One question that crops up time and time again in IT discussion forums is
along the lines of "What skills do I need to further my career?".
Usually the person asking the question is referring to
technical skills and yet it is the non-technical and the "soft"
skills that hold the key to career progression. Project / Time Management and
People Management skills are valuable skills no matter what your line of work.
If you are in an IT role within a company then you first
need to ask yourself "what are the core aims and objectives of the
organization of which I am a part?” Having identified these functions you
next question needs to be "How can I leverage the skills I have to help
achieve those aims?".
Next, you can start to ask, "what additional skills would
be of benefit to the organization in which I work?" It is these
skills that you should aim to acquire.
You need to be able to demonstrate clearly that you are
using your existing skills to further the needs of the organization and that
the additional skills you wish to acquire would also be of benefit to the
If you can do so, then you are ready to put the case for
training in these new skills at the company expense
There is a very important point in the above
paragraphs. It is not enough to just to use your skills, but to be seen
to be using your skills for the benefit of the organization.
I read a book with a quote "I was young and naive
enough to be unsurprised that my father's hard work and diligence were rewarded
with promotion". The people who are progressing within your organization may not be those with the greatest
technical skills, or the hardest working. At least some of their success is down to how they present and market
their achievements. You have to learn
to market yourself and your skills.
One way of marketing yourself is to be proactive in seeking
projects. Don't wait for projects to be brought to you, see if you can identify
potential projects for yourself.
If you are not in the position to have any affect on the
a whole then look at a smaller sphere of influence such as
your office [or department]. Look at your relationship with your boss.
What are the organizational pressures on him? Can your skills help?
Remember that in being seen to help others within the
organization you are really helping yourself.
If a project is difficult, then unless it is a political
minefield don't be afraid to take it on. Other
People will be grateful you took the project off their hands and their
expectation is that you will fail. The reality is you [often] have more
chance of success than people give you credit for and, if you succeed, you will
gain a reputation as someone who can solve difficult problems. This wouldn’t
hurt your career.
When working on a project don't present your boss with
problems unless you genuinely need his help. If you must present him with a
problem, list all the actions you have taken to attempt to solve it, show that
you are resourceful and positive. People (and managers) prefer to hear good
This brings me to the next point. You have to learn to
communicate effectively, outside the field of IT. Presentation skills are
always useful in business.
Two books I would recommend are "I can see you
naked" by Ron Hoff and "How to win friends and influence people” by Dale
Carnegie". "I can see you naked" is an excellent beginners guide to the
art of making presentations. "How to win friends and influence
people" delivers what it says on the cover. It was one of the first self help
books. Published in 1937 it says something about the book that it is
still on the shelves today!
The ability to communicate effectively is vital if you are
to progress within an organization. Being known as a guru who can descend to the
level of your audience means that you will be called on by many people within
your organization, some of whom will be in positions of influence and whose
good offices would benefit your career.
In reading the Computer trade press you could be forgiven
for believing that every corporate exec is aware of the importance of
XML/JAVA or whatever technology is doing the rounds at the time.
Having spent 6 years working for the world’s number 1 advertising agency I can
testify that most senior execs probably think XML is a new model from Mercedes.
How do these people function in the modern world? Very
effectively because their focus is on the core business,
not on technicalities. These people are judged, and in term judge, on the basis of
results. They are not overly concerned about the methods or technologies that
deliver those results.
Similarly if you are in a technological role within the
organization your primary aim should be to leverage proven technology to
deliver results. Unless your organization is a new technology company then let
someone else go through the pain of proving(or disproving) the new technology.
The thoughts behind this approach are an old DBA trick.
If you are wondering whether to apply a
service pack, wait for the next service pack and see which bugs in the
preceding pack it claims to have fixed.
If the bugs are of no real significance, apply the old service pack.
On the subject of bosses: Try to maneuver yourself so that
you are working for a boss whose career is clearly taking off. When he
gets promoted in the organization, he is more likely to promote a member of his
Conversely, if your boss is a loser and gets fired tomorrow, his replacement
will probably be recruited externally. Senior execs tend to think in broader terms so
they won't see that it was your boss’s fault that your department is
under-performing. They will look at the entire department as being tarred
with the same brush.
To state the obvious: this is dangerous. With their broader view point, the
senior execs may decide that the changes to the department should be more far
reaching than simply firing the department head. Worst-case scenario is
that it could be your head on the block, or slightly less worst, the department
gets restructured and you find yourself in a back-water of the organization.
If you are in the unfortunate position of having to look for
a new job you will probably be dismayed by the
thousands of IT graduates pouring out of higher education, all with the
Don’t be. What they don't have is an understanding of industry or the organization
in which you have worked. This works to your advantage because a
business looking to recruit at a more senior level (such as DBA) is more likely
to recruit a person with a proven track record of delivering the goods.
Remember that ANY interviewer is really asking only 3 basic
- Can you do the job?
- Will you do the job?
- Will you fit into my organization?
A proven track record and experience will go a long way to convincing them
that you are the person that they are looking for.