Stuck in your career? Try this for a change!

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

There is no easy button!

We have all been there, feeling stuck, unsure of how to move to the next level. This can apply to your current job role, or career as a whole. And unfortunately, this feeling of being trapped is also not a one-time incident, sometimes we can feel this way several times throughout our careers. You already know this but sometimes it helps to hear it again. To get to the next step, there is no easy button!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Link to the article can be found here.

In the past year I’ve been asked by fellow IT professionals for guidance on advancing in the IT field. Everyone’s situation is different but they all share common pain points. In an effort to help others beyond my immediate reach, I decided to write down the advice I provide to those that seek my input. However, this is only one man’s words and I recommend to always seek multiple perspectives to see which applies best to your situation!

If you’re looking for a “(insert number) to success guide”, then you’ve come to wrong place. There is no such guide, life doesn’t work that way although there are times we all wish it did. Fortune and misfortune are all too powerful forces to ignore that are out of our control. However, there are steps we can take to gain more control of our career. I use the following equation as a guiding principle.

(learning + hard work + helping others) = success

Embrace continuous learning

Our capability of learning and applying logical reasoning is what truly sets us apart from other species and lifeforms. This ~3 lbs, pink, muscle we call the brain is primed for learning and solving complex problems. It would be a disservice to deny our brain from one of its core capabilities! During our generation, we see industries disrupted by technological changes, changes that require employees to adjust and learn new skills. To make matters more complex, employees are being asked to do more and more everyday. New methodologies such as product management, agile practices, and DevSecOps are requiring constant upskilling from all workforces regardless of the organization or industry.

I intentionally bring this up because some view reskilling/upskilling (learning) as an annoyance, burden, inconvenience, and so on. We are all creatures of habit, change is not as easy as we would like it be. If you feel this way about learning then I am afraid I have bad news for you, it’s not going to change anytime soon. Organizations are battling day and night for new business, and are constantly trying to 1up one another. A lot of these new business solutions are powered by advances in technology that IT professionals need to develop and master.

The later is why it’s important to keep learning and to constantly add new skills to our mental tool belt. No matter how smart, driven, or talented you may think your coworkers or peers are, not everyone is going to take their learning the extra miles and go beyond what their current job description says to do. It takes that next level IT professional to take matters into their own hands and learn new skills in their spare time to remain well rounded. The learning is not only for today’s needs but also for tomorrow’s challenges. Organizations are aggressively looking for individuals that can master new skills. Take cloud technologies as an example.

In order to design and develop an application that is cloud native it would require many skills; familiarity with a cloud vendor and its services, infrastructure as code, security, CI/CD, programming language(s), architecture, disaster recovery, cost optimization, etc. The list can go on and on, but the point I am trying to make is that no one will be able to master all these skills, it will take a team effort to successfully develop an application. If you are able to speak with confidence and have some experience with a least one or two of the items I outlined above, chances are you would have a hiring manager/recruiters interest. Organizations are in desperate need for these skills. This is just a snapshot of the present, in the future there will be other skills and technologies, but history always repeats itself so the need for new skills will present itself.

This is a prime opportunity for moving into a new position and/or new organization. A lot of people don’t realize how learning new skills can be the key to moving out of the rut they might be in, but it all comes down to self-discipline and hard work. As a hiring manager, I always look for individuals that display traits of continuous learning/technical curiosity. The reason being that today’s methodologies and technologies will change in the future and I need individuals that can handle these changes in the future.

That being said, let’s chat about hard work.

“The best investment you can make is in yourself. The more you learn, the more you earn”

-Warren Buffett

Put in hard work

Ah yes, the one thing that every generation believes the one after them lacks🙄. But there is something to be said about putting in some good ole fashioned hard work to get ahead in life. We have all heard the saying, “if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it”, well it’s more true than we would like.

Hard work comes in many flavors (physical, and mentally), and to get ahead you’ll need both. We already discussed how important continuous learning is and learning in itself is also hard work. Putting in the time after work, to learn, while juggling the rest of responsibilities life throws at us is no easy task. But that’s what makes it hard work! Hard work also extends itself in the workplace, sometimes you have to volunteer to do those “not so fun” assignments or stay late to ensure your team’s success in a critical project. I always advice people to let their work take them to important people vs the rear kissing approach! Trust me, you’ll have more pride if you do the first approach, though politics will always play a part in every organization, unfortunately.

When you put in hard work, those around you will take care of you! I like to illustrate this with a personal anecdote. In 2011, I was attending U.S. Army Ranger School, for those that are unfamiliar with this school just know it’s a highly physically and mentally demanding leadership school the Army offers to military personnel. In this school, you are tested on your leadership abilities, and the tests involve leading soldiers through stressful combat patrols in various environments/settings with minimal sleep and food.

In the three phases of this school, you will have graded opportunities to be the leader of a patrol, either as a platoon leader and/or platoon sergeant. Every patrol has the two roles being graded, in addition every patrol require two team leaders to help the platoon sergeant. The team leader position is a non-graded, volunteer based role, and to be honest best defined as “hard work” due to all the additional responsibilities and physical demands that comes with it. When you’re lacking food and sleep, the team leader role is one that many do not desire to be in.

In the last phase of Ranger school (Florida phase), after two months of minimal food and sleep, when every one is extremely tired and hungry. The last phase of Ranger school involves 10 days in the swamps of Florida, conducting patrols. I volunteered for the team leader position every day of those first nine days. I was starting to panic as I had still not received my opportunity for a graded patrol, and people were getting sloppy due to extreme exhaustion. I could quickly tell that my chances of passing were decreasing due to people making costly mistakes, myself included.

Day 10 — it’s just past 6 pm, the sunset is on the horizon, and I hear my name called, “Cardenas… you’re up!” CRAP, a night mission (twice as difficult) and its the last day of graded patrols. This means I only have one shot of passing, otherwise I have to restart the phase and repeat the patrols! At this point I’m suffering from sleep deprivation and my body is beat from the physical demands. The patrol kicks off and right away I was making all kinds of mistakes. I was making bad tactical decisions(due to lack of sleep and energy), there was no hiding it and my classmates knew it too. Then something unbelievable happened. Everyone started working together, my team leaders ignored my bad commands and provided the correct guidance to the team. Because I had given it my all the first 9 days, I had foolishly left insufficient energy for my own patrol. My classmates realized this, and due to all the hard work I had given to help them pass in the previous days, they in return carried me through that patrol and as a result I passed. My team saved me, the hard work from the previous days inspired my team to help me!

I’m not telling you this story to boast, or to show off, but to make a point. People recognize hard work and good team players. The same goes for organizations (though unfortunately not always the case), people will help you and carry you through if you put in the work! Hard work has a way of inspiring others and bringing good fortune to you! I could had been selfish and not volunteered as a team leader those first 9 days and saved enough energy in the tank for my own patrol. But I doubt my team would had carried me through as much as they did that day! Hard work pays off! Combine hard work alongside side with continuous learning and you will quickly become a wanted asset in any organization.

Helping Others

This is the last piece of the equation, and probably the most critical one of the three. Now, you might be asking yourself at this point, why help others? After all, you’re the one who needs help to advance, right? How will helping others get you to where you want to go? Allow me to explain.

If you’re reading this chances are you are in a state of chasing. Meaning, you are hunting for opportunities, this can be in the form of applying for a job, sending your resume to a recruiter, and/or attending hiring events. This is not an ideal state, it’s often prone to disappointment, not to mention stressful. Rather than chasing opportunities, wouldn’t you rather have opportunities come to you? When opportunities come to you life is less stressful and you’re more satisfied due to having more options available. The goal here is to go from a state of chasing to a state of attracting opportunities. But how does one go from one state to the other? Through helping others!

There are many ways to helps others. Opportunities present themselves all the time, such as paired programming, technical presentations, writing technical guides, creating technical solutions, and so on. The common theme with the options listed above is knowledge sharing.

Sharing knowledge offers tremendous benefits to both yourself and others. It helps others that might be in a similar technical challenge, perhaps prevent those after you from making the same mistakes you might have made in the past, improve future solutions, educate, save time and/or money, etc.

Knowledge sharing also helps you in so many ways. Whether you are writing technical articles, creating YouTube videos, creating technical solutions (open source), or maybe educating through presentations.

It helps you in the aspect that others are now able to verify you do indeed know your stuff! A recruiter can simply now visit your Github/GitLab/YouTube/Medium handle and review your projects, read your articles, watch your videos, etc.

The main challenge hiring managers and recruiters are often trying to overcome is the verification of a candidate’s knowledge. You have now essentially addressed that concern. Now put yourself in the recruiter/manager’s shoes, what candidates would you gravitate towards? The one with a only a resume? Or the candidate that has a resume and a technical portfolio showcasing knowledge and/or solutions? You would probably go after the candidate that has verifiable content. The other trait recruiters/managers notice is that you also share share great teamwork traits such as teaching, helping others, and sharing knowledge back. This applies to both internal to your organization and/or external.

There is so much power in helping others, but more importantly, it also makes you feel good. Positive energy attracts positive things into your life! Call it karma, faith, blessings, whatever your belief is, they all teach the power of helping others for a reason.

(learning + hard work + helping others) = success

There you have it, the advice I provide those aspiring to move into a different role. As you can see, there is no big secret, nothing complex, just three simple concepts that require lots of self-discipline and dedication.

Will you experience setbacks along the way? Probably, but that’s okay, it’s part of the journey, just remember to leverage these setbacks as learning points rather than being defeated by them*.

  • Embrace continuous learning to remain competitive
  • Put in the hard work to become a valued asset and inspire others
  • Share the knowledge back to help others but also to showcase your knowledge/skill

By no means do I want you to think this is easy, it will require a lot of work but the reward is there should you choose to put in the work. Now get out there, learn something new, and share that knowledge back with the world!

*Sometimes these setbacks are a blessing in disguise 😉