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3 steps to better IT career management

Thornton May | June 6, 2017
While every career involves a bit of luck and serendipity, they can and should be managed

Several of my futurist colleagues and I have been thinking about where, in these turbulent times, IT executives should go for career advice. 

We began by considering how IT career advice has evolved. Thirty years ago, the field of IT career advice was an unregulated wilderness of divergent actors. There were academics, rock-star executives, psychologists, bestselling authors, shamans/gurus and snake-oil salesmen.

Back then I worked at a boutique IT consultancy with a guy I’ll call Mr. Average. This guy was not impressive. He had no technical skills to speak of (he did not code or possess any certifications). He was not into networking. He was not an active listener. He did not keep up with developments in any industry or field. He lacked general business savvy, was not strategic in his outlook, exhibited little or no curiosity about the future, did not have any domain expertise in a vertical market, and repeatedly failed visibly to appreciate the nuances of either internal or customer politics. To top it all off, he was not very likable either. So, during one of the IT industry’s many cyclical downturns, it surprised no one there that Mr. Average left the company. What did surprise us was what he chose to do. Mr. Average set himself up as a single-shingle “career adviser.” He did this semi-successfully (meaning he was able to feed himself) for over a decade. The success of his clients is another matter entirely. 

Today, the IT career advice industry is huge, but it’s still absolutely unregulated. I long for the day when a firm such as Gartner or JD Power publishes data about how the IT professionals who have paid for the services of these advisers have done. Clients need to know whose advice is most likely to pay off. 

While every career involves a bit of luck and serendipity, there are some fundamental blocking and tackling preparations one can undertake to maximize the hopes of creating a sustainable work trajectory. Careers can and should be managed. 

 

Step 1: Select a high-growth vertical market

Historically, career advice began by counseling wannabe world-beaters that vertical market choice mattered greatly. Baby boomers need only recall Benjamin Braddock’s graduation party, where a friend of the family urged upon him this unsolicited career advice: “One word … plastics.” (Non-boomers may need to be told that we’re talking about Mike Nichols’ 1967 movie, The Graduate.) Plastics may not be the vertical of promise it once was, but there are still advantages in choosing a strong vertical market. The global economy, forecast to grow in the aggregate 3.5%, (World Economic Outlook) does not grow evenly. Some regions and some industries will grow faster than others. Situating oneself in a high-growth vertical market does not guarantee career success but increases the probability of positive opportunities. 

 

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