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Trying to climb the corporate IT ladder is tough enough, but differentiating yourself from the pack is even tougher. Learn what it takes to build a plan for success and get ahead as an IT pro.
It's been a good year for the technology field with experts reporting that 10 percent of all new jobs in June were within the tech market--a trend expected to continue through 2013. This is good news for those IT professionals thinking about moving up, changing positions or finding a new job. But to make those moves possible, you need to make yourself more valuable to employers.
According to CIOs, career consultants and experts, just showing up and doing a great job isn't enough. You need to show a dedication to professional growth and the ability to evolve with technology. The blueprint for success may vary from company to company, but the items in this slideshow will help you succeed.
Talk With Your Supervisor and HR
Let your boss and HR representative know that you are serious about doing what it takes to succeed. According to David Brookmire, a corporate professional development consultant, if you're in a mid-to-large company, the HR department will have established competencies by levels such as IT pro level, director level, for example.
"Go to HR directly and ask, or your company's portal may have the information," says Brookmire. This is a great way to begin to develop your career development plan.
Find a Mentor
A mentor can be helpful in a number of ways and is, in many cases, essential to climbing the corporate IT ladder. They can offer advice on tricky career situations or offer a recommendation for an internal promotion. They have a wealth of knowledge on both the technical and business sides and are willing to share it with you. The bottom-line is if you don't have one, find out if your company has a mentoring program and get one.
"Mentoring is critical," says Hugh Scott , CIO at Energy Plus, "[and] one of the requirements to learn and grow is through working with someone in a formal or informal capacity to build that mentoring relationship."
Work on an Open Source Project or Volunteer Your Time
"The ability for personal growth and development happens all around us and not just in a formal classroom setting," says Keith Perry, associate vice president and deputy CIO at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. There are a number of outlets where as a programmer/developer you can work on projects that interest you and help you become a better IT professional.
You could try volunteering your skills at a nonprofit that is investing in a technology you are excited about. There are also local UseNet developer groups teeming with people who are excited and passionate about the technology they are using. Be careful; it can be contagious.
Learn More about Your Company's Business
"My biggest suggestion for IT professionals is find an industry in which they have a passion and invest in understanding the business, not just the IT aspects," says Keith Perry, associate vice president and deputy CIO at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Knowing how the business works will allow you to leverage your technical skills to innovate and solve the businesses problems. "While IT supports the business strategy, technology advances also inform the possibilities for where the company can go," says Tana Heminsley, CEO and Founder of Authentic Leadership Global.
Develop Your Network
Most jobs are found through professional networks, so get out there. Whether it's at events, developer meet-ups or social media, you've got to grow your network of trusted professionals. "You have to be proactive. You have to reach out and identify the folks who make the decisions and build a relationship with them. Most of us are so busy that we aren't going to go out and seek those meetings or connect with those people," says David Brookmire.
"Relationships are essential to getting anything done; and while they are skills that can be learned, they are not always ones that you are taught in the IT field," says Tana Heminsley, CEO and Founder of Authentic Leadership Global, a company that offers leadership development programs.
Know What You Want
"When advancing within a company involves managing people, it might become difficult for some highly technical employees to find that promotion. I find it common for IT professionals to lack any interest in managing, leading or coaching other IT professionals, and I believe that is critical for promotions," says Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, director of information systems at the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.
It's hard to get excited about what you're doing if you're not really that interested in it. "Find your passion within the field. Don't follow the money or the fads", says Zarate, "If you develop skills in the subjects you love, you will have no problem with continued success."
Set Realistic Goals
Setting clear and concise professional development goals is paramount to career success.
1. Know what success is for you.
2. Create clear and definitive steps to get there.
3. Anticipate all possibilities and plan for them.
4. Revisit your goals and track your success.
"Setting goals for your IT career is an ongoing process. These steps can include things to expand your skill set, like education, certifications or involvement with emerging technologies. As you proceed through your career, you need to be assertive to give yourself the opportunity to make these things come to pass. No one will advocate for you as strongly or as well as you," says Stephen Van Vreede, a career strategist and resume writer.
Chart a Career Path
Knowing where you want to be in X amount of years will help you decide which courses or certifications you should take or which positions you should potentially accept or not. Typically this is something you should speak with your supervisor about when review time rolls around, but if that's not an option you need to take this into your own hands.
"The evolution of technology will absolutely impact the roles of IT tomorrow. The trick for leadership is to challenge everyone in IT to take part in innovating a better tomorrow. This benefits the company in which they work but will also define and evolve careers as well, "says Keith Perry, associate vice president and deputy CIO at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Assess Your Skills (And Build a Plan to Fill the Gaps)
You've got to know your strengths and weaknesses in order to build a plan to fill any gaps in technological skills, soft skills and/or leadership skills. "I think that in many cases a corporate ladder is dangerous for IT people because it requires supervisory skills that not many people in the industry have," says Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate.
There are number of self-assessment tools available online that will help you determine where you stand.
Take a College Course or Earn a Certification
Going back to school while working a full-time job and raising a family can seem impossible, but it's not and, in the long run, a relevant degree in your area of expertise can pay dividends. "I made the decision to go back for a graduate degree in business administration to complement my bachelor science degree in computer science. In addition, I have taken night classes for medical terminology," says Keith Perry, associate vice president and deputy CIO at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Earning a certification is great way to add value to your position, grow as a developer and learn about something new and interesting. It's also a great way to make more money, according to experts.
Look for Additional Ways to Contribute in Your Workplace
In IT we tend to focus on what's in front of us, and that can quickly turn into a grind. Stepping out of your comfort zone and looking for ways to contribute that go above and beyond your job is a great way to show you are a valuable asset and career-minded. This could include leading a special project; coming up with an idea to solve a problem; or finding ways to do things more efficiently. Come up with a plan and present it to your supervisor.
"Take on high-risk, high-impact business opportunities. Get known for being able to make things happen, develop your confidence and competence to take on bigger projects and strategic acquisitions," says Tana Hemingsley, CEO, Founder Authentic Leadership Global.
"Do what you say, when you say you will do it, and when there's an issue, clear it with others as soon as possible and learn for the next time," says Heminsley. Her philosophy is "no surprises" for all involved, from the CEO and the board, to the employees and customers impacted by change.
"Execute in a way that consistently delivers results. In IT that means finishing projects on time and on budget with high quality solutions," says David Brookmire.
Manage Your Time Better
Time management is something we can all be better at. There are never enough hours to get everything done, but with time management you can get the right things done. It's about prioritizing and following through.
The days of getting feedback once a year when it's time for reviews should be over. According to experts, it works better if you get regular feedback.
Consider this: If someone is doing something the wrong way, is it better to address it right away or a year later when there could be potential ill-feelings and resentment over poor performance?
Regular feedback can really help hone your skills to a sharp edge. It could be from your mentor, your boss or people you work with.