How to take control of your own IT career
In the public transportation industry, for example, officials used to buy specialized equipment for buses, but eventually that equipment was no longer needed because it was replaced by tablets. "I can go out and buy a $300 tablet to replace a $15,000 piece of equipment we would have bought five years ago," he notes.
To keep informed, Caldwell reads industry publications and websites, attends conferences, networks with friends and colleagues, and participates in gatherings of IT trade and professional groups. "Being more aware and seeking to know where the market is and what companies are doing and what the trends are in the industry all drives back to help a person take charge of their own career," he says. "If you know what's happening today and know what will happen in the future, you can start planning out what training you'll need."
At Jacobs Engineering, IT staffers can join in regular monthly project reviews that are conducted on all active programs. "We talk about risks, requirements [and] stakeholders, and we opened up these project reviews to anybody in IT who wants to learn about that project," Carmody says. IT pros everywhere should look around their own organizations for similar opportunities.
Manage Your Skills Portfolio
One of the hallmarks of the organizations that Computerworld recognizes as Best Places to Work in IT, like Jacobs Engineering and BNSF Railway, is that they offer IT workers a variety of opportunities to broaden and deepen their skills through training programs, tuition reimbursement plans and mentoring arrangements. But such initiatives might be the exception rather than the rule; many IT employees say they are on their own when it comes to training to acquire new skills.
It's no secret that most corporate training budgets have been declining in recent years. But at the same time, technology is changing more rapidly than ever before. "It's just understood that every year you have to take up a new skill," says Johnson County Transit's Caldwell. "You never stop learning until you're dead."
Caldwell has paid for most of his own training, which includes multiple certifications. "The training money just isn't there with companies. It's really up to the individual to decide what they want to do with their career and how to drive it. You can't expect the organization to provide that career training," he says. To fill that gap, he has bought books, taken online training courses and networked with colleagues to learn new skills.
Another option is to find a mentor.
"Everyone seems to underestimate the need for a coach and mentor. You need one, both internally and externally," says Hamilton of Quicken Loans. "If I had to do it over, I would focus on that a lot more."
At Jacobs Engineering, Carmody launched a mentoring program that's open to all IT employees. Staffers can find senior colleagues to team up with at an online mentor-matching site. The initiative includes an educational program called Leadership in Work and Life that features monthly teleconference workshops on topics such as how to protect the Jacobs brand, deploying capital wisely, agile software development and the scrum method, and voice-over-IP technology.
"I believe career development for anyone is a mix of classroom, mentorship, ad hoc cross-functional opportunities and volunteering," says Carmody. Even when the workshops are on nontechnical topics, she encourages her staff to participate.
"I tell people that it doesn't matter how technical you are; you deal with people so your people skills will always need maintenance. And you're supporting a business, so you [must continually] learn about the business," she says. "If you're a technologist, you still need to know the business and communicate effectively."
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