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Defining Your IT Journey

The IT journey is really nothing more than your career plan or goals that you have for your career. It’s the story of you. I call it the IT Journey because it’s a journey through the many phases of your life and not a sprint. It doesn’t have to be a defined plan of what you do, but it certainly helps if you have some sort of plan. Planning and defining your career goals is important because at some point in your working career you will want a raise or promotion. You WILL want more. You will want to take on more than just going to work and pushing buttons. We are humans and it is very natural for us to do that. Defining your goals, your desires for your career and where you are in a year, three years, or even five years helps you achieve more, but it also helps you know what your next steps are.

It feels like yesterday that I was just starting out in IT and my only goal was to find a job “fixing computers.” Back then I didn’t realize that I should’ve had some type of career goal or plan beyond finding a job and keeping it. It didn’t take me long to figure out that having goals would help me achieve more fulfillment.  As I struggled to attain more than merely keeping my IT job, I began to understand the importance of defining what I wanted from my jobs and career. I had this itch for something more substantial. I was working like crazy, but my results were not happening. The promotions were not happening like I wanted them to. Some would say part of that was bias and some discrimination. I wouldn’t argue that wasn’t true because I am sure that had a lot to do with it. Either way, it was part of my journey and changes needed to be made if I wanted to achieve that “more.” It was like a turning point for me when I realized that defining what my journey was going to be like instead of the annual performance review nightmare. I took this time each year to reflect on what my journey was going to be like. Taking my journey by the horns allowed me to advance further in my career. 

You own your life. Your career. You are the author of your story. Build it. Don’t let someone own that position in your life.

At the very least, set some goals for yourself. While professional coaches will tell you to set long-term goals, it can be difficult to do for some given the type of industry we are in. Technology moves so fast that what you are doing now may not be relevant in a few years. Make some short-term goals and long-term goals. Determine what success means to you. Is it working remote? Leading a team? Or as simple as specializing in a type of technology? Success means different things to different people. Envision yourself in 1 year or 5 years, and ask yourself, "What I do I see myself doing?"

Write those goals down and start a plan on how to achieve them. Create milestones that are more attainable and realistic. Be the executive producer of your story. When defining your goals, take it back to these simple questions:

1. What – What are my goals?
2. Who – Who does it take to help me get there? Do I need a supporting cast member?
3. How – How will I do it?
4. Where – Do I need to move or change jobs?
5. When - When does it happen?

When you reach milestones or achievements, reward yourself. Remember this is a journey, not a sprint, and you need to celebrate those wins in your life. There are going to be ups and downs. Success is a result of many failures. Learn from those mistakes to be a better you. Stay focused but also open-minded that the journey may take you down a different path from the original plan. The old saying, “you don’t do it until you try it,” holds very true, even when speaking about careers. You may realize that specializing in something isn’t what you like and decide to change course. That is perfectly okay. In fact, you should “recheck” your goals periodically to see if it’s still the correct path and what you want. You may discover, as people often do, that you as person changes. Your likes and dislikes can change over time, and this can affect how your career continues. Taking charge of your career, being that “star” role with how your journey is played out, will help make it successful for you. 



You've identified the core of business life and personal life:  Plan your work, then work your plan. 

A good plan will keep you pointed toward your goal, and when your work includes the steps to achieve the plan, you end up with a happy and productive day that brings you closer to your goal.

When it all comes together correctly, you've set yourself in the right direction and automatically achieve your desires.  That assumes you didn't get side-tracked, shunted off in a different direction.

I've seen some people who have created incredibly specific goals; some even include specific timelines.  These "Type A" folks get the job done while taking care of ichiban.

I've also seen cases where one or more of your five steps are not defined, and that can result in not reaching your goal.  For example:

1. What – Retire comfortably by age X

2. Who – Network with the right people who can get me higher paying jobs that are fulfilling and interesting, that surround me with great people & resources, so I'm both happy AND putting away enough money to reach my goals.

3. How – Work for a wage that enables me to meet my daily expenses, have a little left for fun toys or travel, and save money rapidly enough to have an early retirement without having to worry about social security, medical insurance, stock markets, political climate changes, etc.

4. Where – "NO IDEA"   or "I won't move--I have deep roots where I live, or I have emotional ties to my employer / co-workers / parking spot / office view / etc.

5. When - Start the plan immediately.

You can see things break immediately when Step 4 has no definite plan.   One must be comfortable breaking free from a business or city or state or country if one is going to have a full range of options that can quickly and efficiently allow the goal (the WHAT) to be achieved in the necessary time.

Yes, build a plan and work it.   Or, as "Bloody Mary" would say:

"You've got to have a dream.  If you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?"

Happy Talk - YouTube

Level 14

For those of us on the far end of the career spectrum... (retire within 3-5) years it is a reflective look at the 5 questions asked.

1. What - Did I do what I set out to do, achieve what I wanted to achieve? If so great! If not why? What held me bac\k?

2. Who - Did I thank those on the way up who helped or mentored me? Did I  take care of those behind me deserving of a hand up?

3. How - Was I a good person, did I always do the right thing? It's called integrity folks!

4. Where - Was I open to change when offered? Do I have regrets? Why?

5. When - Constantly, reevaluate where you are... you may be closer to the end than you think.

Level 13

I agree - been in the industry for over 35 years now. Getting on for 15 with the present company (barring takeovers etc). Still trying to find the exit door to retirement.


Nice article

Level 14

My IT journey (30 years so far) is a bit like being on a rollercoaster that is still being built.  Sometimes I'm also the person building it so have some control.  Sometimes it is being built by morons (think IT management) and that is where it gets worrying.  I don't like rollercoasters.

Level 13

Most people don't write their own story, they read it.  Someone else wrote it.

As someone way down the road in terms of career (30+ years) your comments really resonate.  There are times when the plan doesn't work out quite like you thought it would, but I ended up in a much better place once I decided what I wanted and set out to achieve it.  Don't let anyone else write your story, you can bet they aren't going to take you to a place you want to go.

Level 16

I left a company after 28 years because they started 'writing my story' for me. Never have regretted it

My biggest career advice is find a job you like and then do your absolute best at it. You will find yourself getting promoted over and over again. If that isn't happening then its time to move on to another place.

Level 20

It sure has been a long journey for me... I wouldn't have guessed I'd be doing what I'm doing back when I was in college for sure!

  1. What – What are my goals? [By far the hardest piece for me to grasp]
    1. To maintain an above average standard of living for my wife, our pets, and I, meaning there is a decent amount of discretionary income.
    2. Be creative in my work
    3. Live in Minnesota near the Twin Cities
    4. Would like to focus on being a monitoring specialist
  2. Who – Who does it take to help me get there? Do I need a supporting cast member?
    1. My spouse – to help give m time to study for certifications and support when I am struggling
    2. I would like to think the folks at SolarWinds Academy and SCP programs
    3. Professional peers to help with guidance and insights
  3. How – How will I do it?
    1. Stop trying to be a technologist or polymath and focus on one thing
    2. Get better rest and exercise so I can function more effectively. This leads to not feeling so exhausted after a day’s work that there is no energy left to do anything else.
    3. Need to study and pass the SCP exams
    4. Need to network with people in the Twin Cities area or who have connections there
  4. Where – Do I need to move or change jobs?
    1. Yes, I need to move, the company I am at is not going to grow. The management is entrenched and is not going to support my goals.
    2. I would like to work for a company or organization whose products and services adds real value its community or the larger society.
  5. When - When does it happen?
    1. In the next two years.
    2. I still have another 15 years before retirement – given the current financial and societal norms. Not a lot of time, but enough that I could still have an impact on the next place I work.
Level 15

Funny, I read this article at a point in my IT career where I am working to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.  I have never been a specialist in any particular area but a knowledgeable and reliable source of engineering in many many aspects of IT.  Most of my career I used the methods you detailed without realizing that was the course I was taking.  The issues I run into is that I like what I do and where I am at but growing my personal goals without not be rewarded.  Hence the tough choices of what do I want to do.

Thanks for insightfulness of this article.