Defining Your Career Path
Posted by Marcus Fan on Aug 2, 2010 9:48:47 PM
So you have a job. Where is it going to take you to? Many people I meet are very comfortable with their jobs or even careers to the point where they no longer pursue advancement. They are where they want to be and that’s great for them! However; there are those who, whether satisfied or unsatisfied, dream of something more to life, but never pursue it or are unsure of how to pursue it. Look at it this way… It’s not what your career can do for you, but what you can do for your career.
You’ve probably heard this a million times, “Where do you want to be a year (or five years) from now”? You answer, but how sincere or realistic is your answer? When I was in college, I worked in software retail. My co-worker at the time was a sales representative with a master’s degree in robotics engineering. He was clearly overqualified for the job, but he was perfectly happy making a little over minimum wage. He eventually left for a career in robotics (it could have been because I kept pushing him to do something with his life) and now looking back, we laugh at those days.
Where was my head those days you ask? I was pursing my degree in computer engineering and computer science. I didn’t really know what I’d do because I didn’t know what kinds of jobs were available. I figured… ‘I like computers so hopefully I can teach others or be a consultant.’ I didn’t dream big because I had no idea what someone with an computer engineering degree would do. Even in my first few jobs, I didn’t see the big picture and with humor when asked where I saw myself in 5-10 years, I would often reply something to the effect of “I see myself being your boss”. The funny thing is that I didn’t know what the natural (or possible) progression was for an engineer. I mean, seriously, here I was an engineer at a start-up and as I was trying to figure things out, so was the company.
My second job out of college, I was brought in as an infrastructure consultant and then hired full time as to manage all technical operations. I was “the” boss and the only room for growth there was to be promoted to a VP, but I was perfectly content with where I was at and everyone was so nice to me. I loved the career coaching and technical training I was able to give, but I was still young and the concept of future hadn’t hit me yet.
It wasn’t until I worked for a bank in their IS department, that the notion of career path or career growth finally hit me. What was it that changed? I finally saw a structured company that defined career progression and it gave me greater purpose, something to strive for. I could now realistically answer where I wanted to be in 1, 5 or 10 years from now. Today, I have multiple plans. I have an aggressive plan, a work/life balance plan and a fallback plan. So why three plans? My reason for three plans is that they keep me in check. My aggressive plans are where I would like to be regardless of what I have to sacrifice, my work/life balance plan reminds me of what I risk losing and my fallback plan provides me some comfort and contingency. Rather than picking one, I look at all three when making career decisions.
That’s great and dandy Marcus, but what’s in it for me? I love WIIFM. We should all be thinking WIIFM or what’s in it for my stakeholders (but that’s another blog). I see a lot of people succeed because of their intelligence, luck, strong professional network and personality. You know where you are at today, so start with that. Whether that might be a someone looking to secure a job, someone trying to get promoted or someone looking for a job change. What do you think will get you to where you want to be? Ask around. Both Sun and Cisco certifications helped define my career path by opening doors to new opportunities.
Most people I want to grow their careers or “be the boss” without knowing what that really entails. Just because something sounds cool, doesn’t mean it is. Do your homework and understand whether it’s something you really want to do or something you’ll be good at. Once you have some idea about what you want to do, build timelines around them and the steps necessary to achieve your goals. It’s okay if you slip as long as your moving in the natural progression of things and can see progress towards your end goals.
Steps You Can Take Today
Don’t wait until tomorrow for something you can do today. Evaluate where you are, what your responsibilities are and then begin to map out where you want to be in the short-term and long-term. Make certain that your goals are realistic and that progression is measurable. Inform your management of your goals (if appropriate) and ask for suggestions on how to achieve your goals. Measure yourself against your goals regularly and modify your plans accordingly. Never lose hope and accept changes as not everything will always go as planned. Mapping out your career can be a lot like a network topology… you build redundancy into your plan, you make certain it scales and you put in place security and failover.
Have you seen growth in your career? Did certifications play a part in it?