4 paths to tech stardom

I’ve been bouncing from technology-to-technology and application-to-application for about ten years. As a result, I’m always a worker and never the leader. How do I pick the right technology and application area to stick with and become a real expert?

Thanks for your email. I selected your question for this week’s column because it’s representative of a number of questions I received recently. I believe that I have received so many questions on this topic because the technology industry currently is experiencing a time of accelerated software innovation in multiple areas at once, including, but not limited to, those listed below: • Mobile technologies are continuing to grow in popularity, but software development standards are continuing to be illusive • Big Data related products, technologies, services and uses are continuing to proliferate • Computer security related technologies are continuing to evolve and become more complex • Social Media products, standards, uses, and applications for public and in-corporate uses are continuing to emerge • Cloud Computing environments, software tools, and general popularity are continuing to move forward

It seems that in many ways, today’s rising star technologists fall into one of four categories:

1. Technology Juggernaut A Technology juggernaut is a person who becomes known as a true expert in a specific technology. This is a form of professional branding that when people think of you, they think of this technology. More importantly, from a professional marketability perspective, when people think of that specific technology, they think of you. As an example, if you brand yourself as an iPhone app developer, when companies make the decision to develop native iPhone applications, they’ll call you because of your general reputation and/or personal referral/recommendation. Note that the technology you choose does not have to be leading edge, as long as it has a high demand for professional expertise.

On the downside, you must be willing to continually transform yourself toward technologies that are in demand. The potential danger of this professional approach is that you are the known expert in a technology that people no longer want.

2. Application Specific Authority This type of expert is a person who becomes an expert in a specific application area, regardless of the specific technology. For example, you become an expert in implementing and upgrading Oracle accounting systems or CRM (Customer Resource Management) systems using Salesforce. This approach allows you to align yourself with both a specific business area, such as accounting, and a specific vendor, such as Oracle. This can be a very lucrative and high demand personal market niche as long as the vendor you are aligned with and your area of business expertise remain strong. As with all specializations of this type, you will need to keep yourself current on vendor upgrades, industry trends, and know when to switch vendors as winds of the technology marketplace change direction.

3. Leading Edge Technologist A Leading edge technologist is a person who connects himself/herself with a specific new technology with the hope that this technology will gain momentum, become an industry leader, and you will ride its wave to fame and fortune. The trick with this approach is to find the right technology to connect with, knowing when to switch technologies if you find you were wrong, and when/if you should move to a new technology as a leading edge skill set becomes commonplace and/or falls out of industry favor.

4. Technology Futurist This is a very different type of profession than the three previously mentioned. In this case, you are not a user of technology; you are either helping to create it or theorizing what will come next by analyzing industry trends. As the creator of new technologies, you will most likely be an entrepreneur trying to build the next big thing or working at funded startup driving toward technical innovation. As an analyst of industry trends, rather than being a technologist yourself, you will be analyzing where technology is going and most likely work for firms like IDC or Gartner or within the think tanks of large technology companies, such as IBM.

At the end of the day, all these job types can provide incredible job satisfaction, personal reward, and significant monetary gain. The trick is for you to make a conscious decision to pick the path which is best for you, given your personal interests, strengths and weaknesses, and areas of professional expertise.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom and @MgrMechanics or at www.ManagerMechanics.com.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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