In the IT world, there are a lot of different paths to take. Mine, though conventional enough in its beginnings, is increasingly becoming unconventional. I believe this is a good and important thing. Here, then, is my approach to my own career.
- Solid technical skills
- Without a solid technical skill set, everything else you do will suffer. If you aspire to management, a solid skill set is great for guiding and mentoring those you manage, and if not, your bread-and-butter, day-to-day work will be within technical work. Having the chops to roll up your sleeves and showing your employees how it is done means you are not only a management resource, but also, when needed, a technical one. I suggest getting certified on both client- and server systems, as well as office suite certification. The skills you build here will serve you well for years to come.
- Basic business skills
- Having passed the first requirement, it is time to understand your role within the organisation as a whole. Start off by understanding service management, then move on to broader business skills. In particular, you should be able to read an accounting sheet and a budget, to poke at the holes in it, and understand why the apparent holes are not holes after all – in short, you need to understand aingle and double entry bookkeping. I suggest taking, at the very least, an ITIL foundation certification (or equivalent), and any intro to business studies course will likely be useful, too.
- Project management
- At this point, you are not only able to do your job, but also to step in for your boss. Great! You will likely have been part of one or more project teams. At this point, it is time to learn how projects are run, and why. This will make you a better team player, both in your day-to-day job, as well as whenever you are assigned to a project team. I suggest going for the PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner exams (or equivalent).
- Lies, damned lies and statistics
- Now you need to round out your intuitive understanding of how the world works. As many scholarly works will point out, though we have decent intuitive skills in other areas, statistics is not one of them (for details, I recommend Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman). Statistics is the area of mathematics most abused in our world, from political polls to journalistic accounts of scentific studies and their results. Understanding how it works will enable you to further understand the world we live in, and make you a better professional.
You may notice that every item on the above list builds on the one before. I do not mean to imply that you can’t make it work in another order, but rather that it is important to build on what you already know. As an example, you may start out with business management skills, and then go for technical skills before moving to project management. What matters is making a plan, revising it as needed.
By taking a multi-disciplinary approach, you will be better able to adapt to changing circumstances. The only guarantee I can offer is that your circumstances will change. By having prepared adequately, you will also be able to perform adequately. More to the point, by having many strengths you will be a more attractive prospective employee.