Reaching your career goals requires not only dedication but continuing education.

The Road to the Top

Reaching your career goals requires not only dedication but continuing education.

I’m a new IT professional. I’ve attended many TechNet conferences and have taken some Windows 2000 training. I have a small enterprise network setup at home, and I’ve been working at a Tier-1 help desk position in a Fortune 500 company for nearly three months. What skills would you recommend I work toward to achieve my 10-year goal of being an enterprise architect?
— James M. Goodwin, MCP+I, MCSE, A+, Network+, i-Net+
Agency Technology Representative SAFECO Agent Help Desk, Indianapolis

James, congratulations on your hard work so far and your great attitude in wanting to work your way to the top of the profession. In preparing an answer for you, I checked with Nick Andrews, a friend of mine who currently works as an IT architect. This is what we came up with:

Is Your IT Career Stalled?

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In the technical arena, you should be continually looking for ways you can demonstrate the value of your technical skills to the business at hand — this is what’s going to help move you up the corporate ladder. Volunteer to work on different projects that’ll help broaden your skills and experience, even if this means you’re performing grunt work. Over time, you need to keep yourself technically up-to-date and work to build a specialty. Once you really have mastered this technology — and those around you acknowledge that you have mastered it — then you probably need to broaden your technical expertise to understand the complete IT environment. For example, to be considered a Microsoft expert today, you’d have to master the base operating system (Win2K), plus be conversant in all of the BackOffice suite components and an expert in regard to some of the important BackOffice products such as Exchange or SQL Server. On top of this, you’d need to have a detailed understanding of the new .NET initiative and understand its future and what this could mean for your enterprise.

As you’re working on a 10-year timetable, of course you must understand that we’ll have several iterations of technology refresh between now and then, so it’s impossible to say exactly what products and technologies you’ll be working with at that time. But if you keep yourself up to date technically, you’ll follow the wave to whatever it is that follows.

At the same time, simply having all of these great technical skills will be worth nothing if you can’t share them with your peers and clients — that is, you’ll need to have exceptional written and spoken communication skills. This is something you can be working on as you build your technical skills. A presentation-skills class can get you started, but — more important — you’ll need lots of practice, which is where something like your local Toastmasters club can be of great help. You need to be comfortable presenting on your feet and, probably more important, thinking on your feet when your audience starts asking questions. Being able to present complex technical issues in business terms that your managers and decision-makers can understand is a real art that will require practice. It’ll be sign of your maturity as an IT professional when you get less excited about the technology for its own sake and more excited about what this can do for your business. So look for opportunities to get out of the IT ivory tower and see and feel the real business so you can get an understanding of the real issues you’re trying to address. I also mentioned written communication skills — let’s not forget these. Typically, these are in the form of email, white papers and design documents; these need to be first-rate. There are business-writing courses around, but all they do is undo years of formal schooling that had us believe using long sentences and big words made us sound smarter. In contrast, it’s important that you can get your point across using simple English. So you must enjoy producing these kinds of documentation (and let’s face it, most techies hate the thought of documentation). But you must be able to do these quickly, since there’s so much that needs to be done.

You’re also going to need a good grasp of accounting concepts — assets, depreciation, income, expenditure, and so on — so that you’re able to present the benefits of your technical proposals in the way that those who sign the checks can understand. These concepts include ROI (return on investment), benefit/cost ratio, payback period, IRR (internal rate of return) and NPV (net present value). I recently completed a finance course for my MBA that considered the NPV a much better decision tool than the other common measures I mentioned, but — unfortunately — the others are so prevalent that you need to be able to understand and use them all.

About the Author

Greg Neilson, MCSE+Internet, MCNE, PCLP, is a Contributing Editor for MCP Magazine and a Professional Development Manager for a large IT services firm in Australia. He’s the author of Lotus Domino Administration in a Nutshell (O’Reilly and Associates, ISBN 1565927176).

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