Best IT career guidance from 2012

Here's the best of our 2012 IT career guidance, from certification tips to strategies for working with management to get things accomplished.

What makes a good IT professional? What makes an excellent one? If you had time, you could probably come up with a long list of qualities and skills that separate the ordinary from the extraordinary.

Since you probably don't have that kind of time, check our list. At searchWinIT.com, after all, we're constantly looking at what it takes for people to succeed in a 21st century IT operation. We hit the topic especially hard in 2012, offering readers a range of advice on everything from IT certification to dealing with management. As the year comes to a close, we've compiled the best of that IT career guidance.

Five good habits

Succeeding in this (and most any other) business means doing the right things and doing them as often as possible. Contributor Kevin Beaver notes that while technical competence is vital for IT pros, it's not enough. "Colleagues want to do business with people they like and respect," he writes in his ranking of five good habits. "Take the time to build relationships and show others that you are a person of value. … Focus on being a likeable person who brings something to the table as much as you focus on sharpening your technical skills."

What good is a great idea if never becomes more than an idea? The most successful IT professionals learn to sell their ideas to management, turning a proposal into a project.

CIO: Friend or foe?

Securing an enterprise is a complicated, frustrating, never-ending task. It takes money and effort and plenty of cooperation. But what do you do when it seems like the chief information officer is getting in the way? "I've heard countless stories from network admins, software developers, information security managers and others about how their CIO continually works to undermine what everyone knows needs to be done with enterprise IT security," writes Beaver, who goes on to recommend several specific things thoughtful IT workers can do to press ahead despite such obstacles.

Think like a boss

Senior-level executives get paid to worry. But could a little worrying help you -- and your career? It might. Thinking about risk in every decision you make can help your organization thrive, and it can earn you the respect of colleagues and managers. Put risk into your daily thinking. Learn to spot it. And don't be afraid to point it out, just so long as you don't become that IT person who's always proclaiming the sky is falling.

Sell to a boss

What good is a great idea if never becomes more than an idea? The most successful IT professionals learn to sell their ideas to management, turning a proposal into a project. They understand how certain managers think, what drives them and, probably most importantly, what gets them to say "Yes." There's an art to this, and mastering it can mean the difference between your IT initiative getting the go-ahead and getting shrugged off. "Get management on board, prepare for objections and make the effort to keep them on your side," Beaver says. "It's a formula that'll help you get what you want -- and what your company needs."

Use social media, but carefully

It's easy, even tempting, to become a frequent voice online. But when we're talking about IT career guidance, more is not the same as better. Tweeting every observation that comes to mind probably won't help your career. Connecting on LinkedIn with every passing acquaintance or people you haven't met will not make you an IT star. Instead, focus on being a person of value online. Develop a reputation for always having something interesting to contribute to the online discussion, rather than just having something to say. And don't think that career networking via social media takes the place of meeting people and interacting face-to-face. Mix the old with the new.

Stay on top of certification changes

Microsoft rolled out some significant changes to its IT certifications in 2012, meaning there are new upgrade paths to follow. For example, with credentials based on Windows Server 2012, specifically the MCSA: Windows Server 2012, there are a number of Windows Server 2008 credentials from which IT workers can start at to take a one-exam upgrade. And if you are going to go after those upgrade exams, then you'll probably want to hit the books to make sure you're ready. Certifications, after all, are important -- even necessary -- in certain situations. Just make sure you approach them smartly so that you're not wasting time and money or expecting too much once you pass.

This was first published in December 2012

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