How to advance your IT career.

How do I grow in my IT career? that's a great question.

Well the truth is that there's no silver bullet but there are principles you can apply to make sure you end up in a senior position in your field, just keep in mind: It rarely, if ever, happens overnight but with dedication and a plan you can be sure to move up in your career.

It’s not enough to have the right training, skills, or personality but rather a combination of them and a clear plan of where you want to take your career. Sometimes the only way for career advancement is to simply leave your existing company and move to another that offers more opportunities. That being said this is the advice I give people entering the IT field.

  • Choose the right technical path. Choosing the right technology is essential for career growth. Don’t focus on dying technologies, obsolete or proprietary systems that will eventually be just a memory unless you are sure that’s the path you want to follow. Let's say you want to stay with the same company until you retire; then it makes sense to learn and specialize in whatever dinosaur they might be using.

  • Stay on top of technology. It amazes me to see IT professionals complaining that their companies don’t pay for education or don’t offer education reimbursement. Take it upon yourself to self-study or pay for your own education out of pocket, it seems to me that some employees see their lack of education as a punishment for their employers, it's like sticking it to the man. Stop that madness; the only one being hurt with that attitude is you. Set a personal training education budget for yourself; some people in the industry suggest to allocate 10% of your salary toward training, but if that figure is too high look for alternative such as online courses, community colleges and so on. You can check resources such as: www.coursera.org, www.edx.org, www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com, www.khanacademy.org, and many more to find relevant training at an affordable price, or even for free.

  • Get Industry certified. This is one the beauties of IT that also serves as an equalizer. Perhaps you didn’t have the chance to complete higher degrees but for many IT jobs experience plus certifications go a long way, sometimes even farther than a degree without certifications if you want to stay in the technical field. Not to say that a degree does not count, as a matter of fact it does, especially if you want to achieve the CISO level in your industry.

Get certified in something that is relevant to the industry or your career path. There are many “hot” certifications in the market, for instance CCNA, CCNP, CCIE, CISSP, CHE, MSCE, and the list goes on. The key is to align certifications with your career path, if you want to become a member of the Server Administrators team in your company where most systems are Windows Server based follow the Microsoft path, no need focus on other technologies.

  • Talk to your Manager. Your manager is a good source of information when it comes to company’s goals and what positions will be needed in the future. You can gain insight to new product implementations and technologies that will be rolled out in the near future, business expansion, acquisitions and so on.

Ask. Yes, be direct and ask what the process is for you to move up in your career. Some positions require specific qualification that you may not be aware of, your manager of HR may inform you of specific skills needed.

  • Take on more responsibility. Do I mean you have to take more work for the same salary? Yes. I’m not suggesting to do this for the rest of your career but the truth is that if you are starting in IT you want to be involved in as many things as possible in the company without neglecting your primary responsibility or delivering a mediocre performance. You should how much you can stretch and still be effective.

  • Be a team player. To the best of your abilities be someone who gets alone with most people. It’s known that about 10% of people will not like you no matter what you do but it doesn’t mean that they will not vouch for your professionalism, work ethics, and team effort.

  • Excel at the basics. Instead of arriving on time arrive 30 minutes earlier and stay 30 minutes late, it may sound as a crazy idea to some but you have to differentiate from the rest. Use that time to network with people in the company, catch with work, study, and get a head start in the workday.

  • Act professionally. This is where I’ve seen many talented professionals fall short. They believe that it’s all about bits and bytes and nothing about personality. Always keep a professional demeanor in the way you dress, talk, and relate to others.

  • Strengthen your soft skills. Improve on those skills that compliment your technical expertise. For instance become a better communicator, take time and project management courses.

  • Associate with the right people inside and outside the office. Join professional and study groups, attend conferences, do networking. Meetup has done a great job enabling people to connect with other like-minded individuals through groups, you can also join other industry related groups in your industry such as the IEEE, ICS2, etc. IT is a small world and it’s very common for professionals to recommend their friends when a position comes up.

  • Consider finding another job. The truth is that you can do everything right in your company and still never get a promotion. Some positions are just dead-end positions, be it by nature or just the politics in the organization, if that’s the case look for another job. Act professionally when you are ready to go, and thank people in the organization for the opportunity and time there. You certainly don’t want to burn any bridges.

Got the promotion? Congrats, stay focus on your next move and help someone advance their career along the way.

Good luck!

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