2 Very Hard, But Doable, Steps to Becoming a Technical Thought Leader

One of the best ways to move ahead professionally is to be viewed by those at your company and those generally within your industry as a thought leader. This, of course, is not an easy task but is very doable with the right plan, a willingness to learn, and a willingness to share your hard-earned expertise with others.

One advantage of being an IT professional is that you have the opportunity of becoming a thought leader in various areas including the following:

• As a thought leader in a specific technology, such as Java, .NET, Oracle Database, etc. • As a thought leader in the use of a specified vendor’s software package, such as SAP, Seibel CRM, Microsoft SharePoint, etc. • As a thought leader in a technical area, such as data communication, data security, mobile computing, etc. • As a thought leader in IT related practices and methodologies, such as Agile/Scrum, Project Management, ITIL, etc. • As a thought leader in technologies related to a specific industry or profession, such as equity trading, accounting, manufacturing, sales, social media, etc.

If done correctly, from a personal branding perspective and a technical expertise perspective, becoming any of the above can help get you promoted, increase your income, get a seat at the table when technical decisions are being made, give you the opportunity to speak at professional conferences, get quoted in industry publications, and other similar activities and accolades.

The first step in becoming a technical leader is to maximize your technical knowledge and truly become an expert:

1. Get any formal credentials, such as certifications, that exist in your chosen area. For example, if you want to specialize in project management, work toward and obtain your PMP. If your chosen area of expertise is in data communication, get certifications in Cisco and other data communication related projects that are used within your IT shop. 2. Spend some of your personal time (non-work hours) studying and/or playing with the technologies to expand your technical knowledge and expertise. 3. Read the technology related magazines, blogs, discussion boards, and websites to gain a deep understanding of industry/technology trends, issues, major vendors, and major players (analysts, recognized experts, etc.). 4. Attend industry conferences, local Special Interest Groups (SIG’s), webinars, and other in-person and web-based activities with the dual goal of expanding your knowledge on the topic and widening your general perspective.

Before continuing to step two, take note that step one is not a destination, it’s a journey. You will never learn so much that there is nothing else to learn. Also, given that you are a technologist, things continually change. If you do not continue to learn, your knowledge will become stale and out-of-date. (See my IT world column Your technology skills have a two year half-life and 6 ways to stay current for more details).

Step two is to begin to share your knowledge both internally within your company and externally within your industry.

1. Within your company, be the best employee you can be. That is to say, do the best job you can to create an internal reputation of being hard working, knowledgeable in your chosen topic, and able to use your knowledge for the good of the company. If you do, you will slowly begin to become the “Go To Person” within your department and potentially in other areas of your company. 2. Be willing to share your knowledge with less knowledgeable and less experienced employees. This will not only demonstrate that you are a team player, it will also help you become viewed as the internal expert. 3. If you are in a position to do so, assist in the creation of your company’s standards and best practices related to your expertise. 4. If your company allows you to do so, work to expand your professional reputation outside your company by speaking at conferences, participating/contributing (not just reading) on active discussion boards, write a blog, submit columns for publication in industry magazines, and other avenues to become known outside your company.

In closing, the path to thought leadership seems clear and straightforward. The truth is, it is very, very hard to attain. It requires dedication, hard work, outside-the-box-thinking, a willingness to share your knowledge, a desire to help others, the ability to communicate well, and the personal confidence to believe in yourself.

If this column resonated with you personally, devise your plan and give it a try. At worst, you expanded your professional knowledge, at best, I and millions of others may be buying your book, reading your blog, and/or listening to you speak as the keynote at a well known national conference.

In closing, the trick to changing your industry is to learn as much about the industry as you can, try to make contacts working within the industry, and be creative regarding finding ways to adapt your skills, knowledge, and experience toward the industry you are trying to enter.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com 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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