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6/30/2020
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Lisa Morgan
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IT Career Paths You May Not Have Considered

As IT continues to expand into new areas, there are lots of potential career moves. Some lie outside the IT department.

Image: alphaspirit - stock.adobe.com
Image: alphaspirit - stock.adobe.com

IT is constantly evolving so having a static skill set can be career-limiting move. While there's plenty of room for specialists and generalists the only constant in IT is rapid change, so it behooves you to know how things are changing, why and how that could impact your career.

The latest twist to everyone's plans is the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. On one hand, organizations and individuals are pondering their futures. The good news is that companies' ability to survive and thrive depends considerably on their ability to leverage technologies. For example, more companies are accelerating their moves into the cloud and remote work has taken on new meaning.

Following are a few career moves you could make as a seasoned IT professional based on where you are right now. The options listed in the following sections are not mutually exclusive.

You've got traditional skills and you love IT

Many traditional IT roles such as DBA, systems administrator, and network administrator are shrinking as organizations move further into the cloud. You could modernize your skill set by getting some cloud skills under your belt. Alternatively, if you prefer doing what you've always done, you might consider a consulting role that uses your existing skills (e.g., contract DBA). A third option would be to consider an entirely different career path right in IT.

"IT isn't IT anymore. When I got into it, you went into computer science and your job was IT. Now, there's cloud, DevOps, cybersecurity, " said William "Bill" Rials, associate director and professor of practice at the Tulane University School of Professional Advancement Information Technology Program. "What I've seen from the university side is seasoned IT executives that have been a network administrator for 10 years. They've got a good career, so they come to us to finish up their bachelor's degree or to get a master's degree in cybersecurity."

William Rials, Tulane University
William Rials, Tulane University

Data analytics, DevOps, artificial intelligence and intelligent automation are just a few of the other possibilities.

"You don't need to leave IT to leave IT," said Rials. "AI is a path I'd recommend for seasoned IT professionals. I think more people are on the green side and they're struggling versus a seasoned IT professional who can offer some insights."

You've got cloud skills and you like the view

Cloud vendors are constantly innovating, so whatever skills you have now are probably very narrow compared to tomorrow's possibilities. In addition to IaaS-related roles, there are many other options including cloud-first application development (platform as a service), AI and machine learning, autonomous systems, robotics, cloud security, serverless architectures, cloud migration, and cloud engineering.

Cloud is also a great launching pad for a new venture if you're so inclined.

You're burned out on IT

You can run, but you can't hide. Business and technology have become so interdependent that no matter how far you move away from IT, it will always find you. Of course, that's not to say you can't change your role.

"You can be an executive in other disciplines, especially on the business side with planning or project management," said Rials. "I've seen people who said, 'I want to leave IT, I'm done,' and even though they may have become a project manager or the manager of another department, everyone knows they're still the technology expert, which is not a bad thing."

That said, Rials said he's noticing a trend away from promoting technologists into technology leadership roles. Instead, organizations are opting for business executives with some knowledge of IT.

"Business and communication skills are thought of as more valuable that widgets," said Rials.

Another potential career path would be risk management. IT professionals are uniquely qualified to explain how technical debt relates to risk, Rials said.

You're not sure what you want to do

Some people are laser-focused on a certain career or career path regardless of what happens in life. Others have less direction at all, or a life event such as a divorce, company closure, or a layoff has left them in a state of confusion.

One way to find your north star is to take inventory of your skills and interests and research jobs that align with those. Stephanie Wernick-Barker, president of tech, creative and digital staffing agency Mondo said she sees a lot of people doing temporary contract work part-time or full-time to fill holes in their resumes or to think about what they want to do next.

Stephanie Wernick-Barker, Mondo
Stephanie Wernick-Barker, Mondo

"It really just depends on what people are passionate about," said Wernick-Barker. "We see people change professions all the time. A lot of opportunities are about personality traits, the intangibles [like] communication and organization skills."

Also consider the people whom you admire. What traits do they have in common? How do you compare? Upon closer inspection, you may decide that part of what they do doesn't appeal to you at all, such as public speaking. Knowing what you like, and dislike will help you trim your options down to something manageable.

A related move is jotting down all the careers that appeal to you and noticing the common threads. Those threads suggest a persona such as a builder, a storyteller, a manager or a creator.

You're working toward your goal and want to shorten the path to a new job

Some certification and degree programs include placement services, although Mondo's Wernick-Barker said there's no substitute for networking.

"Use your network and advertise yourself on social media," said Wernick-Barker. "Talk about your passions, your skills."

Just don't forget networking is based on relationships and relationships are two-way streets. Don't be the person who only gets in touch with people when you need a referral or a recommendation because eventually, you'll probably run out of favors.

Education may help

One way to reignite a career or to make a change is to get educated about something that interests you. You can earn a certificate or pursue a degree. While the latter demonstrates a greater investment in time and money and therefore can carry more weight, some emerging areas don't have dedicated degree programs yet because they're too new.

Tulane University's Rials said taking some university-level classes can be liberating because you'll start thinking in ways you probably haven't since college. Earning an advanced degree can increase the number of job opportunities as well as expose you to different technologies.

"Don't just say, I want to be a cloud engineer because I used to be a database engineer," said Rials. "It may not be something you're passionate about. Find something that you're passionate about."

Also, be forewarned that the idea of something may seem more attractive than the reality, particularly if you haven't researched the target position enough to know whether it's a fit. For example, you may dream about becoming an IP litigator, but you've spent your life avoiding conflicts. That doesn't mean you couldn't pursue a job in IP law, it just means that other positions might be better for you such as a research attorney.

Jens Willeman, Kairon Labs
Jens Willeman, Kairon Labs

And while we're on the topic of education, you might consider teaching IT-related subjects to kids, college students or non-IT people seeking higher paid positions in IT.

Don't discount yourself too quickly

Upon reflection, some people say they might have pursued a different career path if they knew it existed in the first place. In a similar vein, Jens Willemen, managing partner at crypto market maker Kairon Labs said the IT talent he seeks too often self-selects itself out. Kairon Labs builds algorithms and quantitative trading strategies for crypto market liquidity. It also builds blockchain tracking and monitoring solutions that feed more data into its algorithms.

"Our ideal candidates are technical people [who] are interested in building the next generation of finance," said Willemen. "Most IT pros don't consider this career option because they never heard about this niche or they think they need to have a really strong financial markets background [when] in reality we see that IT pros can pick up the financial understanding really quickly."

Bottom Line

There has never been a better time to have a career in IT because there are so many more options than there once were. That said, all career advancement involves learning something, whether it's managing people or how a new technology works. If you love to learn, you've probably won half the battle.

 

For more on IT careers and skills, read these articles:

IT Careers: 10 Job Skills in High Demand This Year

5 IT Career Tips from Pros Who Know

IT Careers: 10 Industries with Job Openings Right Now

 

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include ... View Full Bio
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