I see and hear it all the time from the young and old. What do you do for a living? How much do you make? I want to do what you do, where do I start? Admit it, the questions can be a little uncomfortable at times. Giving easy-out answers is a sure-fire way to shake them off. Maybe throw out some super-technical lingo and they will submit or decide to throw a bone and tell them about your career.
This blog is being written to help establish those starting in IT, and how to grow as much and as fast as possible in your career of choice.
First, determine what you want out of your career, not just what you want out of life. A career is a big part of your life, at least 1/3 of it – maybe more. How much of it makes up your life would be up to you.
Not sure how to determine that? Ask yourself these questions:
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
- Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I started my real career at the age of 20, fresh out of college, with 2 years of part-time PC experience under my belt, already. I would have told you that in 5 years, I would have been a network/system admin somewhere, making a moderate salary and being content with my career. I was fairly close with that assessment, but had to work for it. In 10 years, I would have said that I wanted to be entry level to mid level IT management. Only being a year or two off, I made it and even acquired a self-purchased Master’s Degree along the way to help me achieve that goal!
Year 20? Director level or just senior level management. Time will tell, but at the moment I am focused on planting the seeds for success. Looking at this with 10+ years under my belt, the sky is the limit for what the next 10 years will bring.
Second, determine what it is you wish to do for a living. Information Technology is a very broad field. There are industries that have special IT roles (like Healthcare IT’s “Interface Analyst”).
My advice for those just building your career (sub-5 years) is the following:
- Don’t pigeon-hole yourself! Taking positions that focus on one skillset will not scale into other roles easily.
- Being a generalist is not a career-ender, but allows you to be a specialist later on, should you choose to walk that path. What do I mean by generalist? Think of it as a “Jack of all trades but Master of none.” Okay, okay – maybe a master of some.
- Educate yourself. If your company wants to train you or pay for any type of certification/degree/training – DO IT and more importantly, take it SERIOUSLY.
- Stay current. Don’t try to stay at a place that is stuck in 10+ year old technology. In a world of cloud computing, virtualization, and big data – having Windows NT and Novell experience on your resume is not very helpful. Go to a conference, get to know your peers. Do some networking with vendors and companies. Take a stack of business cards and get to know people. See how other people do things to accomplish their job. Learn the concepts of new tech and see if there is a place for it in your organization.
Plant the seeds.
So now that your goals are set, you can begin to work towards them. Flying by the seat of your pants is fine, but getting your hands dirty is the only real way to understand what it is you want out of your career.
Develop a passion for what you do and hone your craft early. Try to be open and be eager to learn new things. Understand your employer’s vision and work towards meeting their goals. Be creative and professional, while embracing change and consequences.
Meet your goals.
As you progress through your career, your goals may change. But, it’s important to have some kind of plan. For instance, if you worked 3 years as a PC Tech and now have an opportunity to get a CCNA and pursue a cert path to CCNP, CCIE, etc., then try to determine if that’s the path you want to take before going for it. I have met many Network Engineers over the years, from entry level to those holding multiple CCIE’s. The further down the rabbit hole they go with their career, the easier it is to get a job in the networking field, but the harder it is to transition to another discipline.
Be smart and determine what it is you want in this life. If you want to keep your head down and work the 9-5 every day, that is fine. If you want to progress and build your career, that is fine. The important thing is you have passion, patience, willing to learn, and able to embrace change.