Tag Archives: career paths

  • Mapping Out Your Career ‘Finish Line’

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    A long time ago, when I worked as a comedian, other comics would tell me their goals. One guy wanted to perform on David Letterman; he worked toward nothing else. When he finally landed on the show, he had no idea what to do next: He hadn’t mapped out a more comprehensive future.

    Likewise, too many people who get into tech are aiming only for that next job, and not envisioning the larger picture—their career picture. What most people call a goal is really a milestone; they’re not mapping out a “finish line” or endgame. While it’s difficult to predict the future, it’s more important than ever in these evolving times to plan for multiple outcomes, and to hold a top-level view of where you want your career to actually go in the end.

    Vanessa Corchado, associate director of career services at Plaza College in New York, agrees with that sentiment: “Everything changes… New developments are upgraded all the time, so I believe backup plans are always needed.”

    Whether or not you intend to stick with the same job your whole career—which is a long shot, given the rapidly evolving nature of tech—or plan on job-hopping until you end up at your dream company, you need to consider the skills and tactics you’ll need along the way.

    Donna Shannon, career coach and author of Get a Job Without Going Crazy, suggested that developing non-technical skills can prove immensely beneficial in preparing for your career arc. “Planning for later stages of your career goes beyond just developing your technical skills,” she said. “Far too many IT professionals get wrapped up into obtaining the latest certification or learning the latest systems that they may forget to work on their soft skills.”

    The first real milestone in a career is your degree or certifications; the next is to secure a job that puts you on a desired career path. As you progress, you learn new technology skills and take on new challenges. But if you’re not learning, your jumps will only be half as “high” as they need to be; you might land in good places, but you can jump higher and further with the right long-term planning. (I had been planning a transition from desktop applications to information security for years.)

    Not Just for the Young

    Students sometimes confuse their first job in tech with a profession in tech. Your first job in tech will look nothing like your last job in tech, and you need to proactively prepare along the way. If you’re at the start of your career, keep your mind open to all the possibilities the technology field has to offer.

    Never Stop Planning

    Bestselling author Charlene Li once said that the best advice she received while attending a career-management course at Harvard was to evaluate her career status every 18 months, because it takes about that long to master a job. For those of us in tech, however, active career management should be baked into everything we do; because our world changes so fast, 18 months may be too long to wait for a self-evaluation. I would suggest every three months; put it on your calendar to evaluate yourself and adjust your plan.

    How do you actually plan for that next step? Here are some pointers:

    • Perform a Self-Assessment: To start, you may want to use your company’s employee evaluation form. (Doing this regularly will also allow you to provide a more complete assessment during year-end evaluations with your supervisor.)
    • Consider Career Planning Strategies: Look at the skills and qualifications required for jobs you covet, and learn accordingly. Add a Dice JobAlert Search and Google Alert to your desired jobs, so you can get a sense of what’s going on in the industry as a whole.
    • Develop Your Personal Network: The best time to network is when you don’t need something. Build that network by helping people with information, assistance, or contacts. This will all pay off later.
    • Market Yourself: Social tools are out there for you to deliver and receive specific expertise in your field. Use them.

    You can also employ a professional career counselor. The better ones are members of the National Career Development Association (NCDA). It can make all the difference.

    Whether you spend the extra money for a career counselor, or plot out your career on your own, make sure you spend the effort to delineate your career arc.

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  • From Hacker to Obama’s CTO

    Harper Reed

    Harper Reed is most famous for his role as CTO of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, but he’s served other prominent roles over the past several years, including CTO of Threadless (the t-shirt company) and CEO of e-commerce startup Modest.

    In order to operate effectively in such high-profile roles, you can’t just be a great developer—you need to have people skills, including the ability to wrangle some strong personalities. How did Reed develop those skills?

    Through a bit of trial and error, according to a new Medium posting where he describes his formative years. Reed got into computers early, becoming obsessed with not only hardware and software but also Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), the ancestors of today’s social networks. At first, Reed didn’t exactly use his newfound know-how for good; in one early hack, he made his school’s computers display profanities, a stunt that cost him school computer privileges for the rest of the year.

    After a local kid used instructions Reed found on a website to build a bomb, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms came calling. “Thankfully, I didn’t get kicked off the computers again — because I had already parlayed my experience into running IT for the high school,” Reed wrote, “and thus knew more about the school’s computers than any of my teachers. They needed me.”

    Reed believes those early experiences gave him the attitude necessary to run the tech side of Obama’s re-election campaign. “Somehow knew I could do the job,” he wrote. “I attribute that confidence to my experience as a hacker and the subsequent willingness to take risks. If you never break through that wall of doubt, you will never see what might’ve been possible.”

    Obama’s campaign deployed dozens of data scientists, developers, and engineers to analyze and work with huge mountains of data gathered from Facebook and other online sources. The data-analytics initiatives included Project Narwhal, which made voter information accessible to campaign workers across the country. It was the sort of job capable of intimidating even the most experienced tech executive, but Reed was evidently well-equipped to handle it, thanks to a hefty dose of hacker attitude.

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  • How I Made the Leap to IT Security

    Fifteen years ago, the landscape of IT was so fluid you could almost pick your specialty and start working. The need for computer engineers was so great, that anyone with some ambition could go far reasonably fast.

    Document services specialists—who type for a living—were moving into application deployment. A night security guard who spent his time studying Novell became a certified Novell administrator. I worked in a copy center in a small law firm and became their network administrator literally just by asking.

    Check out the latest security jobs.

    Today, roles are far more static. An employee in a copy center could not reasonably expect to get a job working with computers just because he or she wants one. And someone who has studied Novell (or something more contemporary like Windows deployment) is less likely to find a job, thanks to competition with too many experienced people.

    But it’s also static in another way: The jobs are changing or disappearing altogether. What happens to the engineer whose primary responsibility is mounting servers when the server room moves to the cloud? Likewise, it’s nearly impossible for that highly qualified desktop applications engineer to get a job in the promising field of network security.

    As career coach Donna Shannon said: “A big mistake that candidates often make is thinking that ‘I can do this job, if only they would give me a chance!’ Companies are not thinking of your career goals; they are concerned about their needs. When you merge your desires with the company’s needs, that’s when the magic happens.”

    Thanks to exactly those reasons, I successfully moved from desktop applications to IT security. Here’s how.

    My company’s desktop manager retired, and they chose not to replace him. Our workload became greater, which of course is a good thing. But my concern was for the bigger picture: How long will the desktop be around? As demonstrated by the engineer mounting servers who loses his job to the cloud, the rate of change within the IT industry has increased rapidly over the past 15 years; I couldn’t reasonably count on the desktop existing for another 15 years, at least as we know it.

    So I wrote a letter to my new manager detailing my other experience and abilities. I had recently gone back to school to get a degree in project management. I am a blogger; I was even a comedian a long time ago. If he needed any help outside the desktop, I wrote, feel free to tap me.

    And he did. He gave me odd tasks that had nothing to do with the skill set on my resume. I happily took them and completed them quickly.

    As Ask The Headhunter’s Nick Corcodilos said last year, when I wrote the letter: “I think it’s key to wander around, ask for advice, offer to help ‘on the side,’ using some of your skills, and gradually work your way into a new team.” He refers to it as “JHBWA,” or “Job Hunting By Wandering Around.”

    Meanwhile our CIO was looking for someone to help with his workload, specifically the Security Awareness program. (This is a job in itself!) As with many CIOs right now, his workload had increased; there was no way for him to implement the program. So six months after I wrote the letter and helped with odd projects, the manager took me into his office and proposed the shift to security.

    This was exactly what I wanted. I have some security background, having locked down the desktop with group policy, PrivilegeGuard, WSUS, Shavlik, and Symantec EP. But there’s more to security than the desktop, which made the new task a leap—a big leap.

    Or as Lisa Yanni, a technical recruiter at Career Management Associates in New York, put it: “I think it is common for people to transition roles in IT, but going from desktop applications to security engineer is a pretty big jump and I don’t think a jump this drastic is very common, at least not that I have witnessed.”

    So how do you do it?  Well, first you have to ask.

    “Any time we are trying to convince a company that they need a new role, we are actually pitching the job,” Shannon said. “This is very different than just applying to open positions, as you not only have to convince the company to hire (or move) you, but also that the job is necessary in the first place.”

    Yanni added: “Tailor your resume to reflect all relevant experience for the role you are applying to even if it seems beyond where you are now… Companies love ambition… Think of all the reasons why they could say ‘no’ and come up with reasons to say ‘yes.’”

    As for me, I’m sort of back to where I was 15 years ago… and cracking a whole new set of books.

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  • Forging a Career Path When the Route Is Unclear

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    Up-and-coming companies seldom offer well-defined career paths that guide IT professionals from one position to the next. Enterprising employees are instead expected to identify an emerging role or need and pilot themselves to the next career opportunity.

    “You have to know where the company and your particular niche is headed to steer your own IT career,” said Katy Piotrowski, CEO of Career Solutions Group, a career planning firm based in Fort Collins, Colo. “The key is finding an opportunity that leverages your strengths in a way that benefits both you and the company.”

    Check out the latest technology jobs.

    A few years ago, no one had even heard of a UI designer, data scientist or cloud-services specialist—and now they’re mainstream jobs. Entering a new field, or innovating on an existing one, will give you an upper hand over potential rivals in your company and industry. But plotting a career path when the route is unclear is often easier said than done.

    Get Out in Front

    Stay abreast of emerging technologies (as well as economic, regulatory and competitive changes) that may impact your company over the next few years. Position yourself as a mover and shaker by discussing these events with your boss.

    “Once you’ve outlined the need, propose a new position or kick around some possible roles,” Piotrowski said. “You don’t have to be a job hunter to reap the benefits of an exploratory interview. They’re also an effective tool for current employees who want to gather information about a possible career change.”

    Even if your boss isn’t ready to act on a trend, planting seeds with decision-makers can result in a new opportunity down the road. Plus, it positions you as a doer and innovator instead of someone who’s fixated on titles and promotions.

    “Don’t wait until the perfect job description pops up, because by that time, they already know who they want to hire,” Piotrowski added. “Take the initiative by showing interest and proactively solving problems so executives will give you a shot when the time is right.”

    Try the Sampler Platter

    If making a full-blown transition to a new and better role seems risky, take small steps by volunteering to attend conferences, learn new skills, oversee small projects or tackle stretch assignments. These so-called “career change experiments” can help you refine the job description, close skill gaps, define deliverables and confirm the mutual benefits and interest in creating a new position. Experienced trailblazers often dip their toes in the water before they take the plunge.

    “Testing the waters benefits both parties,” Piotrowski said. “I like the idea of trying out a role for three months. It makes it a lot easier to return to your old position if things don’t work out and a lot easier for your boss to say yes. In the meantime, you’re acquiring valuable skills and experience.”

    Learn From Other Trailblazers

    No two career paths are the same. You can learn a great deal by studying the actions and routes of those who’ve carved out new roles for themselves, especially within your own company.

    Networking with first movers who are already dabbling with a new technology or niche can bolster your planning efforts. For instance, a mentor can help you identify emerging problems and opportunities, plot a career path and develop a pitch that will resonate with your boss. He or she can also help you pinpoint the skills and expertise necessary to pursue your next position.

    “Blending outside information with your existing technical knowledge and interests is the secret to making a custom tailored career plan,” Piotrowski said. “It’s not about following a well-trodden path, you have the luxury of setting your own course when the route isn’t defined.”

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  • Finding Your Way as an Enterprise Architect

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    Aspiring enterprise architects (EAs) have to navigate a winding, unmarked career path littered with inconsistent job titles, diverse duties and a plethora of frameworks in order to stake their claim in this emerging but confusing field.

    Brian Cameron, founder of the Federation of Enterprise Architecture Professional Organizations (FEAPO) and executive director of the Center for Enterprise Architecture at Penn State University, thinks enterprise architecture is a hodgepodge of fiefdoms that desperately needs consistency: “The architectural frameworks and skill requirements vary by organization and industry.”

    For enterprise-architect jobs, click here.

    Given the lack of standardized job descriptions and training, and employers needing EAs pronto, it’s worth asking a few veteran enterprise architects how they found their current jobs, and how they deal with some of the industry’s quirks.

    Target Specific Roles and Industries

    If you want a job as an enterprise architect, start by pursuing a narrow range of positions in industries that align with your strengths, technical skills, functional knowledge and interests.

    Cameron estimates that 50 percent of practicing EAs have a technical background and 50 percent have a business or liberal arts background, which means there are plenty of opportunities for people with wide-ranging experience.

    EAs at major tech firms such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM or SAP usually need considerable software engineering or development experience and familiarity with the cloud and Big Data, explained Serge Thorn, who’s been an EA for 15 years.

    Major companies often employ large numbers of EAs, Thorn added, so not everyone’s involved with business-process modeling, portfolio management, IT governance, stakeholder communication and so forth.

    Conversely, an EA in a small- to mid-sized IT department typically focuses on enterprise-wide analysis, planning and design; as a result, he or she spends considerable time interfacing with stakeholders. Jobs in smaller companies also tend to require broader skills, business and functional acumen, and an understanding of global architecture.

    Don’t be discouraged by lengthy job descriptions for enterprise architects, advised Jason Uppal, chief architect and CEO for iCareQuality. Uppal started out as an aerospace engineer and has never worked in IT: “It’s unlikely that anyone would have all of the skills employers are currently demanding, so start with what you know and build from there.” 

    Acquire Critical Skills and Competencies

    Traditionally, enterprise architects have relied on decades of experience in order to do their jobs well. For example, Thorn honed his leadership and enterprise architecture skills over the course of 18 years while serving as an IT manager and later as the head of IT for a major global bank.

    But that paradigm is changing. In order to meet the growing need for practitioners, many universities now offer certificates for working professionals, alongside online master’s programs, that teach theoretical foundations, decision making and enterprise modeling.

    If you’ve worked in software development or engineering, systems design or administration, project management or a business-facing role on an ERP team, you may already possess many of the required skills and competencies for the EA position. After all, EAs spend most of their time selling their ideas, building trust and consensus, and communicating technical concepts to non-technical people. Sound familiar?

    You don’t need deep knowledge in any one area, Uppal said; it’s primarily a leadership role. “For instance, I’ve never coded in .NET in my life but I know how an application comes together,” he added. “Technologies come and go but the basic three-tier architecture hasn’t changed in 15 years. Most of the fundamental skills can be learned on-the-job as you go.”

    Assess your readiness by comparing your experience to the ideal competency levels outlined in this framework. Online courses, mentoring relationships, lateral moves and stretch assignments that offer enterprise or business exposure are the best ways to close major knowledge gaps.

    Another option is to use a subspecialty such as database architecture and administration, or network architecture and administration, as a stepping-stone to an enterprise-architect level.

    Learn an Architectural Framework

    Most companies use a hybrid enterprise architecture framework, according to Cameron. In fact, a recent industry study found that 66 percent of organizations had developed a customized framework. Fortunately, there’s no need to learn them all; just get familiar with a more popular framework such as TOGAF, ZachmanDoDAF or TRAK; or better still, learn the framework that is preferred by the companies in your target industry.

    And while a certification or two may increase your marketability and value, you don’t need one right away. “You could give a TOGAF manual to an industrial engineer and they’d recognize the concepts immediately,” Uppal said. “If you understand the industry, the architectural framework and have the right balance of interpersonal, strategic and technical skills, you have everything you need to make the leap into enterprise architecture.”

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  • How to Snag That CTO Job

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    Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) need a mix of technical and strategic skills to perform effectively in the C-suite. But more than anything else, CTOs must be motivational leaders with the communication skills to rally the troops—IT employees and non-tech staff alike—around their vision.

    CTOs combine technical chops with managerial savvy, all in the name of aligning the technical needs of the organization with business and financial goals. “A CTO has to define the technology and technical strategy of the company and depending on the scope, deliver on it,” Laurent Bride, CTO at software-integration firm Talend, said in an interview. If you’re looking at software companies, he added, experience as a developer in multiple languages is a must: “Being able to design a high-level scalable, open, and adaptable architecture is also something you would expect from a CTO.”

    Click here to find CTO jobs.

    The aspiring CTO’s resume should show a steady progression up the IT food chain, with development, architecture and management experience as must-haves. “Leading innovation teams can be a plus in the [applicant] mix,” Bride said. A deep understanding of mobile, Big Data, and the cloud are very important these days, although probably not as much as the capability to bridge old and new technologies.

    (Wonder what a CTO’s resume would look like? Check out our sample here.)

    Non-technical skills are just as important as technical ones. In order to deliver on goals, a CTO needs to be a thought leader and someone unafraid of failure. “He or she needs to be pragmatic on delivery plans, while challenging the team for more,” is how Bride frames it. That requires a technical curiosity as well as an innovation focus. Changes in the way enterprise companies consume software, whether it’s cloud, mobile, or open source (as well as the consumerization of enterprise software), will affect how CTOs perform their roles for years to come.

    With all that in mind, those applying for a CTO role should brush up on their communication skills, and be ready to adapt their personal style to the audience. You’ll not only deal with IT staff, but non-technical employees and customers and clients. A good CTO can make complex topics understandable to even the most non-technical people in an organization.

    As with most of the roles on the executive team, CTOs are more involved in the financial direction of the company than ever before—a crucial role, since CTOs are laboring under the pressure of weak IT spending. According to Gartner, worldwide IT spending was flat in 2013, and is on pace to increase a mere 2.1 percent in 2014. Before taking a run at a CTO role, make sure you know your way around a financial statement, and be prepared to counter budgetary constraints with IT innovation.

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  • Why Infrastructure Companies Aren’t Cool Anymore

    The illustration says it best, saving at least a thousand words. It shows a middle-aged khaki-clad engineer talking with a hoodie and jeans 20-something colleague. “When will you make something that matters?” asks the elder. “When will you make something cool?” responds the youth. That sums up what The New York Times Magazine calls “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem,” in which infrastructure companies can’t attract the best talent because young people want to be where the cool – and the money – is. Thus, working to build a sexting app has become far more glamorous than working at the networking or security companies that make the app possible. Click here to find infrastructure jobs. “In pursuing the latest and the coolest,” writes author Yiren Lu, “young engineers ignore opportunities in less-sexy areas of tech like semiconductors, data storage and networking, the products that form the foundation on which all of Web 2.0 rests.” Without a good router to provide reliable Wi-Fi, your Dropbox file-sharing application is not going to sync; without Nvidia’s graphics processing unit, your BuzzFeed GIF is not going to make anyone laugh. The talent — and there’s a ton of it — flowing into Silicon Valley cares little about improving these infrastructural elements. What they care about is coming up with more Web apps. Some – including me – will say this sad state of affairs has been brought on by the riches that can be quickly earned if a VC-backed startup goes viral. This isn’t just a case of “follow the cool” but also “follow the money,” wherever that money happens to be going. Long before Google, Eric Schmidt got rich helping build Sun Microsystems and trying to save Novell , both companies that developed critical infrastructure technologies that we still use today. Google will likely leave a similar legacy. But what about Zynga? Or SnapChat, Instagram or WhatsApp? All companies that seem important today, but will scarcely leave a mark two decades from now. Those businesses made lots of 20-somethings rich and drove up housing prices in San Francisco. Lu blames the problem on the consumerization of tech, led by Facebook and Google, which made their fortunes turning technology into consumer products. That’s created “a deep rift between old and new, hardware and software, enterprise companies that sell to other businesses and consumer companies that sell directly to the masses,” Lu writes. Still, isn’t this just the “creative destruction” that tech money people like to describe, where the new rolls over the old? As technology and the companies that create it get older, the big money opportunity goes away, and star talent lands elsewhere. In part, this explains the acquisitions being made by Yahoo , Facebook and others intending to bring the newest technology in-house to become part of their aging consumer applications. Less apparent are the startups being acquired or funded by the HPs , Microsofts and Oracles of the world. Of course, their funding seems like small change when it’s compared to a Facebook acquisition. Yet, those may point the way to a future in which the values of consumer computing — such as ease-of-use, simplicity and low cost — merge with those of the big enterprise and infrastructure companies. “There is no doubt that young talent will keep flocking to the valley,” Lu writes. “Some of us will continue to make the Web products that have generated such vast wealth and changed the way we think, interact, protest. But hopefully, others among us will go to work on tech’s infrastructure, bringing the spirit of the new guard into the old.” Lu, herself a graduate computer science student, doesn’t disclose what her career path will be except to say she’s interested in working for one of the next-generation infrastructure startups she mentions in her story. It will be interested in seeing how many of her friends will be willing to follow. Related Stories The Unintended Consequences of Tech Startups Mobile Skills Coveted in Acqui-Hires Roundup: Older Tech Firms DO Want Younger Talent The post Why Infrastructure Companies Aren’t Cool Anymore appeared first on Dice News .

  • Why More IT Pros Say ‘No Thanks’ to Becoming CIO

    Want to be a CIO? You’re in the minority. Long hours, lack of prestige and company politics have more IT pros saying they don’t aspire to become CIO , according to a Computerworld survey. Only 32 percent of the 489 IT professionals polled say they are still gunning for the CIO title, while 55 percent say “no thanks.” “Being a CIO doesn’t offer the opportunity to do the cool stuff that IT people like so much to do. It’s about meetings and budgets and politics,” says Stephanie Jurenka, an IT manager at Westway Group, a bulk liquid storage company in New Orleans. Respondents cited a number of reasons their aspirations lie elsewhere: Preference for more of a hands-on role. Title carries a lot of responsibility, but little power or authority. Hours required preclude work/life balance. Relatively low pay. In healthcare, in particular, CIOs face unforgiving deadlines to meet federal mandates, though compensation has not grown in accordance to the workload , according to a survey from St. Petersburg, Fla.-based healthcare recruiting firm SSi-Search. In its poll of 178 healthcare CIOs, 44 percent of respondents say that their duties increased between 25 to 50 percent over the past four years, while 23 percent say their workload jumped 50 to 75 percent. At the same time, nearly 40 percent say their compensation has risen by 10 percent or less during the same time period. Although tech pros prefer hands-on roles, those jobs increasingly are being farmed out to third-party service providers, the Computerworld story notes. At the same time, however, IT pros are finding themselves working in marketing, logistics and other functions outside of IT as technology becomes more deeply embedded in every aspect of the business. “Information and technology are lifeblood for companies: No single department owns them,” says Diane Morello, an analyst at Gartner . These hybrid roles call for a mix of IT and business acumen and by some accounts are growing more rapidly than pure tech roles. The post Why More IT Pros Say ‘No Thanks’ to Becoming CIO appeared first on Dice News .