Categorized | Advice

Information Technology – Career Development and Opportunities

Posted on 19 November 2009

As you start to evaluate prospective information-technology career opportunities, don’t think about just the job at hand, the day-to-day ins and outs and the immediate prospect of a promotion or higher salary. Think instead in terms of both your current priorities and long-term goals. While that advice could apply to any job in any field, it’s especially critical in IT, where technology, projects and job descriptions change so rapidly.

Flexibility is key so that you don’t inadvertently miss out on emerging new career opportunities that may not exist today. It would be foolhardy to have a rigid 10-year plan that’s fixated on attaining a certain IT position, because even if that position is strategic in 2001, it may be obsolete by 2011. Try to think in broad terms, such as the type of contribution you’d like to be making five years from now. And don’t expect to reach your career apex in just a few years, no matter how bleeding-edge your skills may be.

Once you have a flexible long-term plan in place and you’re weighing your immediate opportunities, remember that there are no hard-and-fast rules for IT career advancement. Neither is there a formula to guarantee that an opportunity in front of you will be a good one. So apply some creative thought to different kinds of career moves that might propel you toward your next goal or your ultimate goal.

With a crystal ball in one hand and a serious self-assessment in the other, analyze any new opportunity in the context of the current IT job market as well as where the market might be going a couple of years from now and balance that against your personal goals.

Ten Tips I Wish Someone Had Given Me

With nearly 30 years of IT experience behind him, Carl Wilson, executive vice president and chief information officer of Marriott International, Bethesda, Md., shares the advice he wishes someone had given him at the outset of his career. His 10 recommendations for IT career planning serve as criteria you can use for evaluating potential job opportunities. As you weigh various offers, use these points to judge an opportunity in the context of your long-term career.

1. Choose your company and boss carefully.

Does the company you’re considering conduct its business in a manner that you’re comfortable with? Is its main line of business one that you’ll feel comfortable supporting? “It’s very important that you can personally identify with what that company is trying to achieve, its products and services,” Wilson advises. “You will not achieve full success working in an environment that runs counter to your values.” For example, Wilson notes that he “would have a very hard time working for an arms dealer, but it feels great to be working for a hospitality company that’s trying to make travelers’ experiences wonderful.” Likewise, you probably won’t feel you’re meeting your full potential working for a boss whose values don’t mesh with your own.

2. Work only for an employer that reinvests in you.

Will the employer’s policies, practices and IT budget support your further skills development and career advancement? “Look for a company that has a career path you can progress through based on your own acquired and demonstrated skills, especially in the early stages, when you’re as much a student as a worker,” Wilson says. “If a company isn’t reinvesting in you, eventually that will impact your career negatively.” In each round of interviews you go through with an employer, ask for concrete examples of IT staff members who have progressed through different jobs in the organization, training that others in your position have attended and skill-development opportunities that would be available to you.

3. Build your network early and grow it over time.

Does the employer support participation in professional associations and industry groups? Is the environment one in which you can foster a variety of different relationships? Because you never know where a colleague — within your company or without — is going to end up, it always pays to build relationships with other professionals in your field, Wilson says. “Most major jobs in really good companies are filled by word-of-mouth and recommendations by employees,” he explains. Start developing a network of people you respect preferably while you’re still in college. Get involved in professional associations as soon as you enter the work force or launch a new career path. Not only will a solid network help you uncover viable new career opportunities, it will also expose you to new ideas, technologies and approaches to your work.

4. Try to not repeat a work experience more than two or three times.

Does the employer seem to pigeonhole IT professionals or does it regularly provide opportunities to pursue new challenges? “Make sure your role changes over time so you keep growing,” Wilson says. “You don’t want to accumulate 20 years of experience that’s really just four years’ experience repeated five times.” If, for example, you’re an applications developer, don’t get stuck building one particular type of application, such as sales-force automation systems.

5. Don’t be afraid to take a lateral or lower-graded job for more experience.

Does the company offer flexible career paths? Would it support unconventional moves that could benefit your long-term career development? Sometimes, the best career moves for your future are those that don’t necessarily advance you from your current position, but will expose you to new ways of thinking about IT. Wilson says his career has profited several times over from a willingness to step down the ladder rather than up it. In the mid-1970s, as a top mainframe programmer at Bendix Corp, he took a 6% pay cut to move into a business-process re-engineering job, because he “wanted the opportunity to have a direct influence on the design of systems and not be just a top coder.” The experience broadened his perspective on how IT could be applied to the business. Nine months later, Bendix recognized his efforts by moving him into a key project-management position. While you want to assess the pros and cons of an unconventional move carefully, don’t rule out what may be a good opportunity simply because it doesn’t fit a traditional model.

6. Don’t be afraid to take on tough assignments that no one else wants.

Does the company recognize and reward employees for taking risks and accepting challenges that have a high potential for failure? Does management provide a soft landing if you fail? “That should be part of the leadership role in IT because it’s not always an individual’s fault when a project isn’t successful,” Wilson says. “There may be extenuating circumstances or it just turned out not to be a good idea.” Management should encourage staff to take on risky assignments — and IT professionals should seek challenging opportunities — because “you learn at an accelerated rate when you take those on,” he says.

7. Realize you won’t be promoted by your boss, but by your peers and subordinates.

Does the job give you the opportunity to interact with colleagues up, down and across the organization? Does the environment support peer feedback and 360-degree reviews (in which leaders and subordinates review each other)? “The way bosses know who to promote and move forward is based on what they hear from an employee’s peers and subordinates,” Wilson says. “A lot of people try to manage their careers by ingratiating themselves with upper management, but it’s more important to focus your time on developing strong relationships with your peers and being an advocate and supporter of your subordinates. If you do those two things well, management will notice and upward movement will come automatically.”

8. Acquire project-management skills.

Does the IT organization follow sound project-management methodologies? Does it advocate project-management training? “This is the most sought-after skill set within most companies today,” Wilson says. “People who can organize work, break it into chunks, influence and get work done by others and define deliverables that produce value are very, very valuable to any company.” Even if you don’t plan to become a project manager, Wilson still recommends project-management training because “it helps you to be a better team player and understand the demands of the project; you’ll contribute more to the team’s success.”

9. Learn from your mistakes. If you don’t make any, you haven’t done anything.

Does the company’s management style make room for you to learn from your mistakes? Does it foster a generous, risk-tolerant environment, seeking to turn errors into opportunities for growth instead of admonishments and recrimination? “Celebrate your failures as much as your successes,” Wilson says, because that’s how you learn and grow. His favorite interview question is: “Tell me something that you really screwed up badly,” he says, because people reveal a lot about themselves in how they respond. “If they say they’ve never made any mistakes or had any problems, then they probably haven’t done a lot,” he says. “If they say it was everyone else’s fault, they probably didn’t learn anything. But if they say, ‘Yes, I had this project and I messed it up and in retrospect, I should have done this,’ then I know I’ve found a star.”

10. Live a balanced life, because your work is what you do, not what you are.

Does the company expect you to always put your job first, or does it promote policies and practices that will help you strike a balance between your professional and personal lives? “If we become too absorbed in our work and identify ourselves so closely with our work that it’s all we think about, we cease to be effective and that’s where burnout comes from,” Wilson explains. “You have to have a life outside of work.”

Build time into your day that belongs to you and “vigorously protect and defend it,” Wilson says. For example, he gets to the office around 7 a.m., but he avoids meetings before 8 or 9 a.m., so he can use mornings for thinking and strategizing. Likewise, he clears his calendar after 4:30 p.m., because that’s when he wraps up the day’s to-do lists. By 6 p.m., he’s headed home for family time. “It requires some prior planning, and there are times that the job demands that you step out of the lines,” Wilson says, “but you have to maintain time for you.”

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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Leon says:

    In a perfect world this sounds great conceptually. But in reality these types of opportunities as well as mentoring from a company is very remote. I have been in this arena for 20 years.

    However, some of the other points made do resonant with me. There are some good tips here. Especially when it comes to choosing a company and a manager. On another note, lots of job seekers in IT are trying to find the next available position.

  2. MANISHA SINGH says:

    i am an average student girl.i hd asecured second class in tenth and twelth standard and in BSC IT i got first claa.can i get ajob in good company

  3. A. Douglas says:

    I’ve been in IT for over 14 years. Even though my work experience is in software development, my strengths are actually my organizational, management, and business skills. These 3 skills, along with a good work ethic, have helped me survive the ups and downs of being in this industry. Need to move on soon though. I’m hoping those skills will help me to the next step, whatever that is.

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