"With technology as pervasive as it has become, it is no longer enough to be an 'IT person,'" Sam Wholley, a principal with IT recruiter Riviera Partners, said via email. "Knowing the best firewall, the best integration platform, or the best solid-state storage is a requisite, but to be valued for [your] expertise, take time to be introspective about what you bring to the table."
A good place to start: Learn to talk to people. You'll be hard-pressed to move up the corporate ranks -- or even to secure a position you're already happy in -- if you can't communicate what you want and why you deserve it.
[ Looking for IT talent? Start within your organization. Read 6 Ways To Develop Internal IT Talent. ]
"The age-old rules of working collaboratively with people -- and we do work with people after all, not just computers – still apply," Wholley said. Read on for seven steps to help round out your technical expertise and boost your value to current and future employers.
1. Ask colleagues -- not friends or family -- what you can improve.
"We all have things we can work on. Find people you trust and ask them for feedback," Wholley advised. He suggested an unlikely source of candid feedback: Connect with someone you have worked with in the past with whom you didn't always agree or perhaps even butted heads. "Reaching out to them and asking them about areas you could improve upon will likely be more productive than asking friends or family, who will want to make you feel good about yourself," Wholley said. There's a potential bonus in this approach, too: "You'll likely reclaim a relationship that may have been a difficult one as a byproduct."
2. Begin with the end in mind.
"Engineers tend to focus on the 'how' rather than the 'why' -- it's an occupational hazard," Wholley said. The "why," though, is often what differentiates upper management from the rest of the company. "Sometimes stepping back and asking the question -- 'Why are we doing this, from a business perspective?' -- then working backwards from the answer can eliminate the tendency to jump in and start building without understanding the business drivers for a decision," Wholley said. "It also gives you a better understanding of the business [reasons] behind the technology."
3. Learn the business side of the company.
The best way to develop smart answers to that "why?" question: Study the ins and outs of your company. Wholley offered these examples: "Read up on the broader industry and stay abreast of what's going on. What are the economic drivers for the business? What [key performance indicators] are important to the executive team? What challenges are the various business units [such as marketing or finance] struggling with? If you have ideas, show your non-technical teammates that you care about helping them be successful."
Michael A. Morell, Riviera's co-founder and managing partner, chimed in with these tips for enhancing your IT talents with broader business acumen and interpersonal skills.
4. Make time for learning and growth.
"'Busy' isn't always best for your career," Morell said. Don't fall into the busy trap -- it's often counterproductive. Find the time you need to round out your professional skills. Read a book. Mentor less-experienced professionals. Take classes. Talk to people outside the company. "Often it takes someone on the outside to give perspective," Morell said. "When was the last time you took stock of your career positioning and market value?"
5. Be curious, get smart.
"Intellectual curiosity needs feeding," Morell said. "Let's face it, we don't know what we don't know. Curiosity leads to discovery, which educates and empowers." There's a logical product of curiosity: People who are always learning get smarter. People who aren't do not. Morell points to a quote from famed management thinker and author Peter Drucker: "Today knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement." Another applicable Drucker-ism: “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”
6. Create good timing.
If timing is everything, then why leave it up to chance? Sure, there are variables well beyond your control. We could all use a little luck. But you can take steps to encourage good timing, particularly when it comes to your career. "It's impossible to time if or when a deal may take off, but with market intelligence it's much easier to make educated timing decisions about your next [career] move," Morell said.
7. Build a "Mastermind Group."
Napoleon Hill, author of the seminal book Think and Grow Rich (Success Co., 2009), is credited with coining the term "mastermind" and inspiring the "mastermind group" -- a team of people working together to foster each other's success. Morell's a fan of the practice and its benefits for career advancement. (Lifehacker has a helpful post on how to start one.)
"To get where you want to go, you'll need help," Morell said.
Learn more about IT management best practices by attending the Interop conference track on the Business of IT in New York from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.