Congratulations! You made the investment in yourself, did the hard work, and landed a great job in tech. That’s what focused education is all about for most students of information technology, whether in coding, UX, cybersecurity, or other related fields.
We share the “first tech job” experience proudly, and nearly every day, with our bootcamp graduates.
But careers don’t stop with a first job; they start there! If you apply yourself fully, perhaps even a little above and beyond expectations, it’s reasonable to expect bigger and better roles. Perhaps most important, advancement to positions that more closely match or even fulfill your vision for yourself.
Do you have a vision for yourself? It’s important to develop one and to keep it fresh.
Though it may be a bit of a cliche, goals for your career at certain intervals (typically 1-5 years apart) are an important yet often overlooked component of the career puzzle.
Think about what you are good at and love doing, and craft a vision and set of goals that match. When you know what you’re after, measurable progress will come more naturally. Doesn’t matter if your aspiration is software engineer, head of UX, or CISO. It always starts with your vision for yourself.
No matter how you achieved your skills and qualifications, what your tech job may presently be, or your longer-term career aspirations, here are a few proven ideas and practices to help you reach the next level.
1) Never Stop Learning
It’s tempting to consider the learning done when the job is landed. After all, that is the main purpose of professional skill-building for most students. But in reality, the learning process has just begun. IT is not a static field, is it?
Skills built and knowledge gained can become stale in a short time compared to older more traditional career options. So the need to commit to lifelong learning is not a luxury for tech workers who want to get ahead, it’s a necessity.
According to Steven Ostrowski, Director of Corporate Communications at the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), "For the people who are working in the industry now, the best advice we offer is to expand and work on their skills. It's very difficult for any one individual to stay on top of everything, but look for those opportunities, even if you have to do it on your own time, without the support of your employer."
Of course, if your employer does provide support for continued learning, in the form of time off or tuition reimbursement—whatever form it takes—do not miss the opportunity. Again, keeping pace with rapid change and boosting your skills footprint is part of any job in IT.
Classes, online magazines, forums, and specialized interest groups are all great sources of information and will help you stay on top of the latest developments in any tech field. Get involved with as much as your job responsibilities and life will allow.
No matter if your tech job is limited to a narrow set of tasks. Take every opportunity to broaden your professional knowledge and skill. Remember, you are preparing for your next position, with a keen eye towards your long-term career goals.
2) Get Certified
There are many interesting and useful certifications in IT. The major IT suppliers each offer multiple certifications in their own technologies and products. Microsoft alone offers 250 certification programs! No, we’re not recommending you chase down all of them, or even the majority, but choose carefully and gain certifications where they will both aid you in the job you’re doing now and help clear the path to the jobs you’ll want later.
Just like the quest for general lifelong learning, certifications are a must for any IT pro, regardless of specialty.
And finally, use the pursuit of certification to make new associations with others who share your interests. You will discover large communities of learners attached to major certification programs.
3) Build Your “People Skills”
The importance of the ability to communicate, collaborate, influence, and to gracefully accept feedback can not be overestimated. If not in your present tech job, surely at some point in your career a mastery of people skills may rise to meet the importance of the technical aspects.
Working with others—whether in problem definition, solution development, or delivering reports across an organization—increases in importance the further your career develops.
Employers are actively seeking a combination of technical and personal or “soft” skills. In fact, people skills are often reported as a priority, as technical skills can be more easily taught.
Look for opportunities to improve your own people skills by seeking out projects with a broader scope than your own individual effort. Join a cross-group task force, committee, or similar opportunities where your ability to achieve with others and through others is critical.
Even if it feels a little uncomfortable at first, there is no substitute for your development in working effectively with others.
4) Be a Strong Team Player
It’s likely that in your first tech job, early in your career, much of your work is accomplished as an individual. It’s also possible you like it that way! But to progress on an IT career path it’s important to recognize the value of work done by teams, and how well you work on team projects.
Like sports teams, a project team in the IT world is made up of individuals with different backgrounds, functional expertise, job roles, responsibilities, and expectations. Successful teams combine all this in a way that creates results and success for all team members.
Be a strong and effective team member by bringing all your value to the project, while at the same time always showing respect for the contributions others make.
Give credit to others for their work.
Focus on the larger objectives, and orient your work towards what the team has to accomplish.
Be a strong communicator and an important part of making the team work as you all move toward delivering what the business needs.
Make the success of the team and the outcome of the project your first priorities—your own recognition and rewards will naturally follow.
5) Know The Business
No matter what your career aspirations may be, even in fully “technical” roles, it’s critical to know the business side of your company. One way is to get involved in cross-functional “extra efforts” to gain exposure to other functions like finance, operations, marketing, HR, or purchasing.
Most business problems are solved, and new opportunities met by work performed across functions. There is no substitute for working “shoulder to shoulder” (even on Zoom) with others in different groups to gain an appreciation for how your business operates beyond IT.
Spend time on the corporate website and dig into the About, Press, and Investor pages. Research competitors and gain familiarity with them as well. And make the time to read your company’s annual and quarterly reports.
There is no IT group or individual role that won’t benefit from a better understanding of the business in which they operate.
Your leadership will appreciate that you're not in a technical box, but rather a person and employee who understands the purpose of IT projects beyond the immediate and obvious.
When opportunities arise for promotion, you’ll be more well-rounded and thus more “ready” for consideration than someone who hasn’t gained the same knowledge of the organization and its purpose.
Your career is yours alone to shape. Take steps today to bring it as close as possible to your vision for yourself. The tech job you hold today, and what you make of it, is the greatest opportunity to build towards your best future.
Ready to take the next step and launch your career in tech? Download our course catalog for more information about our programs.
This post was written by contributor Marc Tramonte.