Many people say that IT is a young man's game, and if you look at the most influential tech companies you might agree. Most IT workers employed at those companies there are under 35 and male. However, these big name firms employ only a fraction of tech professionals and there are plenty of opportunities out there for everyone. IT has one of the lowest unemployment rates of any industry because in most organizations technology touches every part of the business.
Be Responsible for Your Own Career
Achieving career longevity in the IT business takes time effort, time and resources -- and nobody but you can organize, facilitate and be responsible for all of it. To stay ahead of the learning curve you need to think about your goals and architect your future.
Many organizations are getting better at providing embedded employee performance and career management processes, according to Karen Blackie, CIO of Enterprise Systems & Data for GE Capital. However, she warns that you are your own best advocate and should always strive to "own" your career. Don't wait for your organization to do it for you because that day may never come.
This means stepping back and thinking about where you want to be in X amount of time and then outlining the different skills and experience needed to get there. With that information you can start mapping out your career. "Doing research into what interests you, setting goals and objectives and then having a plan around how you will accomplish those goals is very important," says Blackie. Remember positions get eliminated and things don't always work out so it's wise to consider alternate paths.
[For more information on how to build a career path read, Career Mapping Offers a Clear Path for Both Employees and Employers].
Flexibility and Agility Required
Technology moves at an unprecedented pace, which means you've got to be flexible. "Adaptability is key. CIOs who can't adapt to that change will see themselves - unfortunately - left behind in a competitive job market. But the CIOs who see each new change - whether mobile, BYOD, Cloud, IoT - as an opportunity are the technology executives who will continue to be in demand-- because they've proven that they can leverage new solutions to drive business value, "says J.M. Auron, IT executive resume writer and president of Quantum Tech Resumes.
Learn About the Business
"Having the business knowledge is a key foundational element to one's career, " says GE Capital's Blackie. Being a great developer isn't enough if you plan to climb the corporate ladder. You've got to understand your industry and how your company does business. This kind of data can also help you be a better programmer. By better understanding the business needs it will help you deliver products, software and services that better align with the business.
Always Be Learning
The price of career longevity in the world of IT and technology is constant learning. If you aren't passionate about it or you're complacent, it's easy to find yourself locked into outdated technology and left behind. There are many ways to stay current like a formal college environment or a certification course for example. "It is your career and it is up to you to keep educating yourself," says Robert P. Hewes, Ph.D., senior partner with Camden Consulting Group, with oversight for leadership development and management training.
Professional organizations, conferences, developer boot camps and meet-ups are all great ways to stay abreast in the newest technologies and build network connections within your industry. "It's often a place where you develop life-long friends and colleagues, "says Blackie.
Attend Industry Conferences
Industry conferences are great way to learn about the newest trends in technology as well as network with like-minded people who hold similar interests. Be selective about which conferences you attend and make sure you allot the necessary time to socialize and network with your peers.
"One mistake attendees often make at conferences is filling their schedule so tightly with panels that they miss out on the networking available during downtime. It's important to attend mixers and informal gatherings at conferences to meet your peers and build relationships that could last throughout your career," says Blackie.
Incorporate Time into Your Day for Reading
Set up a little time each day to stay current with the goings-on in your part of technology and beyond. "Become a regular reader of info in your industry, be it an industry journal or an online blog/magazine. There is a lot of information out there. Another quick way to find relevant information is via an aggregator, Pocket and LinkedIn do this," says Hewes.
Google News and a host of other news aggregators like LinkedIn Pulse or Reddit offer a daily stream of news and with alerts and notifications that allow users to focus on key areas of interest.
Pay Attention to Competitors
"It's important to get to know industry competitors and watch what they're doing. You can learn a lot from the successes and failures of your competitors," says Blackie. Being first isn't always required to be successful. Doing it better than the next guy is, however. Find your competitors as well as organizations that you think are thought leaders in your industry and follow them in social media or create a Google Alert for them.
Find a Mentor or Coach
Mentoring is useful at all levels of one's career. A mentor can help you negotiate internal politics or provide insight into how to solve lingering problems. You may also have different mentors throughout your career, each offering a different perspective or expertise.
Understand the Value of Social Media
Not everyone adores social media, but it's a necessary element in the race to separate you from the rest of IT professionals. Build and maintain profiles on relevant social media sites and then use them to explain the value proposition you offer.
Work on Soft Skills and Some Not-so-Soft Ones
Branding is what help separates you from the rest of the pack and explains what your value proposition is to your employer or prospective employers. "Branding is another key for career advancement - and one that few technology leaders have fully embraced. Giving thought to that brand is key for career longevity and advancement," Auron says.
According to Auron, the ability to find the right path, communicate value and build enthusiasm is a crucial step in transforming the perception of IT from that of a cost center to that of a business enabler. "The most critical skill is the ability communicates the real value of technology investment to nontechnical leadership. Some technologists can fall into one of two traps: giving so much detail that the audience's eyes glaze over or, appearing patronizing when intelligent - but nontechnical leaders - don't get a specific reference," Auron says.
Project Management Skills
At some point in your technology career you will be asked to lead a project. When the time comes make sure you've got the necessary tools. "It is critical if you are headed onto the management track. In fact, you should try to gain wide experience with all kinds of projects," says Hewes.