested. It’s important to remember that having a degree in your field can help set you apart from your competition. A recent article from the New York Times1 states that “among all segments of workers sorted by educational attainment, college graduates are the only group that has more people employed today than when the recession started.” The unemployment rate for recent college graduates was 3.9% compared with the 7.5% for the workforce as a whole.2

But does that mean that a lack of a degree will keep you from a good technology career? The answer is definitely “no.”
 

Options for Technology Training
 

If a four-year degree isn’t the right fit for you, there are several other options available for technical training. Udacity, EdX, and Coursera, for example, offer free online classes that cover introductory through advanced material in computer science, coding languages, software design, and much more. If you’ve got the basics covered, Lynda.com and the learning resources you can find here at Experts Exchange will allow you to laser-in on focused tutorials covering specific technologies and software.

According to a June 2013 article by FusionStorm’s Tony Balistieri3, IT employees “must be current, flexible, adaptable and willing to learn. The market is no longer looking for ‘Networking,’ ‘Server,’ or ‘Storage’ specialists; it’s looking for people who understand them all, and understand why they’re important.” Starting with a firm foundation by learning the basics of technology will give you a solid platform on which to build real, applicable and diverse technology skills.
 

Personal Brand Management
 

Chances are, you have active Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts; you may even have a personal blog or your own website. Ideally, your online persona will maintain a consistent, positive identity because in today’s connected world, your online persona matters just as much (if not more) than a hard copy of your resume. According to ExecuNet4, 90% of employers report that they conduct online research on potential job candidates; and 50% of recruiters report having eliminated a candidate based on information about them found publicly on the Internet.

Caring for your online identity can make or break your career, which is why it’s so important to act as your own personal brand manager.
 

Scrub your digital footprint


Start by running multiple searches on your name from different search engines and social media sites. Ideally, the results you get should reflect more positive professional associations versus non-professional ones. If you’re seeing a larger number of search results linking to posts from Twitter or Instagram rather than your LinkedIn profile, try adjusting your privacy settings on social accounts and meticulously updating your professional profiles. Remember that LinkedIn is one of the most globally recognized places to demonstrate your professional accomplishments and you can link it to contributions you make on Experts Exchange! Doing so can help you to demonstrate your expertise in a specific technology to potential employers.


Be your own brand manager


As you continually evolve your online persona, it’s critical to maintain a consistent identity on each of the websites you are a part of so that you present a consistent, and professional personal brand. I recommend using your real name -- or some variation of it -- for your online profiles and a recent professional photograph of yourself. If you have a very common name, try looking for ways to differentiate yourself so you don’t risk being mistaken for somebody else or blend into the crowd. You may even want to maintain separate “business” and “personal” social media accounts if you actively use them in your personal life. Finally, the content associated with your name and online accounts impacts your online persona and personal brand, so keep in mind how others will receive the messages you’re sending, and adjust your privacy settings appropriately. Remember that your online persona should help your career, so don’t be afraid to be meticulous and selective when nurturing your personal brand.
 

A,B,C - Always Be Current


Bloom’s Law states that, “your current technology skillset has a two year half life.”5 He explains that the marketability of tech skills degrades quickly because technology changes so quickly. The breakneck speed at which technology is evolving burdens technology professionals with keeping their skills current. It’s no wonder a 2012 CompTIA6 study of more than 1,000 organizations found 93% report a gap in skills of their IT department, and 80% feel their business operations are impacted by this gap. Thankfully, there are so many opportunities and resources available to those looking to update and grow in their technical knowledge base.
 

Understand the Implications of Change


Keeping pace with emerging technology trends will play a crucial role building long-term career success. For example, two years ago, IT employees had a tight reign on the office network; now, they are struggling to accommodate cross-platform BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiatives, accompanied by their collateral security issues. Unfortunately, it’s no longer enough to simply know what’s happening in technology, you must also understand the implications of new innovations. Let's not forget how mobile snuck up on us with all the subtlety of a tsunami!
 

Tech News Updates
 

If you’re currently working in a technology field, you have the advantage of seeing firsthand how these changes can affect your business. To maintain your sharp edge over the competition, I recommend keeping track of new developments by visiting tech news sites, blogs, and discussion forums. Advancements in information accessibility have made it easier for everyone to stay up-to-date on the latest trends. For example, Google Alerts7 let you set keyword(s) (e.g. Oracle, Windows Exchange, etc.), enabling you to receive periodic notifications whenever something new is posted online which matches your keywords.
 

Don’t Neglect Older Technologies
 

Yes, in the words of Bob Dylan - times they are a-changin’. However, many large corporations aren’t necessarily keeping up on all the newest technologies. Smaller, more agile companies are often better equipped to adopt new technologies on the fly, but changes take longer in the corporate world. This leaves a large majority of businesses relying on older technologies to run their core business.

WIRED Magazine addressed this issue in a June 2013 article8, stating, “It is now clear that cloud platforms and isolated smart devices on the market today, even with enterprise-level security, will not deliver their promised value until the vendors address the enterprise customers’ requirement to integrate those offerings with the existing legacy software that runs corporate operations every day.”

Understanding legacy technologies (as un-sexy as it may sound) could give you a career boost if you want to work with larger corporations, many of whom view migrating to cutting-edge technology as a “terrifying prospect.”
 

Communicate, Motivate, Mentor


The ability to communicate clearly, effectively manage and motivate a team, and mentor less-seasoned employees separates the great managers from the good ones. Computer Weekly’s May 2010 feature9 on building an IT career found that “the most successful IT professionals power their careers by getting noticed by the people who matter. But the successful [managers] don’t do that at the expense of others. In fact, the reverse is true. The successful [managers] actually provide the inspirational leadership that helps their whole team to deliver superior performance. That’s because they understand that building effective teams is the secret to delivering on-time and on-budget projects -- the kind that get noticed in the boardroom for the right reasons.
 

Manage & Motivate
 

Even if leadership doesn’t interest you, developing leadership skills like communication, and negotiation or persuasion can support you in all job roles. For example, collaborating on a project will require you to communicate your ideas and opinions clearly, and possibly even provide a compelling argument in favor of your point of view. Remember that these soft skills are the type that are best mastered when applied regularly just like learning a new language or working toward a fitness goal.
 

Demonstrate your Abilities Outside the Office
 

If your current position doesn’t require that you use management skills regularly, there are other ways to practice and demonstrate your abilities. Writing blog posts, crafting how-to articles, creating step-by-step tutorials, and participating in online Q&A forums are excellent ways to show you have more to offer than just technical genius. It also supplements your resume with published materials which will give you a leg up with potential employers.
 

Choose Your Certifications Wisely
 

The key to obtaining certifications is choosing wisely. While certifications can’t measure your true value as an employee (that’s why we have steps 1-6), specific certifications can pave the way to a better job, internal promotion, or a pay raise. According to data from Foote Partners’ 2012 IT Skills Demand and Pay Trends Report10, the right certifications can add 8% to 10% percent to your base salary.

Additionally, according to a CIO study of 700 IT professionals11, 65% said a certification helped them get a new job, 56% said it led to an increase in salary, and 28% said it helped them get a promotion. To best leverage certifications and industry recognition, choose the areas that best match the job you want and any interim positions that you’ve outlined between now and your end goal. Keeping your end goal in mind and staying focused will enable you to select the most effective courses and certifications to support your journey to your dream job.

While industry certifications aren’t for everyone, and they don’t necessarily build the hands-on skills needed to succeed day-to-day, when curated correctly they can prove your knowledge in a specific area, and potentially lead to a promotion in larger corporations.
 

Conclusion
 

It’s an exciting time to be an IT professional. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook12, IT careers will account for 5 of the 30 fastest growing careers through 2016. This means there’s no better time than now to start planning and working toward the job that ignites your passions and supports you in achieving your personal goals. It can be overwhelming to think about the future, but setting goals for yourself, laying out a plan of action, and tackling one hurdle at a time can help you make important career decisions and set yourself up for long-term success and stability.


I’d love to hear your feedback on my article, and any tips or techniques you’ve found to help elevate your career. Feel free to comment below. Thanks for reading!


References:

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/business/college-graduates-fare-well-in-jobs-market-even-through-recession.html
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/business/college-graduates-fare-well-in-jobs-market-even-through-recession.html
  3. http://www.wired.com/insights/2013/06/emerging-technologies-changing-it-job-market/
  4. http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2013/05/17/how-an-online-reputation-can-hurt-your-job-hunt/
  5. http://managermechanics.com/blog/bloom%E2%80%99s-law-on-technology-skill-set-marketability-your-current-technology-skill-set-has-a-two-year-half-life/
  6. http://www.wired.com/wp-content/uploads/blogs/wiredenterprise/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Report_-_CompTIA_IT_Skills_Gap_study_-_Full_Report.sflb_.pdf
  7. https://www.google.com/alerts
  8. http://www.wired.com/insights/2013/06/connecting-the-dots-in-the-enterprise-technology-malaise/
  9. http://www.computerweekly.com/feature/How-to-build-a-successful-career-in-IT
  10. http://www.footepartners.com/fp_pdf/FooteNewsrelease_3Q12ITSkillsTrends_11192012v1.pdf
  11. http://www.cio.com/article/2402202/careers-staffing/survey--it-certifications-lead-to-jobs--higher-pay.html
  12. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
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