IT professionals enjoy a relatively fluid career path, with opportunities ranging from network administration to application development and security. However, this level of flexibility introduces some challenges, including difficulty creating a personal road map for professional development. When anything is an option, it can be challenging to choose a specialization and hone your skill set.
On the other hand, many experienced IT professionals know what they need to do to advance their career, but simply lack the resources to do so. Especially for technology workers in small- to mid-sized organizations, opportunities to acquire management experience or gain firsthand insight into other businesses’ IT strategies can be limited.
Here are a few strategies IT professionals can employ to seek out professional development opportunities:
- Join a professional association: Organizations for IT professionals offer IT novices and veterans alike the opportunity to expand their knowledge base and turn the 15 percent of unfilled positions in the IT services sector to their advantage. Industry associations are an invaluable resource for IT professionals looking to advance their career, regardless of industry experience or skill level. Association resources including networking, employment opportunities and continuing education programs provide ample benefits, whether retraining to meet an emerging demand or approaching the sector for the first time. For younger IT professionals and mid-life career switchers, industry associations provide a forum to learn from their more experienced counterparts. The youngest Baby Boomers are now 53 years old, and many are at or near the pinnacle of their IT careers. As many Boomers seek to keep their skills current as they approach retirement, they are well-positioned to share insights learned from being a veteran of the IT industry.
- Seek out a mentor: Mentorships, whether from a more experienced professional or simply one with a different subject matter focus, can serve as gateways into industry best practices, giving an honest glimpse into what it’s like to work in their field. Whether these insights are specific product recommendations or suggestions for better working with HR through the hiring process, it’s immensely valuable for IT professionals to share their firsthand knowledge. Mentors don’t need to work at the same organization as you do, and can often provide more insight when drawing from another organization’s experience, infrastructure and history. For a generalized IT support professional, a mentor can serve as a guide to choosing a field for further study and specialization, while more experienced workers can rely on mentors to help identify challenges they will encounter as they move into manager and executive roles.
- Provide guidance to another IT professional: Whether through an IT association or independently, mentoring another technology professional is an excellent way to bolster your own skills. Some mentor relationships may focus on broader, more widely applicable skills — such as discussing project management advice, research strategies and preferred vendors. Others revolve around specific hard skills, such as administering a specific brand of firewalls, a vendor’s MDM solution or troubleshooting a protocol error. Not only does this provide an opportunity to sharpen your own skills, but a mentorship also offers a taste of IT management experience to help prepare for the next stage in your career.
- Choose a vendor specialization: Many employers rely on a handful of preferred IT vendors to simplify their business relationships as well as software and hardware management. One surefire way to advance your career is to develop in-depth familiarity with vendor-specific products and services. This can happen a number of ways, from official certifications like Cisco’s well-known CCNA certification, to hands-on experience with a particular cloud platform like SAP. As your organization grows, its partners and vendors will as well, so it’s important to keep your skills current by staying abreast of broader changes in the industry and proactively studying solutions your firm may rely on in the future.
As IT professionals navigate their careers, professional development opportunities are paramount to continued growth. While many technology professionals possess excellent research and problem-solving skills, some knowledge is best learned from others. Especially as IT professionals work to fill growing needs around cloud management, information security and AI, professional associations and their advantages will become more valuable.
Access to both industry research and peers provides a balanced line of insight into trends affecting the IT sector, while also providing guidance for advancing your career. There is no one-size-fits-all pathway to success as a technology professional, but by seeking out and nurturing connections with fellow IT professionals, you’ll be better equipped to find the right path forward.