Your next step professionally

I’m often asked the question in emails from readers “What should I do next?” For those who have emailed a question with this theme that I have not yet answered, please consider this a general answer to your question.

If done correctly, the answer to this question is very complicated because every technology you learn, every college degree you achieve, every job you take brings with it professional growth and opportunities lost. If you spend time learning .NET you won’t have time to learn Java. If you take a job as a tester, you will have less experience doing business analysis. If you take a job as a technologist within the health care industry, then you can’t take the other job within financial services.

What makes this question so difficult to answer correctly is that there are many other questions you must ask yourself first.

• What is your specific professional goal? • What are your internal interests? • What do you like to do? • What do you dislike doing? • What are your strengths and weaknesses as both a person and a professional? • What are you willing to sacrifice for what is needed to attain your professional goal?

These questions are very hard for most people to answer. Then, after significant soul searching, you may find misalignments. For example, your goal is to be a professional athlete, but you have no natural athletic ability. Another example, tied more closely to IT, is that if your goal is to be CIO, but you don’t like company politics and don’t like working with business users.

Certainly you can move ahead without a plan and make the quick decision to learn one technology over another, or take a job that is closer to your home, rather than one in a another city with greater future promise. All of these decisions are right and all of these are wrong, based on where you want your professional journey to take you.

It is for this reason that when I receive a question from readers asking if they should learn SQL Server or Oracle, or is it better to be a Business Analyst or a Java Programmer I can’t answer them. These decisions are too important to the person asking the question for me to quickly answer them based on my skills, my interest, and my goals. That would be wrong.

For those of you, who have asked me these types of questions, please consider the following advice/steps.

1. Answer the bullet point questions listed above as honestly as you can. 2. Look for inconsistencies between answers; for example, you dislike writing but your goal is to be a Business Analyst. 3. Look for combinations of your answers that lead toward specific IT type jobs; for example, you are a good writer, you like working with people, you dislike programming, and you enjoy both the technical and non-technical side of IT. 4. Using the combinations of answers defined in step #3, try to discover IT jobs that closely match these combinations. In the case of my example above, you may enjoy being a Business Analyst 5. Next, consider the types of jobs that are available within your geographical area (or areas where you would be willing to relocate) and match these job types to the kind of jobs you would like to do. 6. Next, if you have interest in a specific industry, such as healthcare or financial services, assess the availability of jobs within that industry both within your local geography and at those locations where you would be willing to relocate. 7. Lastly, only after this deep personal analysis and discovery can you ask yourself the last question “Are you are willing to sacrifice for what is needed to attain your professional goal?” If your answer is yes, you are ready to move forward. If your answer is no, then it may be best to reassess your professional options.

After moving through these seven steps, you’ll finally be ready to answer questions like “Should I learn Microsoft Access or Excel?”, “Should I take the programming job or the testing job?”, “Should I become a manager or continue working as an individual contributor?”. The only wrong answer to these questions is an answer made with a lack a personal insight that moves you away from your professional goals, rather than toward it.

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 grow.

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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