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Managing your career in software development
Ten things you should know for starting -- and staying on top of -- your career
Worried about career mangement? We offer 10
tips for successful career development. Plus a listing of
the hottest and coldest technical skills.
I have been out of college for a year now. I enjoy my job as
a programmer, but feel I really need some career advice for the
long haul. Can you help?
That's a pretty broad question, but I'll take a crack at it. I
e-mailed your questions to all the Pencom recruiters across the
country and here are the top ten tips these professionals recommend
for people starting and staying on top of their careers in software
engineering (not necessarily in order):
- Stay current. The most important single piece of advice I can
give you for this industry is to keep abreast of the rapidly
changing technology. The best way to do this is to find a
challenging job that gives you access to the latest software and
hardware advances. But even the greatest job will not spoon feed
you all that you need to know to stay current. Go through newsgroups
and read magazines. While some people decide to continue their education
through formal schooling and find classes and seminars to be useful,
it is more important to strive for practical, hands-on experience
(i.e. getting involved with leading-edge projects, seeking out
technical user groups, etc.)
- Stay broad. It is imperative that you have a specialty. However,
to keep your career healthy and flexible you must not become too
focused and singularly capable. An example of some of the
best-situated people in the industry today are Java programmers.
This is not only because the language is in demand, but also because
these people are usually proficient in the realms of networking,
protocols, and object-oriented programming. Be sure to get some
experience in various platforms: learn cross-platform technologies.
And be sure to move around within a given field. For instance, if
you focus on financial markets, be sure to work with mutual funds,
derivatives, trading systems, etc.
- Develop a career path with progressive companies. As a part of
any well-managed career you must keep an eye on the larger market
trends as well as the specific technologies. It's important to talk
to friends and recruiters and read publications to find out who the
real players are -- both established and up and coming. You obviously
want to be a part of the companies that are going to move forward
and affect the market (and have IPOs that make you a millionaire
many times over).
- Always take stock in your career. Managing your career is not
what you do just when you are looking for a new job. You should
always be looking at your skills, salary, and happiness and matching
them against your changing goals. If you are having doubts about
your situation and think you might be moving on soon, you must get
back into the job hunting groove. Keep your eyes and ears open and
learn to like interviewing, as this is one of the most important
skills to have when it comes to positioning yourself in the right
job. (If you are just having doubts about your company, then the
worst thing that can happen from an interview is you come back more
enthused than ever about your current job.)
- Keep a current resume. Update your resume with each new project
or job and maintain an accurate list of past employment references.
Lay-offs and company restructuring are a part of life. You may one
day find yourself hating what you do and scrambling to look at the
industry, what it offers, and where you should be heading.
- Don't fall into a job rut. Unless you are moving on the fast
track up to where you want to be in a given company, chances are
you will begin to stagnate after a few years. Most people in
this industry hold several jobs throughout their career. This is
because the industry changes, and corporate bureaucracies harden.
People often complain that they've been at a job for ten years
and newbies are coming in at nearly the same salary and are being given
all the exciting projects. If that's the case with you, then it's
time to move.
- Avoid annual job hops. In light of the previous piece of advice,
it must also be said that changing jobs too frequently can make you
look fickle and unstable. If you really like to work on different
projects and in different environments, then you should seriously
consider contracting work.
- Do not jump ship without another job. Many times people become
so frustrated with their current job and the difficult job of
searching for a new one that they just quit. Bad move! These
people invariably find themselves explaining in each and every
interview why they are out of work and why they quit. You will look
infinitely more attractive as an applicant if you are currently
working. This is simply human nature. Do not stay at a job for
cosmetic reasons and rough it through, thinking that it will help
your resume. If you have to get out, get out. Just be sure you
have somewhere to go.
- Do not accept counter-offers. If you are dissatisfied at work, do
everything you can to improve the situation. Communicate your
unhappiness before you tell them you are resigning. But when you
decide to resign, be aware that this should be a final decision. It
means that the company you were working for did not value you enough
to address your concerns -- you had to quit to get their attention.
Do not let them buy you back. The moment you quit, you irrevocably
broke their concept of trust and loyalty. No matter what miracles
you perform, if you come back you will not be regarded as highly.
It is always in your best interest to make the best of your
situation and try to improve it, or stick with your decision to
- Do not burn bridges. Whenever you change jobs, it's imperative
that you leave on a good note. Try whenever possible to wrap up
projects you're working on. Do not bad mouth your present manager
and coworkers, thinking that they will soon be far behind. It is a
small technical community. You may be working closely with these
people one day again in the future.
As I mention in this list, managing your career is an ongoing
process. You must often take stock in where you are and where you are
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About the author
Edgar Saadi is senior vice president for
Pencom Systems Inc., the largest
open systems/advanced systems recruiting firm in the U.S. He
specializes in guiding advanced systems careers and helping employees
explore all staffing alternatives.
Reach Edgar at Edgar.Saadi@sunworld.com.
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