That’s not the situation today. Website developers may need to understand or code in C, C++, Java, Python, Perl, and ASP.NET. Next year, it could other languages or tools. And developers are expected to understand web design concepts, and even create web designs themselves.
Once IT professional considered themselves versatile if they understood Oracle and MS SQl Server. Today, hiring managers look for IT staff familiar with MsSQL, Voldemort, HBase, and PostgreSQL. Next year, who knows?
Part I – Creating the Plan
Reliance on a single language, database, tool, or skill set is obsolete. No one knows what their organization will introduce or need next year, and no one knows when they will be forced to look for a new position. Rather than worry or resign oneself to fate, IT professionals need to develop their own career plans. The key to a career development plan is to position yourself as:
- State of the art
Marketable means you are valuable both to your current organization and other companies or agencies in your community. It means you have the exact skills sets they need or skills sets that are obviously close to their specific needs and can be quickly developed.
Flexible implies that you have successfully performed with a variety of tools, languages, approaches, and devices. Flexible also means you are comfortable with learning.
State of the Art classifies you as one who is familiar with current technology.
Your own customized career development plan will help you reach those goals. Don’t wait for your manager or HR department to provide you with a path – it’s your responsibility. How do you start?
- Perform your own skills inventory by listing the skills currently used in your organization. Forget titles or departmental organization: What languages, tools, life cycles, databases, hardware, software, and approaches are in use? Which are in demand? Which are becoming obsolete?.
Maybe you need to know more about Access Control strategies. Or perhaps your company has started to focus on Business Continuity, for themselves or for clients.
- Review open positions on the internet and in the local job sites. Which skills are in demand? Which skill sets do the more successful organizations seem to need?
- Contact your peers in other organizations. What skills and tools are the most appreciated in their cultures?
- Observe your colleagues. Do they show interest in skill sets beyond their own current inventory?
- With that master list, perform an objective analysis of your own skill set compared to those skills that are in demand. Is your skill set behind, current, or in advance of the trends?
- Decide which of those skills you should learn, either today or in the next year or two? It is important to identify those new skills that make you more valuable to your current organization, regardless of where you are at the moment in that organization. Reorganizations, transfers, and new directives from senior management can open opportunities at any time.
- Add those skills to your career path goals, and use tools (like obtaining certifications, exploring Skillset’s hundreds of skill tests, and reading regular industry publications).
Even if you are not a manager and have no desire to become a manager, every professional needs a basic level of management training. This knowledge helps you understand and cooperate with decisions or directives that may seem illogical but make sense when viewed in a wider context.
Further, understanding basic management concepts allows you work better with your own manager. This will help you build a better relationship. Improved relationships benefit both parties and will often make your life easier.
There are many types of management. The most common in the IT profession are:
- Project management
- Basic management
- Supervisory management
Project Management is usually the first choice, since IT groups often work in teams. Basic management includes team building, resource management, hiring, termination, HR policies, morale building, problem employee management, rewards and recognition, leadership and planning. Supervisory management is a more limited subset of skills that focus on a day to day direction of a team or group.
Consider your likes, dislikes, and future goals. List the types of management training or education that would give you that extra understanding.
IT professionals do not operate in a vacuum. They are in a business, government agency, or organization. The IT world of an insurance company is vastly different from an IT team in a state department of Child Welfare, and both are worlds apart from the IT group in a major hospital. Yet all of them are in a ‘business’. Professionals who understand their “business” are more successful, valuable, and marketable than those who insulate themselves from those “people upstairs”.
List the business knowledge areas that will help make you more valuable. It could be simply learning a list of common terms, or a certification that forces you to learn the key concepts in your company. For example, The Insurance Institute of America offers both basic and advanced courses in property and casualty insurance. An IT professional will gain valuable insight into the workings of his company by taking one or more introductory courses.
Perhaps the most difficult part of developing a career development plan is an objective analysis of your personal behavior. We all see ourselves as – well, maybe not perfect – but close to that. We gloss over behaviors that could harm our careers, and may blame others for “not understanding us”. Yet all of us can make improvements that will us perform better.
How do you get that objectivity? Most of us can’t do it ourselves. We need to ask at least one other person to give us that feedback. Add that feedback to your career development plan.
Finally, Do You Have The Right Job?
Every career development plan needs to continually address a central question: Are you in the right position with the right organization? Do you need to seek a new position or even change companies?
These questions are never easy, but critical to any career plan. The best education, training, and personal improvement plan doesn’t help if you are stuck in a position that offers little growth, or traps you in an organization that is not conducive to your growth.
This is the first article in a two-part series about navigating the new world of IT career development. This part was about creating a plan for your career. Part II will provide ways to implement your plan and stay focused on actually achieving your career path.