One of my readers just raised some interesting questions for me about an earlier (4/25/2008) IT Expert post of mine: “What’s the Highest Position in an IT Consulting Career Path?” Despite the economic travails in the meantime, it’s cheering to see that my post still remains relevant even during today’s (and alas, tomorrow’s) ongoing troubled economic situation.
My current interlocutor raises an interesting follow-up question as he seeks to understand “…how IT professionals [can] balance a fast-paced and demanding career with personal/professional development.” That question, in fact, is stated as “…how [can] people in the tech industry find time to develop their career outside of work experience and what are some of the tools they [can] use…?”
About “Finding the Time”
This is a tough one, especially for those with families that include kids not yet off in college, because it’s so important to make sure they get ample interaction with their parents, step-parents, or guardians as well. Unfortunately, this is what’s known as a “bootstrapping exercise” which means that you somehow have to grab and lift yourself out of your current position while remaining where you are (at least for a while). Thus, the real answer to this question ultimately boils down to “give up on some leisure time, downtime, and sleep.” I’m sorry to have to say this so baldly, but that’s how it is.
Tools to Develop Oneself, Personally and Professionally
1. School, specifically in pursuit of a degree or certificate of some kind, which may lead to added technical knowledge, skills and qualifications (Masters and/or PhD taked onto an undergraduate degree), or to bolster technical skills with business or process coverage (like an MBA tacked onto an engineering or computer science undergraduate degree)
2. IT Certification (in pursuit of specific and focused technical credentials, which often impose pre-reqs of more general, less-focused lead-in credentials — like the CCNA leading to CCNP, MCTS to MCITP, and so forth and so on
3. Soft skills certification or certificates — most notably, the Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, which has proven to be a great career booster for people in all walks of IT (and other technical occupations)
4. Volunteer work designed for development purposes — Let’s say you’re a network administrator who years to be a DBA instead. A school, church, or charitable organization volunteer position may give you the chance to learn and develop further skills in this technical specialty that may simply not be available on the job. After enough unpaid time and effort, perhaps combined with a certification or two, you may be able to transition from network admin to DBA as a natural progression.
There are lots of other tools that people can use to improve themselves and their professional skills and standing, but these examples should give you some ideas of how to proceed. As long as you’re willing to sacrifice some time, coiugh up some money, and expend some old-fashioned elbow grease, you should be able to use these tools to get yourself ahead.