At some point, the IT professional rising from the ranks needs to make a major career decision: do I advance my career as a hands-on technical professional or should I focus on managing technical people? Here are some key points to consider when making this major IT career path decision.
What do I like to do?
There is a big difference between being hands-on technical and managing people, so start out by determining which you like best. Think back on the things you have done over the last six months and ask yourself what efforts really excited you. Do you enjoy working independently or with other people? In general, managers spend a lot of time working with other people while technical people will spend more time working independently with the various tools and technologies.
During your career you probably had some personality tests like Meyers Briggs and you should also review those to gain additional insights. If you test out as an Introvert with a deep technical slant, then staying technical might be the right step. Conversely, if you are an Extrovert who loves engaging with others, then management could be the right path.
Where will it take me and what will be the challenges?
For each career path, consider where it will take you in 5 and 10 years. If you are looking to management, how far will you go? Not everyone reaches the VP/CIO/CTO level, so try to determine where you would like to end up.
If you are technical, where do you want to specialize? One of the chief challenges in staying technical is to continually prove your worth in the face of the increasing number of younger technicians who have grown up with a Blackberry in their hand. So choosing the right in-demand technical skills is important as the ColdFusion programmer that was hot a while ago is not in demand today.
Now think about what your job would be like on a daily basis. The manager will have to deal with various personalities and navigate personal agendas, while the technical professional will mostly be focused on meeting the requirements and timelines for projects and initiatives. If “politics" makes you crazy, then management might not be the path for you. On the other hand, if you are terrific at liaising across various groups and driving consensus, then management could be the right choice.
Of course you can consider salary and compensation, but unless you are going for the C-level and high level management roles, this probably will not be your key factor in making a decision here. You can check out PayScale.com and Salary.com to get an idea of what folks are being paid in the jobs you identified.
What will I need to know in the future to be secure in my job?
For each career choice, consider what you would need to do to advance and maintain your career track. Management positions will require a strong understanding of the key business areas so you can partner with your internal customers to advance their goals through the use of technology. Those who are secure in their jobs are the ones who have an intimate understanding of the market, the competition and the inner workings of the company as this level of knowledge is not easily replaced.
On the technical side, no matter what you know now, you will have to learn new tools and technologies moving forward. Does that excite you or make you groan? Most importantly, you need to specialize in an area that cannot be easily outsourced and replaced. This is much easier on the applications side than the infrastructure side so consider how secure and in-demand you will be with your acquired skills. Consider too whether you are committed to securing the training needed to advance your skills, even if your employer does not provide this for you.
Validating your decision.
Once you have gone through this analysis, some excellent next steps to ensure you are making the right decision are to talk to people who are in the positions you have identified and find out what their job is like. Even better if you can find a Mentor to guide you. You can also hire an IT Career Coach to help provide the assessments and guidance to assist you.
For most IT professionals, this is the most important decision in your career so take the time to do the analysis and validation before you make the plunge.
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