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The Professional Dilemma: Investing in Your IT Career

Level 13

I have lots of conversations with colleagues and acquaintances in my professional community about career paths. The question that inevitably comes up is whether they should continue down their certification path with specific vendors like VMware, Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle, or should they pursue new learning paths, like AWS and Docker/Kubernetes?

Unfortunately, there is no answer that fits each individual because we each possess different experiences, areas of expertise, and professional connections. But that doesn't mean you can't fortify your career.  Below are tips that I have curated from my professional connections and personal experiences.

  1. Never stop learning. Read more, write more, think more, practice more, and repeat.
  2. Be a salesperson. Sell yourself! Sell the present and the potential you. If you can’t sell yourself, you’ll never discover opportunities that just might lead to your dream job.
  3. Follow the money. Job listings at sites like dice.com will show you where companies are investing their resources. If you want to really future-proof your job, job listings will let you know what technical skills are in demand and what the going rate is for those skills.

As organizations embrace digital transformation, there are three questions that every organization will ask IT professionals:

  1. A skill problem? Aptitude
  2. A hill problem? Altitude
  3. A will problem? Attitude

How you respond to these questions will determine your future within that organization and in the industry.

So what do you think of my curated tips? What would you add or subtract from the list? Also, how about those three organizational questions? Are you being asked those very questions by your organization? Let me know in the comment section.

A final note: I will be at Interop ITX in the next few weeks to discuss this among all the tech-specific conversations. If you will be attending, drop me a line in the comment section and let’s meet up.

15 Comments
vinay.by
Level 16

Nice write up, good article enjoyed reading it

gfsutherland
Level 14

My dad taught me to  "learn as much as you can because they can never take it away from you!" ... That's what drives me!

Also, I saw way too many "experts" in silos in the late 80's and early 90's be out of work because they thought what they knew would always keep them employed...

Great article and your points are spot on!

acmtix
Level 13

I found going freelance the best decision I ever made, i've learned so much more and i've been able to get my hands on so much more interesting technology. I never would have been able to do that sitting in a broom cupboard as a university data centre manager. My 2 cents, GO FREELANCE!

rschroeder
Level 21

Perhaps the solution is to "be needed".  Become the solution to someone's problem(s), and you can be hired / paid to resolve those issues.  Or you can get married--same thing, in some cases.

Developing your skills & knowledge can be the path to being needed more than the next person.

But no matter your training, certifications, or skills, first and foremost be the kind of person that people enjoy talking with and share time with.  Be positive, outgoing, and remember you were given two ears and one mouth--listen at least twice as much as you talk.

We hire good people and train them to increase their technical competence.

We don't hire technically competent people if they're not good "people" people; no amount of training & certifications & skills can make a person enjoyable if their personality is abrasive or conflict-oriented or aggressive.

Be thoughtful and considerate and kind and pleasant.

Be the first seven lines of the Grandmother song Steve Martin once sang:

"Be courteous, kind and forgiving,

Be gentle and peaceful each day,

Be warm and human and grateful,

And have a good thing to say.

Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike,

Be witty and happy and wise,

Be honest and love all your neighbors,

Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant.

Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus,

Be dull, and boring, and omnipresent,

Criticize things you don't know about,

Be oblong and have your knees removed.

Be tasteless, rude, and offensive,

Live in a swamp and be three dimensional,

Put a live chicken in your underwear,

Get all excited and go to a yawning festival."

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network_defender
Level 14

Always stay hungry.  Always be ready to learn the next new thing.  The only limiting factor is you.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

I used to use dice.com a lot back in the late 90's after the tech bubble burst and everyone was getting laid off.  The division of GE Capital Technology Solutions I was working for was shuttered and sold.  I did a lot of shorter jobs off dice and it was a good way to get exposed to a lot of different environments.  I learned a lot through those years but boy it was rough time for tech o.O!  I sure don't miss going to job interviews for entry level positions and having PHD's there applying as well!  It was really really rough back then.

bobmarley
Level 15

I think that's going to be my next move

rschroeder
Level 21

The public schools were a great refuge of convenience and stability for me, back then.  I got a great job that I leveraged into a Network Manager position and was able to build their IT infrastructure from nothing to a 33-site WAN that serviced 14,000 users in just a few short years. 

Of course, no one was getting paid the going wage for I.T. experts, but the PERA benefits and training/traveling and lower stress (I could take the entire network down after 5 p.m. any day, and we didn't support remote access / working from home back then) was nice.

Indeed.com became interesting later, and I still think it's better than any of the Career Builder or Monster sites.

bobmarley
Level 15

One of the reason's I jumped into monitoring a few years back was because I got to work on everything! You get to be the jack of all trades and master of a few.

I have found it very satisfying to go to work every day and you never know what the day will bring.

tinmann0715
Level 16

Yes, always be learning. If you want to broaden your horizons you have several points to consider:

  • What do you want to do? What interests you?
  • What's hot in the industry right now?
  • What does your employer really need?
  • What's your weak spot? What do you want to bolster up?
  • Is there something completely new? And so on...

But bolstering your skillset and your resume is only half the battle. You have to be able to sell yourself. Not just for a new job or a promotion, but for your value. And the sales pitch isn't always direct or in your face. It can be subtle and behind the scenes too. Simple reminders to management of your contributions to a successful project long forgotten (3 months ago!), or speaking up with a good idea and tactfully pitching it so it's "win-win". Always asking, "How can I help?" Working smarter not harder (sorry adatole​ ), and demonstrating adaptability to the ever-shifting landscape (I may be Chicken Little with this but Millennials are starting to get management positions).

tallyrich
Level 15

Each individual needs to determine if they are going to pursue a specific niche or discipline and if they plan to stay with their current employer or move on. But even then the decision must be tempered by the fact that people aren't staying in their same position/employer/locale as much as years ago.

sparda963
Level 12

I think a lot of this has to do with lack of upward mobility and pay scale when you stay in your same place for to long. It seems that in IT the best way to move up the ladder or pay scale is to move on to another employer. Now this is not always the case, but in a lot of situations this does apply.

I also agree with you that you need to know what you want to do as well. Some people are content with staying in a comfortable spot while others wish to move around and move up. There is nothing wrong with either of those approaches. To each their own.

tallyrich
Level 15

Oh I would agree with that. I've known people that have greatly increased their pay by moving from place to place - It seems that each time you get hired you get a little bump in pay. So, I've actually known people that aren't very good at their job, but they get hired stay long enough for the employer to realize that they aren't very good and then move on to the next place, again getting a little bump, and so on and so forth. Part of that is due to the fact that most employers won't give any specific information about an employee, just "Yes, he worked here from this day to that day." So if a person interviews well and worked for a reputable company then the assumption is that they will do a good job.

Now, I've never done a bad enough job (and had a great contract negotiator) to tank a company and get fired with a multi-million dollar severance package like I've seen several C Suite executives doing - Just sayin'

goodzhere
Level 14

I try to go after, and maintain, what I need first, and then work Ion what I want based on the direction that I want to go.  I think you also, at some point, have to take into consideration market need.  If there is not a lot of market need, it may not be worthwhile to proceed down that path.  I think that most in IT (at least it should be this way) have a desire to learn more and want to develop with technology.  There should be no more "old school".  If you want to remain in IT, you must always be willing to learn new things.

d09h
Level 16

I'm doing this too...well I guess first I need the wife to kick it up a few notches.  But if that happened, and the economy came back... I bet it could be very liberating, assuming I remembered to hustle.

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Mo Bacon Mo Shakin' Mo Money Makin'! vHead Geek. Inventor. So Say SMEs. vExpert. Cisco Champion. Child please. The separation is in the preparation.