The Pain of Change is Mandatory - It is the Suffering that is Optional


Paul Chapman, CIO, Box

Now that I have grey in my beard (actually I have lot of grey in my beard) I often get asked how do I grow my career in IT and how should I approach my career development – the question often comes with the anticipation of receiving a secret magic key and a clear path through the IT career maze. These of course do not exist however, I recently spent some time reflecting on this question and summarized into this posting.

I wanted to avoid the typical cliché of IT career advice and instead focus on character and environment awareness for approaching career development, I hope you find this useful and wish you all the best in your career.

Knowledge Acquisition: Constant change is the steady state and to stay relevant as an IT professional you need to constantly be re-inventing yourself. In order to ride the waves of technology personal investment in knowledge acquisition is extremely important, this can be taxing but never boring. Knowledge acquisition can come in many forms and cannot be short circuited, with knowledge comes empowerment and with empowerment comes more autonomy and career opportunity.

A common misunderstanding is IT professionals can confuse hard work, training and certificates as a reason for career progression. There is no substitution for effectiveness, capability, solving complex challenges and delivering results, all of which are enabled through an ongoing quest for knowledge acquisition.

Find your mission: It still surprises me how many people who ask “what do I need to do to grow my IT career” don’t actually know when they are asked “what do you want to do” ? It is important that people find their mission, it is ok to wander different paths early in one’s career but at the heart of the wandering is your mission – find that mission and follow-it. We all have heard the statement it is about the journey and not the destination so spending time, real meaningful time to find and understand you mission is key. Follow it, don’t deviate, get your ordinal priorities right and keep saying to yourself “I want to thank myself in twenty years from now for the decisions I make today, I don’t know who I will be in twenty years but I want to thank the person who I am today for those decisions” Muhammad Ali once said a person who views the world at fifty the same as they did at twenty has wasted thirty years of their life.

Why do “A” Students fail: Being smart and academically brilliant can be a blessing but if you don’t focus on increasing your participative and social skills then these can become career head-winds, it is key that as one moves forward in their career they spend time on being more participative and social. This can be challenging for IT professionals who on average tend to be more introverted in nature so you you have to to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and step out of the comfort zone.

Here is a Korn Ferry study that I found a number of years back that is statistically relevant to this subject.

Make Mom Proud This is one of our core values at Box. Be accountable to one’s self and before taking action say to yourself “would this make Mom proud” don’t mess with professionalism. Trust, ethics, accountability and courage breed career opportunities and you want to be at the front of the line when those opportunities present themselves. Here are a list of character traits that require no talent – Passion, Being on Time, Work Ethic, Positive Body Language, Energy, Positive Attitude, Being Coachable, Doing Extra, Being Prepared.

The Glass is Half Full:

As you build your IT career, how you deal with unfairness, lack of appreciation and things that knock you down will shape your tenacity and scrappiness to keep moving forward, it is easy to dismiss and or presume the glass is half empty and all to often I catch people looking to leave a company because they are running away from and not towards something – it is easy to run away anyone can do that. You will however, inevitably find good, bad and ugly at most companies and job hopping can become a curse for building a career. If you are not running towards something then re-think your decision.

When you are knocked down figure out why the outcome was the outcome and what to do differently next time. You should learn more from the negative experiences than the positive ones and you should not reason away the experience to feel better in fact there are no negative experiences only learning experiences– a mentor once said to me at times it can feel like the waves are washing over the bow of the ship and you are going to capsize, stick with it and take an introspective what did I learn approach and inevitably things will right size.

The Power of the Community: I am a big believer in the wisdom of the community and it is key to be engaged in external professional communities and to foster and build relationships that extend beyond your own company. Do not do this in reactive mode when you need to but invest time and effort in external communities over the long haul and it will in turn repay you with knowledge and with furthering your opportunities.

Meaningful Work for a Meaningful company? If you were to place your resume in a drawer today and take in out in a year from now will it have positively changed in any way? To increase your personal market cap and ability to compete for future opportunities you need to be positively changing up your resume year-over-year. In order to do so you need to be doing meaningful work for a meaningful company and if either of these is not being met then it is time to be looking at doing something else.

No one is going to manage your career for you - According to Henry Wadsworth, "If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody" you need to have patience and be ready when the gates open. The power to shape your career is in your hands! Be proactive and no matter how big or small start investing now. Remember the pain of change is mandatory it is the suffering that is optional and if you don’t like change you will like irrelevance even less.

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