Nate Good knows a thing or two about risk. The 30-year-old passed up the more traditional IT career path that would have taken him to Silicon Valley and, instead, took a series of calculated risks that propelled him to the rank of CTO of ShowClix, a full-service ticketing and event management company based in Pittsburgh, Penn., at an age when many of his peers are still struggling to find their place in the corporate world.
Whether you’re just starting out in your career or have been established for some time, there are risks you can take that better the odds of your landing that dream job, getting a coveted promotion or just gaining some new insight into your IT career. Here, our experts share their thoughts on when and how to push the envelope.
1. Look beyond the IT ‘Meccas’
Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley (in New York City) are just two of the many vibrant IT career hotspots that have sprung up around the country and around the world. Don’t be afraid to avoid these areas and look for an IT career a little closer to – or farther from – home, says Good.
Good himself passed up a chance to move to Silicon Valley from Pittsburgh, and doesn’t regret that decision for an instant, he says. “There’s real value in being a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Maybe you live in a lesser-known city, or a small town, but there’s technology everywhere and those skills are essential no matter what the geographic location,” Good says.
2. Focus on Workplace Culture
You’ll be spending a significant portion of your life at work, so make sure the job and the workplace you choose aligns with your core values, and that you feel comfortable there. “Even if your skills and experience are a match, you might not be cut out to do IT work at a large, corporate bank or a freewheeling, creative advertising agency. Sometimes you have to dig deeper and look beyond what the surface trappings are signaling,” says Good.
Sites like Glassdoor and Indeed, as well as personal feedback from LinkedIn and other social media contacts can help you ensure the job is right for you in every way.
3. Don’t Focus on Salary Alone
Sure, a hefty salary has its perks, but if it comes at the expense of family life, or the job severely curtails activities, hobbies and outside interests that are important to you, it may not be worth it. “It has to be more about culture fit, growth and aligning with people who are going to have the same career goals and mission. All the money in the world isn’t going to help if you’re working sixteen hour days, weekends and late nights with no time to spend with your friends, family and on developing your hobbies,” says Good.
4. Network Outside Your Industry
It may seem logical to network primarily with others in your industry, or those who share your passion for NoSQL or your interest in artificial intelligence (AI) development. And, of course, that’s an important part of your career trajectory — make all the connections you can using your community contacts, GitHub, professional associations and meetups but don’t discount the opportunities that may arise when you start discussing your work and your outside interests with friends, family and social media connections outside that comfort zone. You could find your next opportunity in a place you never expected, says Rick Gillis, an author, career consultant and speaker.
“Don’t forget that, especially in smaller IT markets, the guy in your own industry, who’s got the same skills and experience and who also might want to land a great IT job might not want to share his connections or his tips with you,” says Gillis.
5. Work With or for People Smarter Than You
Don’t be afraid to work with or for people whose intelligence, experience or accomplishments intimidate you. While you might not think you’ll ever match up, chances are you’ll all learn a few things.
“Actively seek out situations where you’re surrounded by those who are smarter than you, more skilled than you and with more experience,” says Gillis. “This is what mentoring is all about — you can’t help but learn things, and you’ll find you’re smarter than you might give yourself credit for,” Gillis says.
6. Work for a Small Company or a Start-Up
Once upon a time, Apple was a tiny start-up. Hewlett-Packard’s origin story began in a founders’ garage. If you truly believe in a smaller company’s ideas and ability to succeed in the market with their product or service, take the chance, because it might pay off in a big way.
Start-ups are also great places to hone your independent thinking, creative skills and your ability to work as a team. “And don’t be afraid to take a lower salary in exchange for stock options or a piece of the action — because that could be a major windfall if the company succeeds,” Gillis says.
7. Embrace Diversity
Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’ve got an off-the-wall idea, or if you feel a policy, a process or “The way it’s always been” aren’t cutting it for you or your company. Technology evolves based on the ideas of mere mortals, so making sure your ideas are heard can be the difference between failure and success.
And finally, don’t be afraid to forge your own path, says Good. “Despite what ‘conventional wisdom’ might dictate, sometimes going off the beaten path can be the best career move you can make, whether you’re moving across the globe, pitching a wild new idea or taking that job at a startup instead of at a major IT heavyweight,” he says. And he, of all people, should know.