5 Smart Career Path Planning Tips from Real Executives

by Jasmine Henry | Nov 30, 2018
A person holds up a road map

A successful future in information technology requires tech professionals to pursue new abilities and knowledge continually. Technology is evolving faster than ever, and professional skill sets have a rapidly shortening shelf life. By 2020, the work-related skills and knowledge taught in university will be obsolete within five years, according to the Harvard Business Review. IT career path planning is necessary to survive an uncertain future.

According to CompTIA’s recent brief Assessing the IT Skills Gap in the UK, 8 out of 10 IT pros are satisfied with their decision to work in tech. However, today's professionals admit they need career path assistance.

At the top of the job-related wish list for 53 percent of respondents was more resources for training [and] professional development, and 48 percent want more career path guidance. The responsibility for career planning often lands on the individual, as employers worldwide admit to struggling with the tech skills gap.

5 Tips for IT Career Path Planning

As today’s IT pros navigate an uncertain and complex career ecosystem, some of the best guidance could come from chief information officers (CIOs) and other top leaders. Seasoned CIOs have survived years of disruptive change. While IT career path planning has never been simple, today’s senior tech executives have valuable insight into the art of reinventing your skills.

1. Be Your Own Advocate

An early career mentor advised CIO Jonathan Feldman to “never rely on the company for your tools and skills,” at least not as his sole source for professional development. Self-advocacy is critical to IT career path success. Work to understand emerging opportunities and gaps in your skill set. Educate your boss on the value of professional education by making a business case for continuing education.

Organizations need individuals with the initiative to identify and pursue opportunities for self-improvement. According to the CompTIA research report Evaluating IT Workforce Needs, 6 out of 10 organizations have only informal processes to understand and assess skills gaps in the workforce or no process at all. Managers worry most about skills in emerging tech, such as AI, automation and blockchain, but they’re also concerned about covering basics like IT support and network skills.

2. Create Immediate Momentum Toward Big Goals

When professional education goals are balanced with a busy IT career, it’s easy for career path planning to fall by the wayside.

“I always advise setting hard deadlines for milestones,” Tech CEO Mario Peshev said. With your manager or mentor, work to create attainable milestones and deadlines for 6 to 12 months. Employ SMART goal-setting tactics by focusing on objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, results focused and time bound.

Career path planning should reflect a balance of short- and long-term intentions to maintain focus and momentum. Map your short-term goals toward your overarching objectives and focus on both technical and soft skill development. If your ultimate goal is to become a chief information security officer (CISO), you could set 12-month goals of earning a cybersecurity certification, like CompTIA PenTest+, and honing speaking skills by presenting research at an industry conference.

3. Establish a Business Mindset

Tomorrow’s top technologists will need the mindset and communication tools to collaborate with executives from marketing, finance and leadership backgrounds. According to the Gartner 2018 CIO Agenda, 58 percent of CIOs state business growth as their top priority. As businesses pursue goals of digital transformation, IT professionals at all levels are increasingly called upon to collaborate with business colleagues. It’s time for tech pros to start thinking like business leaders.

“Be the business partner, not the IT guy” IT Manager Talha Askari advised. Actively pursue opportunities to educate yourself about your organization and market. Foster strong relationships with colleagues from other departments. Follow in the footsteps of great business technologists like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and become a voracious reader of books on leadership, communication, technology and strategy.

As you strengthen your business mindset, practice for your future role as a tech leader by actively exploring opportunities for process improvement and growth in your current position.

“Don’t rely on your boss to tell you the best way to solve a problem,” Harvard instructor and executive Sam Mallikarjunan said. “Be bold. Seek out faster, more efficient ways to get results for your boss. Keep your eye out for pockets of opportunity your company is overlooking. Automate yourself out of a job.”

4. Build a Diverse Portfolio of Tech Skills

There’s little question that there will be serious demand for IT pros in the future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 12 percent increase in jobs by 2026. However, knowing the skills that will matter in a decade is far more uncertain. While no one can predict the next disruptive development, continually exposing yourself to the cutting edge can reveal the innovations that matter.

“It is almost impossible to predict what will be the norm six months from now,” tech CEO Arthur Pereless acknowledged in an interview with Forbes. “Someone who is constantly learning will be very successful in the future of this unpredictable field.” When knowledge and curiosity are coupled with diverse professional education, IT pros are most likely to develop a future-proof skill set.

“Get certified in things for which there will be a long-term demand,” Marty Mason recommended. “Build a diverse portfolio.” Pursuing certifications and training in topics that are likely to remain valuable for years, such as project management, cloud and security fundamentals, can add depth to a technologist’s skill set.

5. Seek Feedback and Test Your Skills

Take inspiration from the agile methodology, and seek frequent feedback on your professional development. Be prepared to pivot based on what you learn. According to CIO Ryan Fay, the most effective current and future tech leaders “experiment, promote fluid organizational exchange [of information] and continually receive feedback.”

Henry Ford, the inventor of the automobile, once said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses.” Limiting the scope of your feedback could fail to reveal the bigger picture. Seek input from your colleagues, manager and mentor, and be bold enough to test your skills on a regular basis. Use digital learning tools designed to provide instant feedback on both strengths and gaps in your skill set.

Planning for IT Career Success in an Uncertain Future

In the field of information technology, one of the only certainties is sustained change and innovation. As technology continues to evolve, organizations are struggling to understand and fill skill vacancies in their IT workforce. While it’s impossible to predict the future role of emerging technologies, there’s an undeniable need for IT pros to evolve and develop new skills.

Many of today’s CIOs are experts at reinvention and adapting to change in business technology. The lessons these leaders have learned is an essential insight into IT career path planning. To prepare for success in an uncertain future, today’s tech professionals must become strong self-advocates and continual learners. Adopt SMART goals, pursue feedback and diversify your skills.

Take career path planning into your own hands with CompTIA training and certifications. Learn more about the CompTIA CertMaster suite of products.

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