Moving from novice techie to Subject Matter Expert

When first entering a technical profession, whether it be as a programmer, help desk professional, tester, security specialist or other technical role, it’s almost like starting over. Yes, you have gained significant knowledge and expertise in college or technical school, but becoming a pro is like starting over.

When first hired, you will find that moving into the professional ranks brings: • new technical challenges, • methodologies to learn, • software standards that must be used, • business users that must be satisfied, • office politics to navigate, • . . . and understanding of the industry in which you reside.

Over time, all these technical and business challenges move from being a wondrous new adventure to the commonplace of daily technical life. This transformation comes with experience, time, an eagerness to grow professionally, learning from your mistakes, and practice.

As a novice technologist, your challenges are divided into four primary categories: • Technical ability • Business knowledge • Task execution • Professionalism

Regarding your technical ability, try to enhance your knowledge within your primary expertise, for example, Java programming. Additionally, try to gain expertise in the technologies that interface with your technology. Again using Java programming as the example, if the software you are developing is reading and writing data contained in an Oracle database, then you should be learning SQL, PL-SQL and how to create and execute Oracle-based stored database procedures. You should also be paying close attention to the programming standards, techniques, naming conventions and methodologies used within your IT shop.

From a business knowledge perspective, begin to learn about your industry. For example, if you are developing software for an asset management firm, learn about how stocks and bonds are bought and sold, how investment portfolios are managed, and other industry-specific processes. In today’s world of IT, a deep understanding of the industry you serve is paramount to your future career advancement.

Regarding task execution, you are professionally judged on your ability to successfully complete required tasks. This is your number one priority and the key to your short term professional success. At this point in your career, your ability to produce quality work is the most important of all. Within reasonable bounds, expanding your technical knowledge, gaining an understanding of the business, and even your professionalism, will not keep you employed if you can’t do the job.

Lastly, regarding professionalism, the day you begin work is the day you begin building your professional brand. An agreeable, hardworking, and teamwork based persona will serve you well throughout your career.

To move from being considered a novice to being thought of as a Subject Matter Expert (SME), comes from the combination of increased technical expertise, deep business knowledge, great task execution, and a willingness to share your knowledge and expertise with others. What you will find, if you work hard to enhance your knowledge, skill and professional reputation, is that, over time, as you work in a specific application area, for example accounting systems, your technical expertise and business application knowledge will converge in a way that truly makes you an expert in both your technical and application area. It’s this combination and your willingness to share your knowledge with others that moves you from technical novice to SME.

In next week’s column we’ll discuss the movement from SME to Technical Lead.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

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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