Information Technology is the world's fastest growing career field and there is no reason to expect this is going to change in the future. With the rapid growth of the Internet and e-commerce, the proliferation of mobile devices that can access the web and the cost of hardware getting lower every year, it's no great surprise that the IT world continues to dominate the career market.
There is an increasing demand for web design, IT support, developers, network administrators and security specialists, especially in the light of the recent cyber attacks on communications companies like TalkTalk and Vodafone.
The Information Technology world is an exciting field to be in whether you are just getting started, or if you have been working in the field for years; there are opportunities in a wide range of roles and the demand keeps increasing for IT specialists.
This is great news for all of us that already work in IT but, even though this is a growing industry, there's no shortage of competition and for this reason, it is crucial that you have clearly thought out objectives and the training and certification to land those highly sought-after and well- paid positions.
There are so many career opportunities in this field and, if you are just getting started, you may already feel somewhat overwhelmed, so, hopefully, this article will help you in making an informed decision regarding which is the best path for you.
First and foremost, you need to formulate a plan; this will involve asking yourself some searching questions and it is the most organized and effective method of taking control of your career development. It is an immensely powerful tool that will help you to create a map that you will be following over the course of many years. This is not to say that it will have to be set in stone, but you will have something to refer and compare to in the future as you progress through various stages of your career.
This career development plan consists of six stages and it is important that you start to take notes and organize the information (on paper or in an application) in order for it to be as effective as possible.
STAGE 1 SELF ANALYSIS
You need to ask yourself:
What are you best at?
What aspects of technology interest and inspire you the most?
What do you love doing? Why do you like it?
What do you dislike doing? Why do you dislike it?
What are the things you want most in life?
What motivates you?
What do you see as your strengths and your weaknesses?
What qualifications have you achieved?
What work experience have you had?
What do you like most about your current job?
What changes would you make, if you could, in your role and work environment?
Are you happiest as part of a team or do you work best alone?
These questions may seem slightly pointless and silly, but they are to help you to identify what qualities form your strengths, in what way any career choice may be able to enhance these strengths, what are your weaknesses or liabilities and how your career choices could help in minimizing or overcoming them.
Everybody likes thinking about their strengths, but looking at your weaknesses and shortcomings takes a little more honesty and courage. It is worthwhile, as otherwise how are you ever going to make improvements in these areas?
Once you have made your list, it will help you clarify in your mind where you are and where you want to be in the future.
STAGE 2 SETTING GOALS
Now it's time to consider what your goals are, both long and short term.
First ask yourself what your goals are for the next year "“ then for two years, five years and ten years. This nearly always involves a lot of guessing and dreaming, for the long-term goals anyway, but it is still good to try to formalize your goals and get them on written down.
First think about your professional goals but then also think about your life goals and that includes your family and personal goals. You may have never thought about this before and the process can be very rewarding as well as empowering to actually have a life plan, and that is exactly what we are doing here. After all, your work and personal life are mutually dependent and linked.
Now ask yourself:
Are you happy in the company you work for at present?
Do you see yourself progressing in this company?
Are you making enough money?
Is the job you are doing challenging you sufficiently?
Do you feel valuable in your role?
Are you ready for promotion?
Do you see it as likely?
Do you feel secure in your position?
STAGE 3 RESEARCH
This is probably the most intense of the steps you need to take, having done some self- analysis and identified your goals, it is only through solid research that you can formulate your plan for how you are going to achieve those goals.
You will need to do some research in a number of areas, namely what areas of the IT industry match best with your existing interests and skills and what particular formal training, skills and certification you need to get to where you want to be.
You should consider attending training classes and seminars whenever you can, at least two a year, ideally, (even if you already possess the qualifications your job requires you to have). Seek out people who work in the industry niche that interests you the most, find out first hand what they have to say and take notes, even if you don't necessarily like or agree with their opinions, they will at least be informed opinions.
Look out for relevant publications and web sites; invest as much of your spare time as you can reading relevant material, watching programs and videos, listening to audio, any opportunity to enhance your industry knowledge is incredibly valuable. This helps you to stay informed on current trends, changes and innovations in the IT industry, some of which will affect you directly, others indirectly. They may give you valuable insights and ideas that could help both you and the company you work for (and the ones you are going to in the future).
In order to progress there will always be times when you need to build on your existing skillset and this will often mean studying and obtaining more certificates. The IT world is always changing and you need to keep up with those changes if you want to get ahead and retain a competitive edge.
Ask yourself what resources are available to you to help you to make your career development plan a success. Once you start listing them you may be surprised at how many resources are currently at your disposal, you may not be leveraging them all as effectively as you could.
STAGE 4 DECISION MAKING
Now that you have done some research you have the opportunity to plan your way forward, there may be lots of different routes to get you from where you are to where you want to be, each route will have pros and cons which you need to carefully weigh up before making a decision.
The whole point of making this plan is to ensure that you know what you want to achieve and all of the ways that this can be achieved, and at what cost in terms of time money and personal resources. You will be starting to see what is needed in terms of each required step of the process.
You may have identified clearly what is needed in terms of training or other ways to acquire knowledge, experience and certification to get to where you want to be in your chosen niche. This may also mean asking your boss for a raise in salary, promotion or simply having a talk about your future in the company. It may mean deciding you need to leave the company and work for another company that offers you more opportunities for growth.
Or you may have come to the conclusion that you would be happier outside of the established 9-5 work routine and that you would prefer to be a freelance consultant, or to start your own business. This can be researched and started up alongside your existing job and a lot of people in the IT world are choosing to work from home, for instance, which can offer a lot of advantages to both yourself and your company. If you hate commuting to and from work every day, particularly because it is a long distance, if you want to be able to spend more time with your family, working from home can be a liberating experience.
Not all industries allow workers to telecommute but if the idea appeals to you then it might be worth either suggesting it to your employer, or if it's not practical in your existing job, it might be time to start contacting companies that do have a section of their workforce telecommuting. Of course, this is not suitable for all IT positions, but it is for some, and it could be the way of the future for many companies.
STAGE 5 TAKE ACTION
As soon as you have made your decision where you want to go and how you intend to get there, it's always a good idea to set yourself definite deadlines "“ even if you don't always meet them, It's always better than not having deadlines, as time tends to go by quicker than you expect.
Build your professional support network "“ Who do you know that can advise or help you with the formulation and execution of your plan? There are bound to be people with more knowledge and experience than you who you can reach out to for information and support. Don't be afraid to ask, most times you will find they will be only to happy to help you. This could be your employer, manager, work associates and friends in the industry as well as writers and online publishers.
Do you have a mentor? It can be immensely valuable to have a career development mentor who understands your chosen industry niche or who is an experienced career development coach. It may have never occurred to you, you can find out more on finding an IT career coach here.
Information is a valuable commodity in any field. If you like writing, it can be beneficial to your professional reputation to start writing and publishing articles on the web. Join relevant forums, answer questions if you can, it's all part of enhancing your perceived authority in your chosen field, and it's a great way to network and raise your profile.
Interview skills are a very important skill to have and if you are applying to companies you have to be prepared to be interviewed over Skype or on your smartphone as well as the usual type of formal interview. Preparation is key to being successful in these situations, some personal managers actually want to catch you off your guard because they know how often people can embellish and exaggerate about themselves in order to land a job.
Another aspect of preparing for and keeping a job is to pay close attention to your social media profiles. Employers know about Facebook and Twitter "“ (they could and quite possibly are) already following you, reading your posts, so, it's good practice to assume this and act accordingly. Don't get caught out posting compromising or inappropriate photos on line. Avoid saying anything you wouldn't want your work colleagues boss (or potential new boss/colleagues) to see.
The same goes for emails and comments, be careful what you say anywhere on the web as it can easily be reposted, copied in places you may not have intended. Think twice before you post material anywhere on the web.
Instead, use social media to your professional advantage by promoting the sort of image you want them to see and it will work for you instead of against you.
Take social media seriously "“ use LinkedIn, make your profile look as approachable and friendly as possible while still appearing consummately professional. If you feel social media isn't your thing, make it your thing, learn all you can about it and seek out and make friends with people who are good at producing attractive profiles and get them to help you.
Your CV (resume) "“ Unless every job you are going to be applying for is identical, you will need to produce variations on your CV to highlight relevant experience and skills that will appeal best to different employers, as well as on digital platforms. You may never have considered this, but you could produce a web site or video where you promote yourself and give potential employers the chance to see and hear you describing yourself and your qualities that make you stand out from the rest of the herd. They will be impressed and, even if they don't offer you an interview first time, they are much more likely to remember and even refer you to other professionals.
STAGE 6 KEEP YOUR PLAN UP TO DATE (REVISION)
All kinds of unforeseen events and influences can and will come along that will mean your career development plan will need revising and adjusting, especially in the IT world that is constantly changing. You may also change your mind about a number of things, so every stage of the plan could and most likely will change over time.
Don't forget that any job in the IT industry can, and often will be subject to unexpected changes that can result in redundancies. This is obviously something we prefer not to think about, but it is an aspect of your plan that you would do well to consider. Forging ties with professionals in your industry can be a life- saver if you are suddenly finding yourself out of a job.
Assuming that you are happy with the company your are working for, in any IT job there will always come a time when you will be faced with the choice- to continue in a hands- on IT role or to move into management. Sometimes it just happens by itself, some people see it as inevitable that, as you reach a senior stage in your career, you either move into management and progress up the managerial ladder (or don't progress at all). One of the great things about an IT role is that you can always choose to take a different direction if you feel you need to.