There was a nice post on CIO about IT leadership. While there are some solid observations on that list, not all of us are cut out for the same type of job. I personally did not pursue the management track. I was trained as a computer engineer, and my professional path has moved me into enterprise architecture. I have had a career of continuous learning. You should too. Don’t limit yourself to only technical skills. As you plan your development as a professional, you may want to check yourself against these steps.
The most famous reply to “What if we train our employees and they leave?” is “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”
#1: Build your reputation as someone who delivers
Sounds easy, right? I’ve heard the expression “work smarter, not harder” and the Steve Jobs line “Real artists ship.” Deadlines are a fact of life. People are paying me to deliver. I completed work that I was proud of and made my sponsors happy. There were also times when I developed something less complete than I would have liked, but it got the job done. I learned that there are a lot of variables to balance: the delivery date, the project labor time, the overall requirements, the testing, the documentation. Considering all these things simultaneously made be a better IT person so that I could deliver an overall better product.
#2: Make the time to keep training
More than a few times, I was asked to skip a training class. Sometimes the timing of the class I needed was out too far on the calendar compared to dates on a project. Other times it was the cost of the training. And when I was asked by my manager “can you skip this one?”, I genuinely thought that I was doing the company a favor in not going. But I eventually observed that there is never enough time for all of our project demands, let alone the personal development for both technical and soft-skills. The thing is, I still need to develop as an important part of the company. While I still do a lot of self-study, I am now more protective of my training opportunities. The most famous reply to “What if we train our employees and they leave?” is “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”
#3: Decide to be a first-rate version of yourself
Have you caught yourself trying to be someone else? I did. But I only saw a part of the total picture of that person. You may want to develop a trait that you appreciate from that person, not be that person. Everyone’s different. I know that I am a more of a talker than a writer. I also jump-in to problems, while others are planners. Through assessments and interests, I know who I am, who I am not. Now when a project needs a talent that I don’t have, I admit it. Then, I can usually recommend someone else get added to the team for their talents.
#4: Take the time to know your peers personally and professionally
It took a while for me to even want to hang out with work people. I came out of engineering school and had worked on some team projects. It was always about the quality of the work. My friends were a different group. I did not mix these groups together. Maybe I should have. I bet I could have introduced some interesting people to each other. At the office, I’ve learned to mix it up. I certainly need to know the technical skills that my peers have so that I know who to seek out. But similarly, knowing their soft-skills and knowing them personally let’s all of us be members of more effective teams. We have faster start-up times together and we work with trust and integrity.
#5: Make a point to share your successes with your team
Some managers I’ve worked for really showed their gratitude and recognized the team’s hard work. It’s important. I was sure that I did my work well and that I could assist the team when we were working together. When we finished the project, I learned that saying “We did that” feels more rewarding than “I did my part”. Those little celebrations are important markers in your career and in your relationships.
#6: Study communications and marketing
This one was tough for me. I was in school back in the days before social media and “personal brand”. Early on, I focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM for short). I really didn’t understand the value I could get from other fields of study. Boy, was I wrong. I signed up for an acting class as an elective. I was hooked! We studied on the stage, how we projected, what our stance was. We critiqued each other. We did characters. We did improv. I’m convinced that the experience contributed to me being a good IT consultant. Similarly, communications classes and persuasive writing influenced how I presented ideas in conference rooms and in the hand-outs. I still pursue learning opportunities for soft skills today, even prioritizing them over ever-changing technical skills.
No matter how you develop, you are responsible for becoming a better IT pro. Make the time.