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Five ways to advance your Windows career

IT is a competitive industry and you might feel stuck in one position. Find out how goal setting -- and knowledge -- can improve your prospects.

Do you feel like you’ve hit a plateau with your IT career? Perhaps Windows management isn’t the path you want to be on long term? You’re not alone.

I meet IT professionals all the time who are looking for something new – that next best thing to improve their livelihood. Looking at this issue through our techie glasses, it can certainly seem like we’re continuing to do the same old same old. But you don’t have to look too far to realize that career success is more about improving yourself than it is about “getting a better job."

Here are some things you can get started with today that will put you on the path to a better, more fulfilling Windows career – whether you remain a systems administrator or move into management.

  1. Beef up your education by obtaining a degree or new certifications. I’m not convinced that Windows-focused degrees and certifications will suddenly make you a more valuable person but I do that they can expose you to ideas that can benefit you tremendously. Check out the MCTS, MCITP and related certifications. Even if you have one of the older MCSE certifications, tout that to prospective employers and clients. It can’t hurt.
  2. Network with good people inside and outside of IT. Career advancement has as much to do with who knows you than practically anything else. Open up new opportunities by volunteering for projects outside of the IT field. Attend local user group meetings or events put on by IT-related associations. If security is on your radar, check out your local ISSA chapter’s events or even upcoming regional seminars put on by TechTarget and SecureWorld Expo. Remember the Golden Rule of networking and be a person of value and help others however you can rather than being someone who’s only looking out for himself.
  3. Set and manage your career goals. As the saying goes, if you don’t have goals for yourself you’re doomed forever to achieve the goals of someone else. Where would you like to be in five years? Ten? At their most fundamental level, goals outline what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, and when it’s got to be done by. Hold yourself accountable and yearly goals will do wonders for your career.
  4. Study time management concepts. Learning how to focus, single-mindedly, on your highest payoff tasks can do more for your IT career than anything else. Time management is about managing yourself and how you handle your time – you can never learn enough about this subject. Step back and look at the bigger picture of what you’re doing regarding Windows management. What can you automate? What can you outsource or stop doing altogether? Setting up automated processes in Windows Servers (like the upcoming PowerShell runbook automation feature in Windows Server 8) can help you devote time to other needs.
  5. Learn outside of IT. Dedicated reading of the magazines and papers such as Fortune, Entrepreneur and the Wall Street Journal can really broaden your horizons. Never forget that IT is not just about IT. It’s a function of business so learn as much as you can about the business side of the house.

Ultimately, you have to ask yourself if you’re really prepared to go into management. Sure, the money may be better but there’s a whole new set of headaches that go along with it. And as we’ve all learned in the past, money is only a temporary motivator. The grass always looks greener but in the end every role in IT – from Windows administrator to DBA to developer to information security manager – has its own challenges.

The best thing you can do is to take some time to clear your head over a long weekend or vacation and think about what you really like to do. What is it you’re good at? What motivates you to get up in the morning and stay late at work in the evening? Be honest with yourself. Once you determine the things that make you happy and keep you moving forward you’ll know exactly where you need to focus your efforts.

Don’t worry if you only like doing technical work. It’s okay to be a technical admin until the day you retire. The same goes for higher-level policy work, training and the like. Society has taught us that we need to “progress” up the corporate ladder into management and beyond. Don’t fall into the trap of conformity, continually trying to fit the mold and please other people. Instead, do what you love, get really good at it and keep getting better by using learning resources. It can be argued that our field is evolving faster than any other. There will always be new things to learn and new challenges to address. Therein lays the opportunity.

A wise man, Earl Schoff, once said “Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. If you work hard on your job you'll make a living. If you work hard on yourself you can make a fortune.” It’s up to you to make it happen.

Kevin Beaver is an information security consultant, expert witness, author and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC. You can reach Kevin through his website, follow him on Twitter at @kevinbeaver and connect to him on LinkedIn.

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