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Monday, August 2, 2010

Building a Career in IT

I've been asked a few times "how do I get a job like yours?" which reminds me how fortunate I am to have had the professional experiences I've had which have gotten me to where I am today; but is also a reminder that there's lots more to do yet.

Build a Plan
The number one way I've gotten to where I have so far; and intend to continue on further, is by building a plan. I've always had 5 year strategic personal & professional plans, and 1 & 3 year tactical plans that roll over and are built on the over-all goal. Basically, I sit down and say to myself, "what do I want to have achieved in 5 years?" Something realistic, achievable, and measurable. The big goal for the next 5 years. Or goals, of course - why limit yourself to one? :-)
The big strategic goals can be as varied (professionally speaking) from starting your own business, to achieving a certain level of leadership, to becoming internationally renown in your field.

Make the Plan Do-Able
Next up, take that (those) goal(s) and break them down into smaller, achievable tactical pieces. Any major goal you set for your five year plan should be able to be broken into smaller pieces that build upon each other to get you to that goal. Undoubtedly, this will take some time, and take some thought. A key way I've been able to determine these achievable short-term goals is by finding a mentor who has achieved either that 5 year goal I've set for myself, or something similar. Build a relationship with that person, and allow them to coach you on what key pieces must be in place for over-all success.

Measure & Manage
So your five-year goal is set; you've also broken it into key milestones that must be successfully completed in order to reach that goal. Now you need to set yourself metrics so that you know if you're on track. Metrics such as: "I must have passed this specific certification exam by this specific date." While this is simply an example of a technical milestone, it shows that you have broken your goal into achievable peices, you've set a date for when you must have achieved that milestone, and helps keep you focused on a tangible reality, instead of a fluffy, feel-good goal with no substance. And hey, when you DO pass the exam, it's a reason to celebrate you being that much closer to your over-all goal. Equally important you need to have a management methodology for actions to take if you are veering off-course of those milestones. If you miss a date, what will you do? If you fail the exam, then what? Think this through, talk it over with your mentor, and make sure you know how to set yourself up for success.

Any of this is achievable, you just need to allow a reasonable amount of time, break it into do-able steps, set metrics to measure your progress (and determine how to correct if you're veering off-course), and keep focused. The timelines I've given are simply the ones I like to use; they don't have to be yours. But whatever you do keep the steps achievable, and seek out mentorship. That's a recipe for success.