In honor of the 2011 MVP Summit (which ended last week), I wanted to hear from a few of Windows IT Pro's rock stars about their best advice for career development and personal branding. I've pulled together 10 key tips that I think everyone in IT (and even other industries) can apply to their personal career development today.
Tips on Branding
1. Be Intentional About Personal Branding
Michael K. Campbell gave me a great example of personal branding. Knowing that his name was one of the more common names in the West, he made a decision early on to brand himself by his middle initial: Michael K. Campbell. As a result, a Google search for his full name (with the initial) leads to a trove of his professional background. He may not scratch the surface on a 'Michael Campbell' search, but it doesn't matter.
Obviously, branding is about more than your name, but this is one example of being intentional about your brand—who do people see you as, whether from Google, your LinkedIn profile, your blog, etc? Everything should lead to a positive (and consistent) picture of you as a prospective employee, contractor, or consultant.
2. Be Vocal About Your Expertise/Brand
From Sean Deuby: "Keep track of every significant thing you’ve done, so you can cleanly lay it out when review time comes around. A decade at Intel taught me to be metrics-driven and results oriented. I live in OneNote."
You can't assume that your managers, co-workers, and potential employers will glean who you are and what you are about. You need to constantly champion yourself, in a positive (and not conceited) way.
3. Volunteer Your Time
From Orin Thomas: "The simplest way to start is to pick something you are interested in and then find a place where you can help people resolve problems with that technology."
Orin also mentioned the Microsoft MVP status, which is bestowed upon experts in the community who are serving others. So, in addition to being an excellent way to be known and seen as an expert, if you volunteer your time and make a substantive contribution to your community, you might be nominated for MVP status.
4. Figure Out What You Can Do Well, and Specialize
This is one of the biggest pieces of advice everyone I spoke with mentioned. You have to have a niche—something you can sink your teeth knee-deep in and conquer.
From Orin Thomas: "Becoming an expert on a technology opens a surprising amount of doors. If you are passionate about learning, you’ll be surprised how far it can take you."
From Michael K. Campbell: "Pick something that excites you and that you’ll love for a long time, and then learn everything there is to know about it AND how it relates to everything it touches or every way in which it can interact with other systems, needs, considerations, and so on. Doing so will help turn you into a subject matter expert—which will give you ‘free press’ in the sense that you’ll build up a reputation for being an SME in this regard, and when people need an expert they’ll turn to you."
5. Immerse Yourself in Technical Content Every Day
From Rhonda Layfield: "Here is a tidbit I always get asked at the Women in Technology sessions – How (as women) can we get ahead in the IT industry? My response is always, 'put down the Glamour magazine and pick up a trade magazine.' Make yourself read something technical every day, even if it is only 30 minutes. You must stay informed on the latest technologies out there to be taken seriously in this industry."
6. Guard Your Technical Reputation Closely
Another tip I was told: IT pros tend to have very little tolerance for technical incompetence, so guard your reputation closely. If you don't feel like you have the skills to tackle a project, maybe you shouldn't take it on. If you're writing about a certain topic, make sure you know your stuff and be careful what you throw around.
7. Understand the Broader Implications of Your Job/Industry
From Sean Deuby: "Understand what you do in a broader context. Usually, this means understanding the context of how your IT fits into the business. If you were a specialist like me, work on broadening your knowledge of other areas of IT. Both of these dramatically improve your internal viability and visibility."
8. Don't Be Arrogant About Your Technical Knowledge
From Sean Deuby: "Avoid the cultural arrogance that's in IT. First, they may be just as smart or smarter than you – but just not in information technology. Second, you never—never—know when a relationship will come back to you. If you’ve made it a decent relationship, even if you didn’t actually like the person, you’ll find they may have helped you out or given you a recommendation. Third, it’s just the Golden Rule your mom taught you: Treat others as you’d like to be treated.
9. Practice Good Communication Skills
From Sean Deuby: "'In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king' (Erasmus). IT pros are, in general, poor communicators. Above-average communicators really stand out. Force yourself to go to Toastmasters to improve your speaking skills.
10. Constantly Share, Teach, Collaborate
From Michael K. Campbell: "Don’t be stingy with what you know. I’ve worked in too many environments where developers, IT personnel, and others erroneously believed that their knowledge and skills were what made them valuable. True, without those capacities and traits you’re not likely to be as valuable. But I find that the ability to share, collaborate, and build up those around you is infinitely more employable than hoping that no one ever figures out your secrets for fear that you’ll be replaced. People who operate like that are hard to be around. Whereas if you’ve truly gone the extra mile in trying to help those around you better understand what you know, shared your knowledge, and tried to build up those around you, even if you’re let go in a layoff, you’ll have made true friends that'll ‘have your back’ in the sense that they’re more than happy to vouch for you in terms of contacts, referrals, and so on. That, and I’m positive that you just live a more fulfilled life."