On Monday I started this two-part article on developing a career in Information Technology or Cybersecurity. This advice could apply to any technical field. In the first part, started out covering the basics, and if you missed that part you might want to check out Monday’s post before continuing.
That said, looking back on my career, I see the different stages that are a great career progression for anyone. Let’s see how these steps might fit in with your own career goals and plans.
We all gotta start somewhere, but the important thing is to START. You may be looking for training or certifications. You may be in a university degree program or a technical college. You are looking for that first job. At this stage you should always be learning something. Read books, subscribe to email newsletters, attend webinars, go to seminars. LEARN something new every day. Don’t try to specialize too early, learn broadly, and let yourself be drawn toward work that interests you. If you come up against something in your work that you don’t know, figure it out. Google is a great resource for IT professionals to find answers to problems.
Can’t find a “job?” Let people know you are in the computer business, and fix the computers that come your way. Get some experience, either as a freelancer, volunteer, or intern.
Find professional associations or groups you can join and hang out with. Meetup and Eventbrite are good places to look for local groups, and LinkedIn or Facebook have online professional groups with larger geographic scope as well. Ask questions, contribute, participate in discussions. Your goal at this point is to make professional connections that can lead to employment. When that first job is offered, it may be less than you hoped for, but take it. This is your first job, but not your last. Do the work and gain experience. This is a two to three year process, more or less. Move up in your career, or move on to another employer.
A good apprentice works with a Master. Finding a master or mentor at this stage is important. This may be your boss, or a coworker, or professional peer. This does not need to be something formal, it can be an unspoken mentorship. The important part of this stage is to learn from others while doing the job. You will be “standing on the shoulders of those who went before.” You will also be incurring a life debt of obligation. At some point, you are going to return the favor by mentoring some other apprentice.
You have developed some competence, and probably discovered your area of specialization. Remember that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of any subject. That works out to 250 weeks, or about 5 years. Continue to do your work and advance. You should be active in a couple of professional groups. Take a leadership role if it is offered to you, or ask to serve the group if you are not invited.
Contributing to discussion groups, and writing articles to post on You Tube, LinkedIn or Facebook is a good idea at this point in your career. Share some of your discoveries or solutions to problems.
You career is advancing in interesting ways. If you have aspired to management, you may be in your first supervisory role, or even farther along. If you have decided against a management career in order to become very good at a technical, hands-on role, that is great. Either path is a good choice. As your career matures, consider incorporating some of the following ianto your daily activities.
- Serving on the board of a professional association.
- Starting a technical group or forum on LinkedIn
- Teaching basic computer skills in your local school district’s Adult Community Education program.
- Providing presentations and seminars for groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, SCORE or Junior Achievement.
- Give a presentation at a professional association meeting
- Be a speaker at a local, regional, or national cybersecurity or IT convention
- Starting a weblog, or becoming a regular contributor on someone else’s blog that you follow. Many bloggers accept guest posts because writing all the content yourself can be a chore.
- Create and post videos on You Tube.
I love the old Zen koan: “When the teacher is ready, the student will appear.” This is almost literally how it happened to me, and was offered to me because they “found me on LinkedIn.” This lead to my first paid role as an Information Technology certification instructor. If you are looking for a way to “give back” or “pay it forward,” teaching is a great way to do it.
Take a look at your own career, determine what stage you are on, and look to add some of the career enhancing activities I mentioned here. You will be glad you did.