Proceeding in the Mainstream IT Career Path

1. Playing Mainstream Roles
2. Focusing on Established Technologies

1. Playing Mainstream Roles

The strategy is clear - put yourself on mainstream roles. If you don't have the opportunity to play a mainstream role in current job, it is time to hunt for new opportunities.

Mainstream job roles are filled into the following categories:

  • 1) Programming: Programmer, developer, software engineer.
  • 2) Database: Database administrator, database designer, database analyst.
  • 3) Network: Network administrator, wireless specialist.
  • 4) Systems: System administrator, security specialist.
  • 5) Enterprise Applications: Application designer and architect, technical analyst.
  • 6) Software Packages: Professional with expertise on ERP, CRM, PLM, SAM, etc.

Workers on mainstream job roles have much better chance to achieve career goals and get rewarded both financially and professionally.

On the other hand, sidewalk job roles offer very limited success potential. Typical sidewalk job roles in IT include QA tester, helpdesk analyst, end-user support, computer operator, PC technician, etc.

As we discussed before, whether or not you have any IT background, the best approach to enter IT field is to start with programming. If you plan to advance your career in IT, you need to grow within mainstream roles. It is all right to enter IT through sidewalk roles if this is easier for you. But the problem is, you cannot naturally evolve from sidewalk role to mainstream role. Therefore you must make a jump sooner or later, otherwise your career future is not that great. For instance, you can start as an entry level helpdesk worker and grow up to a senior helpdesk specialist, but you wouldn't get much financial reward because helpdesk is a very side role. So you'd better off if you could find a way to switch to technical analyst or business analyst roles in early stage.

2. Focusing on Established Technologies

For the purpose of career planning, we classify technologies into three categories: emerging technologies, established technologies, and faded technologies. Your wining strategy to deal with technologies is simple -- Focus on established technologies; Watch out emerging technologies; and give up faded technologies:

  • Emerging technologies - Watch closely
  • Established Technologies - Keep focus on
  • Faded Technologies - Give up and move on

Some career advisors suggest focusing on emerging technologies. The argument is that by focusing on emerging technologies you can always step ahead and take opportunities earlier than the crowd. As what they said, if you grab those hot technologies ahead of others, you will be in high demand, you will get the best position, and you will hold big fat paychecks.

However, practically it is a bad approach. It was true five years ago that you could occupy a prime position by equipping advanced technologies ahead of time. But today the entire IT industry had become highly commoditized, and no one can lead the edgy no mater how early he or she entered the field. To succeed in IT career, you must have a focus, and you must focus on the right things - the established technologies built with proven market and career opportunities. Here are more reasons why you should NOT chase emerging technologies:

  • In such a versatile industry, new technologies emerge every minute. As an individual professional, it is too hard to decide which technology to bid.
  • History told us, only few emerging technologies become realized in the market. Thus you bear greater risk of losing your investment of time and missing other opportunities.
  • All emerging technologies are rooted from fundamental knowledge and practice in the industry. With a strong core skill set, it is very easy for to you to jump onto it when you see a technology does start to realize.

Anyway, emerging technologies are hot technologies. Hot technologies come and go so quickly. Today's hottest technology may not even exist next year. On the other hand, a lot of emerging technologies in IT are in fact off the mainstream. For instance, emerging technologies such as Bioinformatics and Semantic Web are hot and promising, but they will only be realized in specific areas. Therefore they could have very little impact to your career.

Established technologies can add real value to your career in the long run. With established market, customer base, and settled competition, established technologies generate consistent workflow, which means more projects, works, and job openings for us. Because established technologies penetrate into larger economy scale, it takes much longer time (in some cases almost forever) to let them vanish when industry shift directions. Therefore you have sufficient buffer time to re-plan your focus.

Here are some examples of established technologies:

  • J2EE Technology
  • .NET Technology
  • Database Server Technology
  • E-Business Integration Technology
  • Enterprise Software Packages
  • XML Web Services
  • System Architecture and Framework
  • VOIP and IP Telephony
  • Enterprise Network Security

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Guru Tips

  • Don't ignore emerging technologies. Keep an eye on what's going on in the industry. Read trade magazines such as eWeek and Computer World to keep yourself updated.
  • A big challenge is to identify when an emerging technology gets established in the industry. A quick check-up is to found out if more then two books were published on the technological topic.
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Faded technologies are those had lost momentum in the industry. If you built your core skills on faded technologies, it's time to re-focus. It is hard to give up what you are good at, but that's life. You still can survive on the base of faded technologies for a while, and you can even find lucrative niche on faded technologies since there are not many people working on faded technologies. But you must know that faded technologies don't build much value to your career. As you see, people are moving away for a good reason. You should re-focus and move on.

Some of faded technologies include mainframe, DOS, Cobol, Novell network, BAAN ERP, PowerBuilder, Delphi, SilverStream, etc.