There are misconceptions about what constitutes a career. For many, a career is simply a string of successive jobstypically within the same industry or vocational area. I want to challenge this idea and offer a broader definition. My definition, when embraced, opens you to greater flexibility and control over your career. If understood, this definition will remove some of the anxiety associated with those times in which you are not working or advancing in the way or with the speed that you expect.
I define a career in the following fashion:
What this means is that your career occurs both when you are working and when you are not. You are always involved in your career and its development. This understanding is important (and should be motivating) because you can begin to find value in those activities that occur outside of your job or when you are not working. This helps you realize opportunities to advance skills and relationships that can bring value to your career regardless of the position you hold now or will hold in the future. Hopefully, it prompts you to be more aware and become more proactive in your overall career development.
You will notice throughout this book that I refer to career building. I want the idea of building a career to be ingrained into your mind. Careers and buildings are similar in that they do not normally happen by accident. I will use an analogy of a builder whom you have hired to add a room to your house.
If the rhetorical builder arrived at your house with a bunch of wood, paint, and stucco but no plans, you would justifiably be concerned. If he walked up to the side of your house and began nailing boards together in some haphazard fashion, you would be certain the project was doomed.
Now, it might be that this builder is so accomplished that his innate skills provide him with everything he needs to complete the project without planning. It could work out that what is produced works in harmony with everything else on the house. But I don't think you would count on that.
And yet, with careers, we often do just that. We take one job after another in a particular field (perhaps) but with no plan on what our career should look like when we are finished. It has been my experience that individuals plan their vacations more carefully than they do their careers. But unless you are one of the wealthy elite, you likely will spend much more time working in your career than you will taking vacations.
For some, such planning carries the associated connotation of unyielding rigidity. Newer technologists might claim that it's impossible for them to know which area of technology they want to take their careers without some experimentation. For those who are ready to raise this shout, stop!
Of all people, I am at heart spontaneous. I fully understand the dilemma of the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I was always amazed when children would answer the question with complete assurance of their life's ambition. I, however, still claim I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.
I am not implying that your objective in technology necessary be tied to some ultimate unchanging goal. Nor am I against quickly adopting a new course of action. In fact, with the rapid and constant changes in technology, this is one of the benefits of the field. The fact that technology opens the door and allows for change to new skills and avenues for your career makes it exciting and fun.
In fact, let's go back to the example of the builder. For those who have watched or taken part in a building project, you know that changing plans are a constant. Builders get weeks into a project only to have the owner or architect suddenly introduce new plans and features. Add a window here, a door here, and so on. The builder must adopt the new elements into his existing structure and make it look as though it was always part of the plan. Sometimes the builder even has to tear down some of what was built to move forward.
You will do the same with your career. New technologies, opportunities, and desires will force you to continually re-evaluate your career direction. You must be flexible and adaptable. Fortunately, the constant change of technology allows for this.
My goal is to leave you with some skills that transcend the changes in technology. You can use the skills outlined here whether your career takes you from programmer to analyst to manager to consultant or to business owner. In fact, the adoption of these skills will make such transitions much easier and less stressful.