Unfortunately, when you walk across that stage and pick up your diploma, no one’s on the other side handing you a guidebook for navigating your career. And this is especially true in the rapidly evolving field of tech. The technologies, the players, and the skills needed change fast, and it’s up to each of us to explore, learn, and succeed—and in the process, discover the path that works best for us.
Hindsight being 20/20, here are a few of things no one told me about my career when I was 22, but that I learned through trial and error. Hopefully, you can learn from my experiences to more quickly navigate your career path.
You’re in Charge of Your Career
It sounds harsh, but nobody will ever care as much about your career as you will. Sure, a good manager might help you develop skills or identify promising opportunities, but at the end of the day it is up to you to make sure that you’re doing work that is meaningful and challenging.
In my own career, I had five completely different jobs over the course of 14 years, all at the same software company! But there was no tried-and-true ladder to climb—each of those jobs came through my own initiative. I identified the opportunities through networking, struck up conversations with the hiring managers, and if there was a mutual fit, landed the jobs.
Whether you want to move up at your company, change jobs or industries completely, or just work on more exciting projects, you’ll need to take accountability for your career goals. Have conversations with your boss, mentors, and other contacts about projects and experiences that matter to you, and go after them wholeheartedly.
If You Aren’t Growing, You’re Obsolete
In any fast-moving industry, if you aren’t constantly picking up new skills, you’ll quickly become obsolete. Software engineers know this all too well, as new coding languages and frameworks come onto the scene regularly. (Just think, not even 10 years ago, mobile development was a niche market!)
So, it’s important to regularly ask yourself: Are you staying on top of industry trends? Do you have a learning plan for your career? If not, take the time to create one by seeking out the resources you need, including books, courses, and new projects at work that will require you to learn additional skills. Most importantly, don’t rely on your company to get you all the training you need. Again, you’ll need to take it upon yourself to continue evolving your skills.
You Have to Look for Your Next Job When You Don't Need It
Given the rapidly changing pace of the technology landscape, there are always new opportunities that you can take advantage of to advance your career and better use your skills, both within your company and elsewhere. Unlike many other industries that stay stagnant, you’ll discover entirely new and exciting job roles being created on a regular basis.
So keep an eye out for them, and not just when you’re looking for a new position. Instead of waiting until you are sick and tired of your work to do something different, take the time to cultivate a strong professional network, stay in touch with them regularly and often, and learn about and put yourself up for work that excites you. This will lead the job opportunities to you, instead of you having to go out and find them.
Healthy Boundaries Will Keep You Sane
There is an infinite amount of work, and that’s especially true in tech. During my career at Microsoft, we always had a backlog of bugs to fix and features to build. Given the dynamic competitive environment we were in, we had to move quickly to get products out to market but also ensure that quality was high. If you wanted to grind for 24 hours a day, there was definitely enough work to be done!
This is, of course, a recipe for burnout, and a good example of why setting boundaries is critical if you want to have a joyful, successful career. This can be tough to do when all your co-workers seem to be burning the midnight oil, but instead of focusing on putting in long hours at work, pay closer attention to the quality of work you do. Build this habit early in your career, and it can help you get more done in less time, save your relationships, and keep you sane.
One great way to do this is to take time 100% off work. My former co-workers and I never used all of our vacation—which, at the time, seemed like a badge of courage. Turns out, we were wrong. People who take breaks end up doing better work since they come back to their job energized and refreshed. It also demonstrates you are confident enough in your abilities not to have to prove anything by just being in the office all the time. Plus, you’ll come back to work with new perspectives that improve your effectiveness on the job. On that note:
It’s Good to Get Good at Something Besides Your Work
Now, here’s a piece of career advice you probably won’t hear very often: Find a hobby, and spend enough time at it to be able to teach it to someone else. In my case, I loved to practice yoga and would often go to a yoga studio five or six days a week while I was working at my corporate job. One day, I decided to take the leap and become a teacher. Yes, this required significant investment in time and money to complete the training, but it was more rewarding than I could have imagined.
For one, teaching yoga gave me a strong identity outside of my day job. It also made me a happier, healthier person, and thus, a better worker. It gave me a clear purpose for leaving work on time and made setting boundaries that much easier. Plus, it expanded my network to include a wide variety of people that I normally wouldn't have met. (Including my future wife!) At a minimum, following and cultivating your personal interests will make you a more well-rounded and interesting person, which is something that fellow co-workers (along with current and future employers) will appreciate. That alone makes it worth doing.