How to Advance your Tech Career
As more digital innovation is happening on a global scale, the path to advancement in tech careers is becoming more difficult to discern. Some positions are completely new as they support brand-new markets or services. Some positions that were established five years ago are now obsolete. Others have changed in seniority, title and responsibilities due to industry shifts.
All these changes are part of tech’s DNA. They also present more opportunities for advancement—especially mid-level positions. Securing one of them requires professional development, goal setting and transparency.
Tech career advancement requires investment in professional development.
A tech career may have different trajectories than traditional industries, but the requirements for advancement are largely the same. One of the best ways to advance your tech career is to invest in professional development.
Free or cost-effective resources can help you expand your knowledge and skill set. “I would highly recommend finding high-quality resources like websites, blogs, forums or organizations related to your specialty of tech and consume all of the information you can,” said Andy Teipen, vice president of sales for Codelicious. “Become an expert on what is happening in your industry. Consider professional development that offers certification as well. As a subject matter expert, you will provide more value to your team and company if you can speak to what’s happening and how that shapes your company and product strategy, hiring, marketing and sales.”
Sharpening your soft and hard skills is also a great way to get ahead. “You can always throw yourself into more programming languages depending on your occupation,” said Rangeline Solutions Chief Executive Officer Mike Sigler. “A few underrated skills, in my opinion, are public speaking and communication. Being able to speak to customers or internal teams clearly is crucial and can really help separate yourself from your peers.”
Highbridge Vice President Doug Karr agrees.“Communication and project management are critical to all technology-focused professions. Listening to your internal and external customers to identify issues and opportunities, understanding how it’s impacting the company and how to plan accurate expectations of a solution are every bit as challenging as the technology itself nowadays.”
Another way to grow professionally is to focus on cultivating relationships with like-minded people. “Communities are incredibly helpful to professional development,” said Lindsay McGuire, content marketing manager at Formstack. “You can easily connect and network with other professionals and learn an incredible amount with just a small investment of time every week.”
“Even if you leverage a nontraditional form of professional development, find a community to learn from,” said Rowe. “LinkedIn groups and Slack channels have been a great source for me to learn new skills or a new way to use a tool.”
You can also grow your community by leading or mentoring less-experienced professionals. “I highly recommend pursuing leadership positions so that you can develop healthy relationships with people that need you to assist them in overcoming challenges,” said Karr.
Regardless of how you learn, it’s important that you do so to advance to the next level. Ask for more responsibility. Stay up- to- date on industry trends. Connect and learn with others. Find ways to uplevel your skill set and provide more value as an employee.
Be transparent about your career goals with your superiors.
Tech career advancement also requires you to be clear on your goals, especially with your direct superior.
“Approach career advancement by sharing clear objectives or desires with your company,” said Sigler. “Employers and great leaders should strive to make their team happy. Having input directly from the team on their goals and desires makes a big difference.”
It’s even better if you can share long-term objectives, even if that doesn’t include working at your current company. “I always encourage my team to let me know where they see themselves in the next year, in the next five and in the next 10,” said Teipen. “It’s important to know what they are excited about and things they want to explore as they develop as employees and professionals. It’s important to understand what they want to work toward and what motivates them. The path is not always clearly laid out and available, but an open conversation is a great starting point.”
Some companies have this embedded in their development conversations already.
Because these conversations are so important, Karr recommends that “key conversations should always happen in person (when able) and in a quiet space.” You can include this discussion in a standing meeting ahead of time, or you can request a separate conversation.
“Be direct as possible,” said Rowe. The more transparent you are, the more likely you will receive constructive feedback and see those goals come to fruition.
It’s also important for you to do the heavy lifting of exploring what your goals are and how you’d like to see them realized. Come with a potential position path, be open to a conversation and be clear about what you’d like to accomplish.
Advocate for yourself and your career goals within your team.
Getting ahead also requires knowing how to advocate for yourself within a team.
“Employment is a trade of value to a company for the skills you bring to the table,” said Karr. “It’s imperative that you are able to prove to your employer what that value is—within the industry, in the company, and within your team. Bring specific examples and the associated savings or revenue you’ve generated. It’s critical that you promote yourself, not denigrate your team.”
Sigler agrees. “The focus needs to be on your accomplishments and your impact. There should be no comparison with the rest of the team as this could be viewed as putting down the team rather than lifting yourself up. Hard data around achievements is irrefutable.”
“Paint a picture of what it would look like for your role to change within the context of company goals. You can help set the stage for big changes by sharing your vision for career advancement,” said Teipen. “Know that it might come in small steps and be more of a progression to a new role versus a big change overnight.”
“If you’re advocating for more compensation or benefits as part of your role change, it’s effective to tie your added value to company goals. Once you have shaped your role and are in good alignment with your employer, consider asking for ‘one more thing.’ This can be anything really—compensation, more PTO, more flexibility—but don’t overplay your hand. Often, you’ll find flexibility on an appropriate ask.”
Regardless of what you’re looking for, it’s good to “come prepared with numbers that show the value of your work,” said McGuire. Demonstrate your value instead of telling.
Find the advancement you want at another tech company.
Sometimes, the role you’d like or the advancement you’re looking for isn’t available at your current company—now or in the near future. It might be time for you to explore positions at other tech companies and do so with discretion.
“I would recommend your job search be private,” said Sigler. “Do not gossip with coworkers or brag about interviews. Search for opportunities that elevate your career and provide a two-week notice to your employer if the right opportunity has been found and secured.”
It’s also important to stay in good standing with your current employer. “It’s ok to explore other avenues and new opportunities, but it is also important to keep things moving with your current role,” said Teipen. “ It can be hard to balance both your current role and interviews, especially if the new opportunity has a lengthy process. It can feel like you have two jobs. Be mindful that you have also committed to your current responsibilities and do your best to juggle both.”
“There are organizations that you may work for that will never see your job search as respectful, so you’ll want to proceed with caution when searching for a new job,” said Karr. “Great employers understand that employee turnover is simply business. Other employers may immediately show you the door. A middle ground is to secure a new position and offer your employer the opportunity to negotiate to keep you.”
When searching for a new role, it’s also important to know what the most important considerations are for you and how they align with a prospective employer. “Know what your ‘must haves’ are in a new position and organization; this will make it much easier to identify potential organizations and jobs.” said McGuire. “Knowing what you need and what makes you happy—and finding an organization that can provide that—is most important.”
“Culture and work-life balance are the most important considerations for me when looking for a job. I research the company’s culture by looking at its website and reading as much as possible. There are also specific questions I ask during interviews to learn more about the company,” said Rowe.
“The management structure and the work culture are important considerations,” said Sigler. “Are there expectations to be working 24/7? Will you have a flexible work schedule and good benefits? Consider speaking with an entry-level employee during the interview process to get a sense of the day-to-day.”
While pay and benefits are important, Karr believes that “too many employees focus on the pay and benefits of an opportunity. What’s more important is the opportunity for growth within the company, how they operate culturally, what tools and processes you’ll use on a daily basis and how the company will help your growth professionally. These are often the reasons that lead someone to stay with or leave an employer as opposed to pay and benefits.”
Your future in tech is bright.
Tech jobs and opportunities will always be in a state of evolution. To get ahead, it’s important for you to know what you bring to the table and also where you want to grow. Ask for more responsibilities, get that certification or communicate your goals. You’ll be surprised to see how many employers, especially in the Indiana tech community, want to support your growth or know a company that can.
Indiana is a thriving tech community bursting with opportunities and connections. Explore what an ideal tech path looks like to you, communicate with your employer and start building a career path for yourself.
Wondering what opportunities might be out there for you in Indiana tech? Be sure to check out the TechPoint Job Board for great mid-level tech roles.
Read about skills-based hiring and how it will help resolve Indiana’s biggest tech talent challenges, part of Mission41K – TechPoint’s call to the Indiana tech community to inclusively grow our digital innovation economy by adding 41,000 tech workers by 2030.