New Year, New Plans: Make an IT Career Self-Assessment
Along with the more customary New Year’s resolutions – which many of us made at the turn of the year, then all too cheerfully ignored – I’d like to suggest to my readers that they consider putting themselves through a IT career self-assessment as an annual ritual to help them figure out where they are, where they’re going, and where they might like to get, career-wise
. Although I’m about to make some specific and concrete suggestions about how to do this sort of thing, the most important things are to take stock of where you are now in your IT career, and to set yourself some goals for where you’d like to be, both in the short term and looking a bit further out.
It’s possible to answer the preceding question in any number of ways, all of which can contribute to establishing your current status and standing, and your future goals and aspirations. That’s why I’ll start you off with a laundry list of questions you’ll probably want to answer:
- How happy are you with your current job? The work involved? The pay? The working conditions?
- If you could take a different job in IT, what kind of job would that be? What would it take for you to get such a job?
- Where would you like to find yourself career-wise in one year? Three years? Ten years?
My intent here is to lead you toward establishing clear and well-formulated career goals so you can write them down, and use them to guide your future plans and behavior – and refer to them again at about the same time next year, when you should repeat the whole exercise all over again. These goals will provide a basis against which you can measure your progress (or lack thereof) and use as a springboard to refine and develop a new set of goals.
Laying Out Career Goals
As you put a list of goals and objectives together for yourself, be sure to state them clearly, and to tie them to specific achievements or milestones. That way, you can measure yourself against them in the future. Thus, “earning an MCSE: Private Cloud” is a better goal than “earning a Microsoft certification” because it’s tied to a specific objective, and it’s something that you can easily break down into constituent elements – the three exams for the MCSA: Windows Server 2012 (70-410, -411, and -412), plus the two additional exams needed to qualify for that credential (70-246, and -247).
Goals are supposed to represent things you’d like to attain, earn, or accomplish, so you’ll want to figure out how to motivate yourself to pursue them. Different folks need different motivations. For the same goal – let’s keep the MCSE: Private Cloud as our example – a new job or an increase in pay might motivate one person, while the professional cachet of this hot new cert might motivate others, and still others might simply count it as a stepping stone to the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) credential as their ultimate goal. Workable career goals reflect what’s important to you, and help you stay motivated to pursue and attain them.
As you set goals, it’s important to include items that are achievable in the short term (a specific IT certification, cultivation of some soft skill like writing or presentation delivery, or completing a specific course). In the medium term, these short term building blocks combine to enable you to achieve more substantial goals (earning an MCSE, moving into a more senior technical job, or making the switch from helpdesk to systems administration). Finally, over the long haul, it’s important to set yourself some goals that will take years (or your working life) to achieve in order to help guide you through decades of effort, and keep you interested in work and focused on various accomplishments (earning a PhD, becoming a full-time IT instructor, making it as a CIO or CSO, and so forth).
For each goal, set yourself some target dates. Deadlines are just as important to help you manage your own career and personal development as they are to your managers to make sure you deliver projects or products on time and under budget. A timeline will help you measure your progress against completion targets, and help you adjust your input and effort to meet your goals. Please be realistic when you set your timelines, though: you can’t realistically work full-time and earn a CCIE in one or two years. Do your best to make your timelines workable, and adjust them when circumstances interfere with various milestones, as they inevitably will.
Ed TittelEd Tittel is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who’s worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written and blogged for numerous publications, including Tom's Hardware, and is the author of over 140 computing books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.
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