In my relatively short career, I have been what most people consider fairly successful. I am not rich, I do not have a six-figure income, and I am not self-employed. I am self-made though, and I do have a very fulfilling job which I am proud to do. As such, I thought I might take some time to share with you some of my choices throughout life, and how they have affected me, and my career.
I should preface this by saying that my ultimate goal is to work for myself, and successfully run a business, preferably some sort of website that people enjoy using. Short of attaining that lofty dream, however, I feel my conventional career path has been a successful one. My goals in career development are independent of my overall life dreams and goals, which I work on in parallel, using my free time.
Developing a Career
Know what you are good at, and do it.
Everyone has some sort of dream job. For me it was a toss up between working for a race team designing and programming engine control units, or running a successful web based business. However, I also realized that both of the above career choices were long shots. So, I took something I knew I was good at already, something I knew I wouldn’t hate doing, and went down that path. For me that thing was computer hardware. I knew that I could have a successful career working with computers, with relative ease, and I could use that career path as a slingshot to working on my other goals in parallel.
I know this is going to sound awful, but in most cases the best choice is to not follow your dreams. Obviously some people have followed their dreams and been quite successful. No one becomes a rock star or a pro athlete by not trying. Thing is, if you aren’t blessed with natural talent, and you find yourself struggling with your dreams, you need to realize that it’s best to do something else, at some point. Often times what you are actually good at, is not the same as what you would love to do.
Go to college.
This is just some advice from someone who has “been there, done that”. Again, there are plenty of people who are highly successful who never went to college, but if you plan to develop a career in any sort of corporate sector, the ceiling for you without a college degree, is low. I, personally, went to school for computer engineering. I would not deny for even a moment that I do not, and have not, used a single thing I was taught at college in my career. However, I had a job paying over $70,000 a year from the moment I graduated college. It opens a lot of doors. It is really just an expensive piece of paper at the end of the day, but it is also a very valuable piece of paper. Graduating college with a serious degree program not only shows potential employers that you are smart, but it also shows that you are dedicated and able to finish things that you start.
Never stop learning.
If your company offers any sort of college tuition programs, make use of them. I am personally currently pursuing a Masters in Business Administration and my company is picking up the tab. It is a lot of work, but if you turn down a free graduate degree, then something is seriously wrong with you.
Get training, and certifications. From my perspective, certifications are almost useless, and stand for nothing. From a hiring managers perspective though, they are very valuable. I have several certifications which cost my roughly $100 each to obtain, and I was able to pass the tests with little to no preparation. If you have knowledge on a subject, back it up with a certification. It really helps.
Training helps you stay up to date on the latest technologies you are working with. Most companies will reimburse you for any training you wish to receive. If you don’t wish to get training on a particular technology then get other types of training such as project management training or corporate development training. This is all managerial ammunition.
If you have a job which outlines certain responsibilities, and you do them, you will likely never get fired. But you will also likely never get promoted. In my own career I have often used my free time to read about other subjects I have had interest in, or gotten trained on technologies I thought it might be useful to have the knowledge of.
As a result, I have been able to expand my horizons quit a bit. I started my career as a backup and recovery analyst and I have since made moves, and gotten promotions into areas which interest me much more, such as SAN and Storage. I have greater respect and responsibility around the office now then I had ever had in the past.
Be outspoken, be replaceable.
Always speak your mind, but also be careful with your words, and pick your battles. It is very important to make yourself heard, especially when you are going to be the one who is ultimately responsible for dealing with the decisions which are made all around you. Do not bend over to management will every time, challenge them. Expressing yourself not only exhibits your passion for what you do, but also your knowledge of your area of expertise.
Do not hold information so close to you that you are not replaceable. Many people hold their responsibilities close to their chests so that they cannot be fired, but, if you can’t be fired then you also probably can’t be promoted. Document what you do so that it is easy to transition someone else into your role. It will make things a lot easier when it comes time for that big promotion. Holding things close not only makes it more difficult for your coworkers, but it also makes it hard for management to ever consider moving you out of your current position.
Change happens, always. There are people who fear it, and try to prevent it, and people who embrace it and use it to their advantage. You should always be one to embrace it. If your company is making moves to move to technologies which you don’t understand, learn them, and be one of the people who helps make it happen. If you get a new manager who tries to shake things up a little bit, accept it and do your best to make a good impression with them.
For me, one of my close co-workers recently left the company, and also left a very big hole with very big shoes to fill. I stepped up and offered to fill them. It was the best thing I ever did in my career. It opened up a whole new set of doors for me.
Change often means more work, especially in the short time. It also usually means more stress, on you and your family. More often then not though, the work pays off.
Recognize when to quit.
All change is not good. Sometimes you have to know when to recognize bad change, and make drastic and scary decisions around that change. Big company mergers, layoffs, recession. All very scary. In my career I was part of one very sloppy takeover, and a huge mess resulted. I started looking for a new job.
Luckily for me, I found a new job very quickly, which I enjoy much more then the old one. I turned negative change into positive change.
To wrap it up, the synopsis is: Do what you know, never stop learning, and don’t fear change. If you follow those simple guidelines you should have a comfortable and successful career. I am only 26 years old right now and I feel like I have a very bright future. My rules don’t apply to everyone but for me, they haven’t let me down yet.