It’s that time of year again, when the initial glow of New Year’s resolutions is starting to fade, and the long, slow slog from January through all those months into the next big holiday season from November through early January begins. What better time to take stock of your current professional situation and aspirations, and to start making plans to rack up some solid and tangible accomplishments in 2011? Here’s a list of items to ponder as you assess your career and certification status and goals for the next year and beyond.
- Resources available
How much time, money, and energy can you devote to career development and/or cert study? Don’t forget that this stuff competes with family responsibilities, the daily routine, and leisure time, and plan accordingly. Don’t plan to overdo things: that will happen all too often on its own. Overbooking is an almost sure way to impede, rather than speed up, progress.
- Goals and objectives
Preparing for a single cert exam can take anywhere from two to six months for lower-level stuff, and a year or longer for the highest level items (like the CCIE Laboratory Exam, which costs $1400, requires travel, and which most candidates take two or three times before they finally pass). Make sure your plans reflect realistic use of the resources you allocate in the preceding item.
- Long-term vs. short-term accomplishments
Ideally, your individual activities should combine together nicely so that their sum really represents more than just a collection of individual elements without strong interconnections or an obvious growth path. Of course, some certifications (like the various CCNP or CCIE credentials) and most college degrees represent deliberate attempts to combine numerous individual elements into a larger whole that requires planning for the long term, while also knocking off a whole series of short-term elements along the way. For those who seek to put their own unique combinations together, a certain amount of care, and reality checks with colleagues and mentors may be warranted (I, for example, have made a powerful and valuable niche for myself by combining strong interests in markup languages like HTML and XML, with Windows operating systems, and information security topics: there’s a suprising degree of overlap, and the combination ends up being something of a “techology sweet spot” — at least, for me). That said, if you can manage to combine and martial your interests and avocations into an interesting and useful mix, you may not only enjoy your working life more than you otherwise would, you may also thrive and prosper more as a consequence as well!
As you work your way through these items, you’ll also want to decide how where you are now compares with where you’d like to be one, two, five, and ten years from now. Bigger, more complex growth or development paths — like those that include entire certification ladders, or advanced degrees — require a longer planning horizon, not to mention more sacrifices and expenditures of resources along the way. But if you want to grow your career, you must plan things out, establish milestones, and hold yourself to your commitment to reach key checkpoints as you progress from one step to the next. You get to decide what you’ll chase, but you must rely on your tangible achievements to help you assess how well your pursuits are proceeding.