Recently I was speaking with peers in the vCommunity and our career paths came up. The more we discussed the more everyone thought I should write an article based on career development principles. Find below some guidelines I have used in my own career to help get me to where I am today.
Presently, I am a Senior Solution & Enterprise Architect for a Global Media & Marketing company. I hold somewhere around four dozen certifications. I am a multi-time vExpert and as you are aware I have a blog where I have published over 100 blog articles in the course of the last year. I have been a part of numerous private pre-beta programs and participated in several advisory boards for shaping the future of several products many people routinely use today. I have been on panel interviews, emerging technology discussions, trained many people, and been the keynote speaker at Tech conferences. Where did all these accomplishments and victories begin you may ask. 10 years ago it began working an entry level support job at EMC making 20 dollars an hour. If you are wondering how someone can go from a 20/hr entry level job in IT to where I have gotten so far in my career then read my tips/tricks/advice below.
Mirror Mirror on the Wall
It is human nature to not be self-critical of ourselves but if you don’t know what you aren’t good at then how can you grow? Self-reflection has been one of the keys to my career development. Only you know you best and it comes in handy. You have to be honest with yourself, especially, if you are trying to rise. In the beginning of my career I was terrible at CLI and I was a poor test taker. I could have said “Well I suck at this so I am just going to focus on what I am good at so I can feel good at the end of the day.” I wouldn’t be where I am at today had I done that. Instead, I took a real self-evaluation of myself, identified those weaknesses, and begin an action plan for development. Anything I did in the GUI I started attempting to perform the same task in CLI until I built out CLI run books and cheat sheets. I started grabbing syntaxes published on the web and reading them until I understood what the command would do if performed. I obtained books and watched YouTube videos on test taking tips and tricks. I turned weaknesses into strengthens which gave me the confidence to go find more weaknesses. Even today I will sit and ask myself what is missing from my skill set that I could add through trial and error.
ABL – Always Be Learning
This next one sounds simple and it builds off the last topic. I hear people all the time say, “I need to go learn X (Linux, Azure, VMWare) and I am going to focus this month and get it done.” Three months later still no results. When you ask people they give you reasons why not. Without sacrifice there can be no growth so my advice here is to do honest math. Add up family time, sleep, work, and other priority items. Figure out how much time is left over and ask yourself if you are willing to invest those hours into your future. If yes, then schedule time on your calendar if you have to and force yourself to spend those cycles on the new skill you want. If you don’t want to continually learn then my advice is to take a look around at where you are and get comfy because in five years you will still be there. No one ever moved up by standing still.
I Want to be X but how do you do X
This one took me a few years to figure out and it aids ABL. You’ve looked in the mirror and know your strengths and weaknesses and your dedicated to carving out time to learn and grow. How do you know which direction you need to grow in? My question is always this, “What do you want to be?” Simple but difficult question. If you want to be a CTO and you are 25 fresh out of college it may take more than two years. Start at the CTO position and walk your way back through every degree, cert, and job you will need to reach there. Now begin with the first mile-stone which may be System Engineer. Then the question becomes how to I become a SE? Maybe you are a VMWare Engineer who wants to be a VMWare Architect? Here is my trick, figure out the job title you want or the next milestone in your career and go search the job boards. There are hundreds of job descriptions for every job imaginable out there. After reading through a few dozen you will notice common themes like Linux, Azure, etc. Shortly thereafter you will have a bullet point list of skills you need to develop if you don’t already have them. Every JD lists required/preferred certifications and now you have educational goals. Now with ABL, a skill requirement list, and a cert list you can begin progressing towards that next goal.
Everyone has a Mentor even Obi Wan Kenobi & Luke Skywalker
The first question I ask everyone in an interview is do you have a mentor? If the answer is no, then you drop to the bottom of my list and you have to work very hard to be the number one candidate. If the answer is yes, then I ask why is this person your mentor? Everyone needs to learn from someone and even I have several people I turn to for mentoring and growth. A mentor is not supposed to be a peer of equal status but someone who can bring real guidance. Also, a mentor doesn’t have to be someone you meet with frequently but could be someone in a job position you want who can give you guidance on how they got where they are. Maybe they are someone with a skill set you want to develop and thy can offer guidance on where to go to learn or where to start. With everyone being connected as we are today you may be surprised if you went out on social media like Twitter or LinkedIN and send a connection request. A polite DM explaining your situation and desire to achieve your goal may just net you the advice you are seeking. I have many people reach out to me asking for advice and when I get a free cycle I try and respond to them all. The messages that don’t read as a canned message of Mr. X will you help and the ones who have real meat on the bone get my highest priority. I didn’t get where I am today without people helping me so why would I deny helping others? I can promise you I am not the only one with this mentality.
Why Only Know One Side of the Coin?
You have performed self-reflection, have a mentor or two, read a few JDs and are ABL. You have achieved your goal or goals and some may even call you’re a Guru at what you do. I run into a lot of Guru’s at conferences who talk about how bored they are or how they have their job clocked and looking for the next challenge. That next challenge may not be a higher job title it may just be a challenge. If you are a Linux Guru then why not also know Windows? If you are a AWS Guru why not learn Azure? If you area a Network Guru then why not learn SDN? Many times I find people only look at their side of the coin and never want to acknowledge there is another side to this coin. If you truly want to say you are an OS Guru then shouldn’t you know both Linux and Windows? If you are a true Cloud Guru then shouldn’t you know more than one cloud? Once again it applies to looking in the mirror and applying always be learning and you will never get bored and there will always be that next challenge. For those of you who are looking to continue climbing the job title mountain, no one has ever been told a diversified resume is a negative.
A Reputation is a Tricky Thing
As I explain to young people getting into IT, IT is like a Russian doll. IT sounds like a vast endless space of people but it can shrink real quick. You have the world, then your country, then your state/providence, then your city. People you meet today may rise through the ranks quicker than you or peers of yours may have mentors and they talk about you. If you interact with 10 people in a day and they tell two people about you then in one day your name has been spoken by 20 people. Let’s say that week those two people told two people and the original and the original 10 told two more, now that is 40 people in the span on a week. Multiple that over the course of the year with people telling friends/peers at other companies, social circles, professional circles and sales circles about you. Before long, you will walk into a room and whether or not you know it they may know you by your reputation. If you are interviewing for a job, trust me, they have gone out on social media to study you and reached out to common acquaintances for their opinion of you. Think about that the next time you are talking knowledgeably (or maybe not so knowledgeably) about a topic or the next time you decide to chew someone out. You never know how many they may tell, how many people those people may tell, and how many people they may tell. Remember, a reputation is a tricky thing and it may not always be accurate.
Perception is Reality
This topic is a continuation of the previous topic. These two topics aren’t meant for me to tell you that you should care about other people’s opinions of you. Every individual has their own truth and as long as you know your truth then no lie, fabrication or negative comment will ever bother you. This isn’t whether or not you have to care about the opinions of others but you should care what the perception of you is. You may think you are a good person but if 30 people believe you to be abrasive then you should ask yourself why? Many times people do not move up in a company, go to work for their dream company, or get the job they want because the perception about you right/wrong is negative. I have fallen victim of this myself in my career. If you want to know your perception then ask a few trusted resources to go out and ask people what do you think of this person and see what feedback they come back with. If you trust this resource they may even have tips on how to change your negative feedback. When I first got to Texas I was perceived as abrasive and conflictive even though I went out of my way to help people. Turned out, being from the north east it wasn’t what I was saying or my intent but it was how I was saying it. After A LOT of coaching I didn’t change what I had to say but I changed the presentation and the feedback I receive is now that Paul is very helpful and very approachable.
I could easily continue giving advice and if y’all want I could turn this into a series. At the heart of my advice is be open to self-reflection and constructive criticism, don’t get complacent, always be learning, be aware of the requirements of where you want to go, and be aware that people are always watching even when you don’t think they are. Never look at any advice as hard set rules because they don’t always apply to everyone but look at them as guidelines and figure out what is right for you. Finally, just keep challenging yourself even if you don’t think you can do it because no one learns from always winning.