How To Advance Your IT Career
In our modern-day landscape, it’s no surprise that there’s an increasing demand for information technology services, which means more career opportunities for IT professionals. However, the job market is fierce, and simply “being there” isn’t enough to set most IT professionals apart from the rest of the competition.
Just like the companies they work for, the most intuitive technology consultants have a vision of what they want their career to be, accompanied by the goals, strategies, and the tactics that’ll take them there.
Over the course of this piece we’ll delve into the main strengths of the best IT professionals, and display where your skills can be honed to allow for future career growth.
“The most important thing is the application of educational skills, and not just via work experience, but also through things like school internships and personal projects.”
There’s no question, your education will serve as a strong foundation when looking to advance your IT career. There are many degrees and certifications which may enhance your career path. If you’re currently a project manager, business analyst, or quality assurance specialist, your career can benefit from continuing education in:
- Computer science / computer engineering
- Business management / finance / marketing
Although it may be tempting to enhance a resume with as many degrees and certifications as possible, most recruiters and IT hiring managers will agree that is not an effective strategy.
Instead, IT professionals should focus on the training behind the education and ask the question “will this training translate into real world experience?” At the end of the day, employers want to know how knowledge and skills gained through education will be translated into on-the-job-success.
“Specialists should not only be experts in their area of specialization, but should have at least a general understanding of the other roles and related technologies involved in the project.”
When it all boils down, there simply is no substitute for job experience. Your career advancement possibilities improve dramatically with at least 2 years of experience in a given area, and the most sought-after candidates have 6-10 years of focused experience.
Given the nature of rapidly evolving trends in information technology, experience by the number of years doesn’t necessarily translate into career advancement. IT professionals must be able to demonstrate that they’re staying up on emerging technologies to increase their overall value.
For instance, ten years of experience with legacy technologies is only going to be desirable to a narrow segment of potential employers, whereas experience within emerging technologies or critical skills are a must.
The IT skills in highest demand are currently:
- Machine learning
- Business analysis
- Project management
- Quality assurance
- Web development
- Cyber security
- Data science & analytics
Using these critical skills in a results-driven, team-oriented environment and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone to acquire new skills and experience will ensure you’re doing everything in your power to achieve career advancement within the IT industry.
Your Soft Skills
No matter how skilled you are technically, if you don’t possess quality soft skills, you may have a difficult time finding your path toward career advancement.
The most important soft skills to master for any IT professional are:
- Communication: Written and verbal ability to effectively communicate ideas.
- Business-Tech Liaison: A subset of communication, this is the ability to speak in the language of both business and technology.
- Presentation Skills: Another subset of communication, the ability to present well to a group can open up the doors of advancement.
- Team Skills: Working well with others, both leading and following well, and the ability to add value to the team.
- Work Ethic: Possessing a strong motivation to get the job done.
- Focus and Vision: The ability to focus on the details without losing sight of the big picture.
- Positive Attitude: Optimistic, energetic, good willed individuals make better team members.
- Time Management: Taking a “Getting Things Done” approach to IT work.
- Self Confidence: Believing in your own ability and not being afraid to ask the tough questions.
- Response to Criticism: The best learners respond well to and actively seek out criticism for self-improvement.
- Flexibility and Adaptability: The ability to be a generalist when required.
- Handling stress: The ability to perform well under the pressure of tight deadlines.
- Etiquette and Punctuality: Things like returning calls, being on time, table manners and saying “thanks” really do matter.
Goals, both personal and professional, should be an important part of any IT career advancement plan.
Goals should be SMART, that is:
When breaking down your SMART goals, there are two different sub-categories. Personal goals and professional goals.
Personal goals may include:
Ultimately, it is these goals which drive your professional goals.
To develop your professional goals, you must:
- Know where you are professionally
- Realize where you want to be
- Understand what steps you are going to take to get there
Taking the time to define and pursue professional goals goes hand in hand with career advancement. Without them, you may have no clear path for advancement, and your employer may very well be content keeping you in a relatively static role.
For IT professionals who are intently focused on software code, tools, the technology stack and project deadlines, networking may seem like an afterthought at best. However, networking can become an integral part of a successful career advancement plan, the operative word here being “plan”.
If networking is to become a useful part of a career advancement plan, it needs to involve more than simply going places and talking to people. You need a plan for successful networking, which includes doing your homework ahead of time and building a strategy to foster those new relationships.
Luckily for IT professionals, the IT industry can provide ample opportunities for career advancement, as long as you’re willing and able to put in the work. Remember the below points for when you’re looking to advance your IT career:
- Education can serve as a solid foundation and, when used as a springboard to acquire new experience, can be a viable long-term advancement strategy.
- There is no substitute for experience, especially critical skill experience in a team environment.
- Soft skills, particularly communication skills, are a must even for the most highly skilled individuals.
- Personal and professional goals can be a key driver and send a signal to employers that their investment in your career advancement will pay dividends back to them.
- Having a sound professional network can make a huge difference, whether you need a reference for your resume, a mentor for professional development, or just someone to bounce ideas off of.
In the end, IT professionals should not just sit back and wait to see if career advancement happens; they should craft and execute a plan to make it a reality.