As with all things worthwhile, pursuing a career that is meaningful and fulfilling requires a significant investment in preparation and learning. Most of us have a signifier of success that we want to reach. Once we reach the point where we feel we are finally “there,” though, how do we decide where to put our focus? How can we keep our careers on track for the long haul?
Without a doubt, today's employers are looking for talent that is adaptable, willing to learn, team-oriented and innovative. In this slideshow, Eric Reed, CTO, and Patrick McGuinness, CIO, Global Risk and Compliance, both with GE Capital, share their top eight tips for developing a long and prosperous career in IT.
Demonstrate an ability to learn. When someone is hired directly out of college, they're hired for intellect and attitude rather than expertise. At this point in a young IT worker's career, employers first want to see that you've taken the initiative to become educated about the company – that you know what they do and how they innovate using IT – both internally and for their customers. They also look to see that you are the kind of employee who will always be receptive to learning new things, because at the rate technology changes, knowledge becomes outdated quickly.
Be someone who showcases confidence to lead rather than a hunger to be the leader. The best leaders welcome alternative points of view and incorporate good ideas, regardless of the source. They share selflessly and respect others. They consistently communicate their perspective clearly, thoughtfully and, when appropriate, persistently. None of those traits are related to their position in the organization. So instead of driving toward a specific future job title, focus instead on developing these critical leadership attributes in your everyday work. The title will follow.
Make collaboration a part of your day-to-day strategy, even if it doesn't come naturally. A high performing team will always produce higher quality results than a lone hotshot. "Going it on your own" is not the way to stand out in the modern workforce, whether in an IT capacity or any other role. Understand the overall goal, what your contribution for reaching that goal is, and focus on the things you are passionate about. Everyone enjoys being part of a successful team, and beyond that, everyone enjoys a team member who is passionate about their contributions.
Don't become too enamored with the technology. Many of us joined the IT field because we are enthusiastic about technology, but you must divorce yourself of that and instead think strategically about business goals. Do you simply like a specific technology solution, or can that technology really help your business? Put simply, don't assume that what's "cool" is always what's best for your organization.
Don't insist on being the smartest person in the room. Particularly as an IT employee, it's important to seek out and work with the smartest people you can find – even if they are smarter than you – since you are more likely to be evaluated on your team's performance rather than your individual performance. Overall, you should seek to work with the best teams possible and your company's leadership will reward your combined success.
Make sure you're visible to senior management. By engaging with top decision-makers frequently, you can gain a better understanding of what's most important to them. You'll also learn how to speak their language, which is a critical skill in building a successful career in IT. Executives don't want to hear every technical detail about a solution – they want to understand how the technology can deliver value to the business.
Don't go it alone. It's critical to your development that you find a mentor to help guide you in your professional development. That mentor will also serve as an important advocate on your behalf to company leadership.
Don't forget to think about your long-term career goals. It sounds simple, but it's too easy to get bogged down in your day-to-day work and lose sight of what you really want out of your professional life. By thinking about where you want your career to go, whether it's the CIO/CTO job or something else altogether, you can make sure you are setting yourself up for whatever success means to you.