Career Development

Keeping on top of your profession

Clearly the IEEE CS conferences, publications, tutorials, webinars, professional activities programs, chapter meetings, etc. all have a major continuing educational component to them. If you are not staying up with your profession, you will be passed by, and companies are no longer "managing" your career for you. It is up to you to identify where you want to go, what it takes to get there and then pursue that path. Companies will often cover all or part of your costs of pursuing your ongoing education, and often value employees who are looking ahead and taking a pro-active role in keeping up with their skills. (And, if your employer does not want to support your ongoing improvement, that tells you a lot about your future in that company.)

But ... a career is more than just a bunch of courses and some time on the job. First, a good percentage of professionals in our fields will be doing jobs in ten years that do not exist now. Courses and other activities can help prepare you for these transitions. But the real-time data is only present in your network. If you are not connected, you aren't going to get the message. The talk at the table at that conference, or after the chapter meeting, or in the online community may be the only place you get wind of what is happening next. By the time your employer is ready to move into that next paradyme, there will be a bunch of people who have obtained the skills and background to step into those jobs. I have worked at companies hiring folks with one set of skills, while laying off folks with parallel but out of date skills.

Find mentors, folks who can help you see where things may be going, who can point you at tools and contacts that may be of value, and in some cases may be your next employer (or employee ... these things work in strange ways.)

The Computer Society has a service "Build Your Career" to help folks sort out some of the options and information sources. New corporate partners are collaborating with the Society to help identify growth areas, required skills and tools. The transformation from educated to skilled to experienced to mastery to knowledge leadership will not be the same for each individual. Skills like communications, team work, 'leading from the side', presentation skills, concensus building, cross-functional collaboration, etc. are becoming the differential advantages that lead to senior positions and growth opportunities. These are capabilities barely taught in college -- and ones that can be aquired by active participation in collaborative efforts within IEEE CS chapters, conference planning, standards working groups, editorial boards, and even management committees.

Networking into your next job

"It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts"; a painfully accurate observation that has become part of our community awareness. Closely tied to this is the indications that 90% of technical positions are filled via networking, not as a result of posting or sending in a resume. The terms "old school tie " and "old boys club" are further examples of this concept -- being "old" and "male" I still find this latter reality disturbing (GOLD and WIE to the rescue!).

The professional connections (and even non-professional connections) where you develop a mutual foundation for respect and/or trust are the most powerful tools you have. Why should you believe me? Well -- trust me. Ok, why would you trust me when you don’t even know who I am? Sure I have a bunch of neat things on my resume, sounds good. Think about it, who do you go when seeking advice -- who would you consider asking to join your startup company -- and who might ask you? Fill in the blank in this phone conversation: "_______ suggested I call you, we have an opening that he/she thought might just be a good match." Needless to say, the more answers you can put in this blank, the more opportunities that will come your way. The reverse direction is who you would contact to see if they know of any job openings, or if they know someone who you might hire? Do you really expect to use the Human Resources department? Lets see, antidotal evidence: I’ve held jobs with eight companies - only one -- my first job out of college -- was a resume/HR hire, all of the others were either "who knew me" or ones sought out via network connections. Your mileage may differ.

Did I mention that included six different career changes (some within the same company)? Expect this, plan for it, and where will you get the knowledge and contacts you need to pass though these transitions? Professional Society activities (you knew I was going to say that.) Three out of eight of my job changes were via my professional activities and two involved being hired by co-workers when they moved to new companies.

One suggestion: don't wait until you need a job to start networking, it is a bit late at that point. Get involved now, it can be as easy as attending the next Chapter meeting in your local area.