Oh, The Places You’ll Go

You’ve got brains in your head…

I think it’s fair to say that most of us have followed an interesting path to end up in IT.  As you continue to progress, you may start considering what the next steps are in that path.  Here are some of the questions to consider.  FYI – this post was inspired by an excellent post that I absolutely cannot find and really wished I had bookmarked.

Do you stay technical or not?

You probably got into IT because you love technology.  I know I do.  At home I like to tinker with electronics and dabble in some programming.  Being in a technical role keeps me engaged and interested, but it also requires constantly keeping up with the industry.  And I think we can all agree that this industry changes at a breakneck pace.  The kind of pace that can burn someone out.  If you decide to stay technical, then prepare yourself for the Sisyphean task of staying up to date on your skillset.

Do you specialize or not?

If you do choose to stay technical, then the additional question is whether it makes sense to specialize in a particular discipline.  There are those in the public sphere that advocate a generalist approach.  You’ll hear terms like a Full Stack Admin or DevOps Engineer, which implies that you should know all the various components of the application stack from the node.js page that delivers the content to the fibre channel protocols that deliver the bits.  Being a good generalist means knowing a little about a lot of things, knowing how they interact together, and knowing who to ask when you have a question.  Who do you ask?  A specialist of course!  The specialist goes deep on a particular technical discipline, and I don’t just mean storage or network or compute.  A specialist might drill down into a specific subset of one of those, like the aforementioned fibre channel, or wireless networking, or KVM virtualization.  The problem with being a specialist is that the thing that you choose to specialize in may become obsolete, and consequently so do you.

Do you go into management?

Some people decide to leave the technical rat race and try their hand at management.  The skillset required to be an effective manager is vastly different than what is needed to be a good consultant, but there are still parallels.  Being able to communicate effectively, listen to what people are saying, and be responsive to people’s needs are all things that will serve you well as both a consultant and a manager.  If you think that you would enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of helping your coworkers grow and improve, then management could be right for you.

Do you go into presales?

If you love the technology, but are getting tired of being in front of the keyboard, then presales could be a good fit for you.  A presales architect needs to have a generalist’s understanding of technology, and the skills to explain it to a prospective client.  Being in presales is about understanding what a client needs, and being able to design a solution based on those needs.  If you enjoy presenting to people, talking technology, and designing solutions, then presales could be a good fit.  You also need to enjoy, or at least be comfortable with the business side of things too.  Presales needs to contend with margin, cost, budgets, deal registration, and a host of other non-technical items that might be unappealing to a technical person.

Do you stay put?

This is an option that people don’t often talk about, but it’s perfectly legitimate.  There is no reason your career path needs to be full of twists and turns, constant elevation, or veering angles.  For the time being, it may make perfect sense to just keep heading straight down the path, enjoying the work that you do without trying to move up the ladder or spec out the next opportunity.  If you like what you’re doing, and you are comfortable doing it, then I don’t see any reason to force yourself to change.  Then again, I have mentioned something about making yourself uncomfortable before.

The road stands before you, and whatever you choose, so long as you’re happy, there’s no way you can lose.

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