20 ways to get promoted in the tech industry

If you agree that there's no such thing as an IT project, you may already be on your way up the ladder

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The solution? Keep an ongoing written portfolio of your accomplishments, which you can then present to your boss at the appropriate moment. It can be as formal as a list of achievements you’d clip to a résumé or as simple as handwritten notes. “The important thing is the ability to talk about how all the good you’ve done for the company over a period of time,” Bair says.

Develop a set of metrics that proves your worth to the company, adds Paul Groce, who runs Christian & Timber’s CIO recruiting practice in New York. “Successful managers ‘measure’ everything, from uptime, to availability, to head count per million dollars of revenue,” Groce says. “Some of the more successful are very aggressive about dashboarding and sharing performance metrics -- not only with internal management but also on the view of IT’s importance to the success of the business.”

15. Schmooze It or Lose It
Joining user groups, professional associations, or nonprofit organizations exposes you to new people, adding to your network of contacts. It also can expose you to new ideas and give you a sounding board for your own.

“When you donate your time and technical expertise to nonprofit groups or business organizations, you can develop a center of influence outside your own company,” Spherion’s Courtney says. “You may also get the chance to develop skill sets you might not get an opportunity to develop in your traditional workplace.”

Becoming a valued member of the technical community is a long-term investment that can really pay off, KForce’s Bair says. “You can learn what other companies are doing on the cutting edge and apply that to your own company’s business processes,” he says. “Technical innovation often comes from the outside.”

16. Walk and Talk
If you want to walk the walk, you’ve got to talk the talk -- and in a way everyone can understand, Hudson’s Paul Taylor says. Joining outside organizations can help, as can taking public speaking courses. But this also means ungluing yourself from the computer screen, wandering the halls, and meeting people in other departments.

“All too often, IT professionals become so accustomed to speaking tech jargon that they become virtually incomprehensible to the outside world,” Taylor says. “For outsiders, it’s like they’re speaking a foreign language. Someone who can translate that into layman’s terms is much more attractive for a senior position, which will likely require more interaction with others outside the IT department.”

17. Hire Your Own Replacements
Tech people are often loath to bring in new talent, fearing they’ll have to compete later on for the top jobs, Groce says. A better strategy? “Mentor and develop the talent who can take over your position” so you can move up to the next level.

“Tech leaders can be the worst in the world in this area,” Groce adds. “They’re afraid that developing the next generation of leadership may push someone ahead of them on the next-in-line list.”

Hiring good people also scores points with top management, KForce’s Bair adds. Eventually, you’ll develop a reputation as the person who always knows where to find the talent -- making you even more indispensable.

18. Embrace the Gray Areas
“Leadership is something we’re looking for in every area of the company,” Chubb’s Drewry says. “But in order to show leadership you have to demonstrate that you’re comfortable with gray areas. IT people tend to seek clarity first, then do the design after they know all the details. As a leader you don’t have that luxury. You need to deal with the lack of clarity, set a direction, and get people moving, then alter your direction as things become more clear.”

19. Keep Your Nose Clean (Not Brown)
Kissing up to the boss doesn’t work over the long haul, Drewry says. “Sooner or later the kiss-up becomes annoying to that person, especially once they notice they’re not getting anything from that employee but kissing up.”

On the other hand, Drewry emphasizes the importance of managing up. “That means understanding what your boss wants, his strengths and weaknesses, his hot buttons, and then educating him as to what you can do to further the company’s goals.”

Internal politics always plays a role in who gets promoted, and pretending to be above the fray isn’t an effective strategy, Spherion’s Courtney says.

“In general, IT people take pride in being countercultural, but that’s not the way to get ahead in the business community,” Courtney says. “If two people are equally qualified, I’ll take the one with the political astuteness to manage inside a corporate culture. The more polished a person, the business acumen they posses, the more likely they are to get promoted. You can call it being political, or you can look at it as being a student of corporate culture.”

When push comes to shove, however, go with your gut, says David Zink, client executive at outsourcing consultants EquaTerra, and former CIO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

“I have the personal policy of doing what is right, not of doing what seems politically right,” Zink says. “This policy has made me a standout and gotten me promoted; it has also gotten me in hot water. It takes courage to stand up to your peers or even your boss, but it makes it easy to look at yourself in the mirror. And when the politics change and the right thing was done from the start, you are a hero.”

20. Consider a Switch -- for the Right Reasons
If you’re stuck in a place where IT is just there to keep the lights on, or there’s no opportunity to learn something new, it may be time to seek out a new opportunity or an industry where IT is viewed more strategically, such as financial services or telecommunications.

IT pros in dead-end positions should also consider relocating or accepting contract work, says Matt Colarusso, branch manager of national recruiting at Sapphire. Colarusso says a former colleague at a Florida high-tech company found success by exploring short-term gigs after he was laid off.

“He quickly discovered that even though the market was tight in his geographical area, there were other markets in the Southeast that had contract opportunities looking for candidates with his area of expertise,” Colarusso says, adding that the former colleague is now a senior administrator at a Fortune 250 company in North Carolina.

Although it’s fairly common for IT pros to move up by moving sideways -- from job to job and company to company -- it’s not always the best strategy, Spherion’s Courtney says.

“If you’re moving up in the organization, and you continue to get opportunities to expand your skill set, work on different projects, and get raises, you’re better off staying with the organization that knows you,” Courtney says. “You’ll have more political capital internally than you would with a new firm.”

If the opportunity curve slows down, or if a particular technology interests you but isn’t a fit for your company, you may need to cross that bridge, Courtney adds. “Until then, stay where you are.”

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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