“I’ve been doing hands-on stuff for 18, almost 20 years now and I’m getting kind of tired… I don’t have to be the one flipping the knobs and flipping the switches.” Justin Voytal, Borg Warner.
The “Redefine.Next” theme of EMC World 2015 does not apply only to technology, but also to the IT career path. EMC TV hosted four IT professionals to talk about the evolution of the industry and their careers. During that conversation, we covered their various career paths, how to respond to change, and finding opportunities to learn and grow.
The members of the panel discussed their varied career paths: management, architecture, and solutions lead. Brian Gregory of Express Scripts chose the management path; he leads a team of nearly 100 people. That transition means that he focuses less on doing everything himself and more on building a team that he can trust to make the right decisions and turn them into reality. Meanwhile, Justin chose the architectural path, where the job is to develop the blueprints for the future and trust that the execution team can make it happen. Marc Lamanna from Cancer Treatment Center of America discussed the solutions path, in which he has to translate the business needs into the technical requirements that the team has to build. Regardless of the career path, however, Dustin Lindsey of Express Scripts hit on the one constant– trust. As you become more senior, you have to be able to trust the team around you. It is not always easy to let go of the controls, but you cannot expand your scope and influence without trusting your team.
The group observed that new career opportunities come from riding the wave of change in our industry. The transformation of how businesses utilize, purchase, and deploy information infrastructure means that IT needs to change how it functions. You can lead that change or be overrun by it. The group had different suggestions from how to embrace change. Justin and Brian both observed that IT needs to transition from back room technologists to business partners. They spend time learning about what the business does and connecting with leaders across the organization. Only once they understand the business value do they explore technology solutions. Justin then emphasized that IT leaders need to learn to speak in finance terms. Ultimately, the business speaks in the language of finance, and if IT does not speak that language, they’re unable to effectively communicate. As IT’s role changes, there is an opportunity to become more strategic, but people have to learn and grow to take on those new responsibilities.
The panel concluded with their advice for developing new skills. The first challenge is finding ways to learn new things. In addition to time constraints, how can somebody get exposed to new areas? Dustin had been assigned to lead a team in an area that was totally unfamiliar to him (backup and data protection). His advice was to go the basics: listen and learn from the team. Meanwhile, Justin advocated seeking out opportunities, like large meetings in areas outside IT, to observe and absorb. Regardless of the method, Marc pointed out that if you make it clear you’re trying to learn, people will generally support you. Brian and Justin then emphasized that constant movement toward a specific goal is the only way to make progress. With that approach, Brian finds that he can make a quantum leap in six months. The final tip was to find core strengths to build upon. Most people learn and adapt to change more easily with a constant they can lean on. Thus, whether you anchor on your leadership (Brian), work ethic (Dustin), historical skill set (Marc), or talent (Justin), you will know that you’re bringing value to the team and that you’ll master this role as you have all the others in your career.
The unprecedented level of change in our industry is creating exceptional new career opportunities for IT professionals. As the panel demonstrated, there is a variety of career paths available; you do not have to become a manager! Regardless of the path you choose, though, now is the time to set a direction, embrace change, and push yourself to learn new skills. This is the time to redefine your career. The best times are just beginning. Don’t take my word for it – watch the whole video for yourself!
Stephen Manley @makitadremel