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10 Top Dos and Don'ts for Your IT Career

There is no standard method or formula for ensuring IT career success. In fact, there are many different career approaches and options. However, sustaining and building a successful IT career should not be left to chance. IT professionals often have to deal with a variety of situations that could either threaten or sustain their careers.

The following ďdos and donítsĒ tips are to help you sustain and grow your IT career.

Do Plan and Execute Your Career in a Proactive Manner
It is not enough to work, or to decide that you want a career, in IT. Set your career goals and determine the steps you should take to realize your goals. Donít approach your career in an unplanned manner, by simply hoping for the best. Ask yourself these questions: Where are you? What are your goals? How are you progressing, and how do you want to progress? Take an honest look at your situation and take control. Review trends in the IT industry and your needs. The plan should be based on information gathered from credible sources. Be realistic by setting attainable (reasonable) goals. And make sure you execute the plan.

Donít Focus on IT Career Tools and Trends
New products and fads are the order of the day in the IT industry, especially in the career sector. Examples are new certifications and the latest training programs. IT professionals need to observe these trends to remain relevant. However, though training and certification have their uses, they should not be your focus. Training, formal education and certification should not be pursued without regard to your career goals. Use them as stepping-stones to where youíre going. Employ training, certification or other career tools if and when they align with your career goalsóshort- and long-term. It doesnít make sense to aim for a ďhotĒ certification that wonít help your career growth.

Do Have a Passion for IT
Do you enjoy what you do in IT? An IT career is just like choosing any other career. If you have no talent for it and no interest in it, donít bother with it. IT is not for everyone. The course, degree or certification you take is of no effect if you are not excited about what you do. You will find it easy to motivate yourself when you enjoy what you do. When you have a passion for IT, you find it easy to learn and to make yourself better at what you do. Consider the nature of the job, stress factors and work environment, as well as work requirements. You must love what you do to reach high levels of achievement.

Donít Build Your Career on Unrealistic Expectations
The ďget rich quickĒ belief is the most unrealistic expectation of many who opt for IT careers. If money is your sole aim, you wonít last under the intense workload and incredible rate of change. IT is professionally and financially rewarding if you focus on acquiring practical skills and building your career rather than on immediate benefits.

Also, donít confuse training and certification with a career. Education and certification will give you skills and knowledge, but you still need experience and attitude. Building a career as a DBA is not the same as completing a certification in a database product. Certification, training and experience have different roles to play. It is your responsibility to know which form of expertise you require as you progress on your career path.

Do Focus on Gaining Useful Experience
While training and certification help you acquire relevant skills and knowledge, thereís no substitute for the experience of solving real-world problems. Much of the skills and knowledge of an IT professional is gained through practical experience.

However, experience is not just about the number of years youíve spent on the job. It is about job effectiveness and capability. The quality of your experience is reflected in your ability to provide solutions quickly and creatively.

One of the biggest challenges facing those in the IT profession is getting the necessary practical experience. Getting yourself in the door, however, requires initiative. Sometimes you may need to volunteer or take less than what you feel you deserve to get the experience you need.

It is important not to keep job-hopping all in the name of gaining experience. What has the new job got to offer you in terms of your career?

Donít Burn Bridges
When you change jobs, donít burn bridges you might need tomorrow. You need to manage your job change carefully without leaving bad blood on your trail. Despite any misgivings you might have, make sure you are leaving on a positive note. Be professional in handling issues such as notice of disengagement, hand-over of work and relations with your colleagues and ex-employer. You never know where your paths might cross in the future. It also helps to build up your track record by having good references from ex-employers. Additionally, when you donít burn bridges, youíre able to build your own personal network of individuals on whom you can rely for advice, job leads, technical assistance and other helpful support.

Do Develop Soft Skills
IT professionals need more than technical ability to advance their careers. Skills and certifications still matter, of course, but they are not enough. What are you contributing in a non-tech sense?

You may need to bring one or more of the following soft skills to the table: communications skills, teamwork skills, organizational skills, leadership skills, sales skills, presentation skills and business skills. Can you motivate teammates to perform? Do you interact successfully with customers? Do you understand the business issues driving the IT solutions you provide? How do you give value (tech and non-tech) to your clients and employers? Most IT professionals donít develop their soft skills, so if you do, you have a strong career advantage.

Donít Run From Challenges
Problems and challenges will crop up from time to time in the course of your career. Rather than run from challenges, you should look for ways in which the challenges will make you a better IT professional. Challenges should widen your array of skills by opening up new avenues for career and skills growth. Tackling challenges requires resourcefulness on your part. You may need to do the research and interact with more experienced colleagues.

Often challenges can offer you the highest growth potential. The more you can do, the more valuable you are. The challenge might be an opportunity to develop your soft skills. Or it might be an opportunity to conquer a difficult area and carve a niche for yourself.

Do Keep on Learning
Knowledge and experience come first in the IT industry. Since your knowledge is your power, take responsibility for continuing your education and increasing your knowledge. Develop good strategies for acquiring skills that will enhance your value. What is your level of your expertise with current technologies and your knowledge of new and upcoming technologies that might affect your career?

Lifelong learning is essential for IT professionals. What is in demand today may be obsolete tomorrow, especially in IT. Stay current with the latest trends through seminars, training, e-mail newsletters and, of course, the Web. But note that you must have the willingness to learn, and if you want real growth you canít afford to confuse cramming with learning.

Donít Neglect Professionalism
Professionalism has to do with your attitude to your job, employer, colleagues, clients and society. Let your actions speak in a professional, positive manner. A bad attitude can render your skills, knowledge and experience ineffective.

You need to make professionalism a habit by imbibing the values of honesty, fairness, tolerance, respect for others, ethics, politeness and integrity. How trustworthy are you? Do you promise heaven and deliver hell? What image are you carving for your co-workers and clients? Professionalism is not just soft skills and tech skills. Professionalism is about the total package of soft skills, tech skills and attitude. Be dependable, be supportive and perform above expectations. The right people will take notice.

Just as there is no mystery to developing your career, there is also no magic formula. The aim of these dos and doníts is to make you aware of the things you should and shouldnít do so that you can avoid costly career mistakes. I hope this also shows you that the power to shape your career is in your hands, and this knowledge should make you better prepared to succeed in your IT career.

This article was written by Jide Awe and appeared on