How sticking to the basics can help enhance your IT career

Kevin Beaver

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 Have you noticed a new IT career trend as of late? Just look at website and magazine headlines, presentation titles at local networking events and session topics at national IT conferences. There are titles touting what we have to do now, such as "Career lifecycle management in a global marketplace," "Managing your job in a recession" and "Going green to become a sharper IT pro." Everywhere you look there's someone sharing new tricks and techniques that can help enhance our IT careers in this economic downturn.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm not buying these New Age thought processes. When it comes to enhancing your IT career, I say don't waste your time on unproven techniques for weathering this storm. Instead, go back to the basics. Here are four principles I believe will help you stay ahead of the IT curve:

1. Focus on yourself. It sounds selfish, but putting yourself first -- under certain circumstances -- is a surefire way to get and stay ahead. However, it's important to focus on the right things, such as:

  • Time management – Determine what's the best use of your time at any given moment and do not succumb to trivial matters. When I'm at customer sites, I still see people goofing off in the workplace abusing their company's time. This is not a good way to get ahead.

  • Communication skills – Focus on both how you write and how you speak. Being able to communicate well and getting along with others is priceless.

  • Networking – Create and build relationships with people who can help you succeed. Find the right people and ask them what you can do to help them. The favor will undoubtedly come back around.

2. Do whatever it takes to become a person of value. Get more involved in the business or take a class to improve areas of weakness in your technical and soft skills. Doing small - yet important – things again and again really adds up. You will not only begin to stand out above the noise, but you'll also benefit from the additional skills you acquire. Managers will notice.

3. Find your IT specialty. Average IT professionals try to be everything to everyone and jacks of all trades. Don't do that. You'll only end up letting people down and ultimately hurting yourself. We all love to do one or two tasks more than anything else. Discover what those things are for you and visualize yourself being successful at them. Then do whatever it takes to improve upon those skills. You'll soon become an expert and you'll love what you do.

4. Finally, know that it's OK to fail. We all make bad choices in our jobs and careers that can negatively affect our pride and our popularity. That's fine. It's how we learn. Just acknowledge what you've done, accept responsibility and move on, vowing to never repeat the mistake again.

The fact is, in order to keep moving forward, you must have a clearly defined set of goals for your daily work and for your IT career. Above everything else, don't be fooled into believing that you have to learn some magical new "skillz" in order to stay ahead. If you concentrate on the basics, work hard on yourself, live and work by a set of goals and focus on your value as an IT professional, you'll do well.

Kevin Beaver, is an information security consultant, keynote speaker and expert witness with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. Kevin specializes in performing independent security assessments. Kevin has authored/co-authored seven books on information security, including Hacking For Dummies and Hacking Wireless Networks For Dummies (Wiley). He's also the creator of the Security on Wheels information security audio books and blog providing security learning for IT professionals on the go. Kevin can be reached at  kbeaver@principlelogic.com.

This was first published in February 2009

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