Advancing your IT career passively is something you do all the time. It includes doing things like being consistent in your work, arriving at the office on time, and getting along with your superiors, peers, and users.
Those things are also known as “keeping your job.”
Actively advancing your IT career, on the other hand, is about bringing real value to the table.
Often, this boils down to the following points:
- Can you find ways to save your company money or time?
- Can you find ways to make your company money?
- Can you fix a problem that no one’s been able to fix yet?
- Can you prevent a future problem from happening?
Pondering these questions is a great way to advance your IT career, but you don’t have to ponder too hard.
Here are 8 actionable things you can do to get your career chops in shape. Chop chop.
1. Bust out your crystal ball
Look into the future. What do you see? Is it what you want? If not, then look again and envision what you want to see. Opportunities are attracted to minds attuned to their own needs and wants, even when you’re not looking for them.
The five-year plan thing is good for some, but is useless for many because life tends to get more unpredictable the longer you live it. Instead, make an immediate 3- to 6-month plan and hold yourself accountable for reaching it, starting today.
Just like planning for a certification exam, set a goal, figure out how to get there, and start working hard.
2. Teach yourself a new skill
Fantastical self-assigned job titles are much loved in IT. They’re much more exciting than the titles bestowed by HR. There’s one thing most of these titles are missing, though: real, external validation. How do you get external validation?
By holding a legitimate reputation for having mastered a certain skill. Here are three examples.
- Be the Hardware Hacker: If you’re a hardware technician that never formally studied computer science, chances are good that you missed out on some fundamentals in electronics. Development boards like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi can help. Complete a few hardware projects with these gadgets and level up your electrical skill set. Or even prove your hardware prowess with the CompTIA A+ cert.
- Be the Cable Ninja: If you’re a network technician, set aside some time and practice things like stripping and crimping RJ45 cables until your hands ache. You can learn the basics in the Network+ course. From the inner sanctum of the data center to the dusty halls of Accounting, they will come to know your name. Or perhaps they won’t, because you did such a good job the first time round that they never see you again.
- Be the Code Whisperer: If you know you’re not the strongest programmer in the land, figure out your strengths and weaknesses, and round out both with dedicated study. For your strengths, learn to code routine functions with your eyes closed. As for your weaknesses? RTFM… twice. When you’re able to write complex software solutions on the back of a napkin while the power’s out, you can consider this skill unlocked. Your next step: Learn Assembly.
3. Earn a certification
Did you know you can turn certifications into boatloads of money? Oh, right. You’ve heard that before. But seriously, it’s true.
4. Join a community
Put yourself in places where you’re likely to meet people with similar skills in IT. For those who don’t enjoy formal networking events, consider joining a gaming community (online, tabletop, whatever you like) or a competitive hackathon club. Or, you can join the CBT Nuggets Learners Community on Slack.
5. Actually work on your soft skills
Don’t just think about ways to be a confident communicator or a more well-liked employee. Actively practice! You can practice at home in front of the mirror, or attend a local Toastmasters.
Read up on sales skills and become an advocate for yourself. Learn more in our recent Soft Skills for IT Pros course.
Be warned: Don’t make it too obvious when you practice your new powers of persuasion on family members. It irks them.
6. Find your personal Yoda
Mentors can be the authors of books you read, public speakers you listen to, and other personalities. Most of the time, however, they’re someone close to you, possibly even in the same office.
When you find your Yoda, try not to waste their time or test their patience. Tell them you are looking for advice and ask direct, relevant questions.
If you need more intense mentorship, you should seek paid training. It just so happens that we have expert IT training by the truckload. Choose your destiny.
7. Consider moving
Jobs for farm hands in Midwest America are booming. But jobs for IT pros? Not so much.
If you’re relatively independent at the moment, moving sooner rather than later is a good idea. Commitments add up, and when you’ve got a family to take care of later down the line, it will be much harder to make the move to a city with better career prospects.
Just take a look at the cities where IT pros with programming languages are in high demand.
8. Build an online presence
You can build network infrastructure used in skyscrapers or develop security software for the banking industry, but you don’t have a website or social presence? Who are you, anyway? People who can offer you a higher salary out-of-the-blue want to know.
Remember, you’re always advancing your career just by showing up to work. In 2017, take steps to actively advance your career.
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