How to figure out what's next - and actually get there
As a professional body we're often asked by members for some pointers on kickstarting or progressing a career. Or how to turn a "job" into a "career" and actually get some focus into getting ahead.
This has especially been the case following research released a few weeks ago that showed far more industry investment in immigration than domestic talent development - meaning less employer-funded professional development than many other industries. And that has to change.
The answer is actually, perhaps surprisingly, a lot easier than you might think. In fact the process itself is clear, and most of the tools are either available through ITP, or will be within the next few weeks.
In essence, professional development shouldn't just happen because you stumbled across a course you thought might be good, or found a specific thing you needed in your current job. That stuff is important too, but proper professional development comes about as a result of reflection and planning. It's a process.
Sound boring? That it ain't. But more importantly, it's what you need to do if you really do want to get ahead. You're not getting any younger, and nobody wants to be left behind. And really, even if you're happy and comfortable where you're at, wouldn't you prefer to have the skills to progress when you're ready to progress?
In other words, avoid the year or two when you're no longer enjoying what you're doing but need to upskill before you can move forwards or sideways. Or if you're at that point now, speed that process up so you can move on up.
Stealing a little from Nuria Olmos' excellent blog on the topic, you have a simple process:
I'd add a few things to this, as outlined below. But the model really is that simple.
Just like driving a car on an unfamiliar road, you first need to figure out where you're at, then figure out where you're going before you can finally figure out how to get there.
However, the process is a little more difficult than just firing up Google Maps on your phone.
Where are you now?
It may come as a bit of a surprise, but unless you've evaluated it properly, your skillset is probably a little different to what you think it is. You might be a bit cocky and think everyone else is a bit of an egg and you're a pro, or you might be the one holding yourself back, with higher or more skills than you realise. But the reality is, we don't know what we don't know, and you need a proper way to figure it out.
If you're an employer, the best way of dealing with this for your people is to set up skills assessments against frameworks like SFIA. However for ITP members, you'll soon be able to do this part - for free - through ITP's upcoming Skills Portfolio tool. Without letting the hat out of the bag just yet, you'll see more on this soon. Very, very soon.
But you can't skip over this part - it's crucial. You have to know where you are before you can figure out where you're going, otherwise who knows where you'll end up.
So, where to from here?
Ok, so you've waited a couple of weeks until the super-secret Skills Portfolio announcement (oops) and have created your ITP Skills Portfolio. Now what?
The answer to where to from here? can come from a few different places. Firstly, you might have a fair idea already. You might be a developer who doesn't really want to step into management but has always been interested in systems architecture - so that's a pathway. Or you might be wanting to go from a mid-level dev to a senior dev, or move to full-stack, or do something else entirely.
Or you might have no idea at all, and that's fine too.
The best bet at this stage is to get yourself a mentor. A couple of suggestions here - get someone who is well away from your current role. Some will disagree with this, but your manager probably won't make a good career mentor as they might be conflicted if their advice to you - as a professional - conflicts with the interests of the company.
And contrary to many people's views, a mentor isn't necessarily your "senior". In fact, many very senior people have mentors who - career-wise - are their junior. However, they possess knowledge in a particular career area, or an ability to challenge them to think a bit differently. And that's what you need from a mentor.
Here's a pitch (but not really, because it's free): Use ITP's professional mentoring programme. It's there for you. It's free. It's great.
We have heaps of mentors and we don't just match you and see you later - we provide guidance, templates and so much more to help you - with the help of your mentor - figure out your next steps and how to get there.
And don't be nervous. Even if you have a bit of social anxiety, our mentors really are good and if it doesn't work out, no worries. Just take the plunge. The service is free for all ITP members except those on a student concession (as it's designed for those who are already working).
So you've started the mentoring process and now you have a plan. Easy. If you went through ITP's programme, you'll have goals and objectives and your mentor holding you accountable to it… and now it's time to put it into action!
See what I did there? The plan is actually the easy part and just falls out of the process. You don't even really need to think about it.
This is a fundamentally important part. Lots of people are good at creating plans for this sort of thing, but then life gets in the way of the doing. And let's face it, this stuff isn't always easy.
I strongly suggest you be quite hardnosed with the doing part. Treat it as a deliverable at work, not something you do if you have time. After all, this is your future we're talking about here.
Speaking of time, make time. I know you're busy. But be honest with yourself: it's not that you're too busy to execute on it, it's that you're not prioritising it. So prioritise your future and don't put it off. Make sure you have support around you, and get it done.
Another benefit of having a mentor is they'll help hold you accountable to your plan and that's what many people need. Or if you need something else, put it in place. For example, some people post their plans publicly so their colleagues can see and hold them to account.
Here's another tough call that some won't like, but if your employer won't support your plan, and it's related to your work, it's time to change. I don't say that lightly, but as a profession we can't accept that anymore.
You have to grow and your employer should be supporting that growth.
And if you're the employer, help your people grow! Obviously you have to be somewhat happy with the direction they're heading and the PD they want, but all of the research shows that you'll win big time on retention, morale, loyalty and future productivity if you simply support your people and help them get ahead. It really is a no-brainer.
This step is sometimes skipped but don't - it's really important to track your progress. Make sure you have a column in your plan to keep track of the "doing". Again, treat this like a professional work exercise - don't cowboy it.
Document it properly and track your progress.
And lastly, reflection is a crucial - and oft overlooked - part of any plan. In fact, it's essential. How and when you do the reflecting is essential too.
Just like agile development, you need an open-closed-open mentality. I like to think of it as Ponder-Do-Ponder in this context.
That is, you need to reflect and ponder and be as open-minded as you can when you're devising your outcomes and figuring out your plan. It's essential you think about all possibilities, even those that are outside your comfort zone.
But when it comes to the execution phase, you don't have time for all that pondering. It's time to get s**t done and the pondering comes later. You have to change your whole mindset to outcomes and doing, executing your plan and moving forwards. Go go go.
And at specific steps along the way, you need to pause the execution and reflect. For some, that'll be after the whole plan is implemented. For others, there'll be some pretty clear milestones along the way that are perfect for a pause and reflection and consideration of whether to adjust the direction a little.
But the key thing here is, you're either in a ponder phase or a doing phase and all of your energy and capacity is focused on one or the other. In the doing phase, you don't let things get in the way - you push and adapt and really focus on the next milestone. In the pondering phase, you're pausing the doing, and you're pondering and evaluating.
You're not trying to do both at the same time, and that's how you get things done.
Let's reflect on what we've done, if you've followed the approach above:
- You've evaluated where you're at, skills-wise and career-wise. If you're an ITP member, this is probably helped by utilising the Skills Portfolio tool (coming soon!)
- You've figured out where you want to be for your next step. Whether you have a fair idea or no clue, you've hopefully got yourself a mentor to help guide you and used ITP's templates and guidance as part of the mentoring programme.
- You've created your plan on how to get there, preferably with the help of a mentor. If you're a "doing" type person you might have tried to jump to this step first. But sorry - you really do have to build the foundations first. So go back to steps 1 and 2 if that's you.
- Even if you're not ready to make the move up (or over) yet career-wise, you've implemented your plan so you'll have everything ready when you're ready. You've taken a "Ponder-Do-Ponder" approach and been open-minded and thoughtful about what you're going to do, then got on with the doing, then reflected and pondered again about how it went.
- Maybe during those periods of reflection you changed direction a little - that's fine! But just don't lose sight of the outcome.
- And now… you've done it! But now what?
The answer is, do it again! Sorry, but it's true: in our industry you can never be standing still - you should always be somewhere along the process above. Each cycle will look very different, but just don't stop.
And that, in a nutshell, is how you get ahead.
Whether you're a member yet or not, ITP is your professional body. Our job is to help you advance and help you get ahead, and our new tools are coming to do just that. If you're not a member, come join - it's easy, and you'll be ready to go.
But this isn't a pitch, because convincing you to take the steps you need to get ahead really shouldn't be a hard-sell. We have the tools, we have the guidance, we have the mentors and we have the process. You bring you.
All you have to do is one thing: start the journey. And there's no reason that journey can't start today.
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