When was the last time you thought about your career? We work in a world that constantly demands our time and attention, so it’s easy to forget about career advancement. To succeed in the IT business, however, you must balance your day-to-day work with focusing on your career. But what exactly does this mean? We have reflected on our combined 60 years of experience in this industry to create this top 10 list of things you can do to impact your mainframe career success — right now and in the future.
1. Spend at Least One Hour a Month on Your Career
The quote “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan” is applicable here. This does not mean you have to map everything out every week, but you should have a trajectory for your career, and you should be edging toward your long-term goals. Rarely does a career have a bunch of big steps — more often there are a bunch of small steps consistently taken. Spending at least an hour a month planning what small steps to currently work on is an important component to moving forward. Additionally, make sure you are documenting what steps you are taking so you have a clear picture of your accomplishments.
2. Get a Mentor
Or, get several. Find people in your company or in your field who you respect and who can help you reach your career goals. These people often have a good handle on the technical, business, and political aspects of the job. Getting advice and council on how to proceed is invaluable. Questions like, “Should I take this job?” or “Will these extra duties help my career goals?” are hard to answer yourself. Having someone provide advice can be the difference between working hard and working smart.
3. Be a Mentor
You might not think you have much to offer others in your company, but your perspective can be very valuable. Believe it or not, mentors also get a lot of value from their mentees. Every business relationship is an opportunity to learn. Watching someone else’s career growth can be very satisfying, especially when you guide them to the right path.
4. Learn the Business
It is great to be a technical resource for your company. The longer you work in an area, the better you understand the technical detail that underpins your product. While understanding that technical detail is important, it is even more valuable when you can connect it to the value it brings to the company. Know the financial impacts of the product you provide, and figure out how to impact the business’ bottom line.
5. Get out of Your Comfort Zone
If you are comfortable in your job, it is time to think about moving move on. The IT world is evolving all the time. If you are not growing, you are falling behind. This is just the reality of our world. If you come in to work, and you know how to solve all the problems you are facing, it’s time to consider moving on. There should be some aspect of your job that you are at least a little bit nervous about how to get done.
6. Know Your Worth
If you have been in your job for a long time, you are likely to lose track of what your current skills are worth. Check out job opportunities. Go to a job interview. Knowing your worth can give you the ammunition to determine what you want to do next. Understand what you are giving up when you get that higher pay. A better career is not only about making more money — it is about finding a place that allows you to do the work you want to do and get properly paid for it. There is always a balance.
7. Present Your Skills
Presenting is a way to get people to understand what you have done. It allows you to demonstrate your technical skills to management and executives. It is also a major way to motivate people to do things you want them to do. Most people find presenting scary, and it is worse for technical people who prefer the solitary work like writing code, managing systems, or playing with technology. The only way to get better at presenting is to do it. You should look for opportunities to present. Work with people who can help you build effective presentations and will provide helpful feedback to get better.
8. Publish Your Knowledge
Another way to get your ideas and work out to the larger world is to write. With blogs, self-publishing, and social media, it has never been easier to get your ideas out into a larger audience. Writing gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your technical prowess while demonstrating to your company that your ideas are of interest to people in the outside world. There is a certain respect for writing and the people who do it. You can capitalize on this to help your career.
9. Make a Contribution
We live in a world where your peers inside and outside the company can help you build your reputation. Getting badges for learning is useful to demonstrate technical skill, but even more valuable are contributions to open source. Open-source contributions don’t just have to be coding either. There is always a need for people to document, test, and manage open-source projects. Building your reputation worldwide is a powerful tool to demonstrate your value to the company. Many companies also have an inner-source process, and contributing to inner-source is also a critical way to contribute back and demonstrate value.
10. Network with a Wide Range of Professionals
In the past, depth of knowledge was important. Today, breadth is as important as depth. To be valuable to your company, you need to augment the depth you know with connections to knowledge not only within your company, but also throughout the world. A strong network of professionals who are knowledgeable about different aspects of the industry and technology gives you access to answers and support you could never have on your own. It also provides different perspectives, enabling you to see nuances that have been honed by the experiences of others.
These 10 ideas are the starting point for building a great technical career on a foundation of core technical skills. Each of them focuses on things you can do beyond the technology to make yourself valuable not only to your current employer, but also to any company interested in technical professionals.
One common aspect to all these is continuous learning. The focus on continuous learning is critical to stay current with today’s technical environment. SHARE is a place where you can build skills in each of these areas and has been instrumental in our career growth. The organization also allows you to build a diverse network of people interested in technology. The next time you see us at a SHARE event, tell us which of these ideas you found most useful, or let us know what you think we missed.