In a recent post on Windows IT Pro’s Industry Bytes blog, one of my colleagues, Caroline Marwitz, asked readers whether they would discourage their children from choosing an IT career. Although salary surveys we’ve done in recent years say that Windows IT professionals are basically content with their jobs, a vocal number, perhaps a minority, are dissatisfied enough with their careers—for reasons such as long hours for relatively low pay and outsourcing—that they’ll steer their kids away from IT.

Opportunity for professional development could be one key to long-term job satisfaction. But what does “professional development” mean to an Exchange Server and Outlook administrator? From an informal survey of several Exchange & Outlook Pro VIP contributors and some Exchange-related forums and blogs, plus my interactions with dozens of IT pros over the years, I’ve discerned these common threads in the professional development theme:

  • Start at the Help desk, get some certifications, and work your way up into systems or network administration.
  • Certifications are good, but a college degree (especially with some business courses or even an MBA) is better.
  • Don’t pass up an opportunity to plunge ahead into unfamiliar technology areas. For example, if you’re working as an IT tech and your company is upgrading to a new version of Exchange Server, you’re forced to learn the new technology—and update your skills.
  • Get involved in the IT community. Blog, participate in forums and newsgroups (even by lurking, you’ll learn something), join a user group, publish articles. If you’re especially motivated, start your own user group, as Exchange & Outlook author and regular forum contributor Nathan Winters did, by forming the Microsoft Messaging & Mobility User Group, oriented toward messaging professionals in the UK and Europe.
  • Attend conferences, such as Tech Ed and Windows and Exchange Connections, “places where people and networking mix well,” says Exchange & Outlook Pro VIP author William Lefkovics.

Another important part of professional advancement in IT and messaging specifically is a willingness to try out different IT career areas, as well as finding a mentor, says Winters. "Professional development is a personal thing. I would suggest constant reading and experimenting as key to a successful career. Trainingwise, it depends. I have found conferences to be inspirational and a great place to meet the best in the industry. \[And\] trying to engineer things so you work with people you really respect and developing a mentor type relationship with someone can really help."

I’m especially interested in knowing what technology areas Exchange and Outlook professionals like you, our readers, should be familiar with, not only to help you do your day-to-day jobs as messaging pros but to help you advance in your careers. You might need to figure out why Exchange isn’t sending mail to a particular domain or restore a user’s lost email, but you also need to be keeping an eye on technologies that your company could adopt in the near future, such as unified messaging or collaboration (SharePoint), and preparing for your next migration—likely to Exchange Server 2007—by learning about new product features and upgrading your skills to work with the technology you're migrating to. Email me and tell me about your career path, what’s helped you advance professionally, and what information you’re looking for to keep you moving forward. Have a great month!

—Anne Grubb, Exchange & Outlook Pro VIP Editor