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Beyond programming: Skills to advance your IT career

December 07, 2015
By Lisa Dare

Here’s some tough love straight from the CIO’s mouth: Your technical skills aren’t what’s holding you back from advancing in your career. Once you’ve obtained a certain level of technical expertise, the skills you need to advance your IT career are of the softer, squishier variety. 

Get uncomfortable

Maybe you enjoy complaining about your company’s draconian sick-day policy. Or you like the freedom of keeping your head down during tense meetings.

Leaders don’t have these luxuries.

If you want your supervisors to view you as a potential leader, start acting like one long before the promotion opportunity comes up. That means being a cheerleader for your company, speaking up for an important point even when you’re uncomfortable, and showing accountability.

And sometimes leading means telling people what to do.

Stop! Collaborate and listen

Just as bad as the team member who can’t stand up for his own opinion is the one who has to have everything his way all the time.

Respecting others’ opinions and giving them serious consideration is critical to the success of IT projects. Navigating team dynamics successfully takes self-awareness to see how others perceive you, as well as the commitment to building positive relationships.

Reorient your thoughts toward business goals

The most important thing you can do for your IT career—and one of the hardest—is to remember why you do what you do. Getting the technical aspects of a job right isn’t enough; periodically you need to think about how your work affects your company’s goals. And then you need to adjust as needed, reconsidering your processes, finding new ways to add value and sometimes refocusing your priorities.   

Communicate wisely

If what you do is so complex even your boss doesn’t understand it … that's a problem if you want to move up. A well-rounded developer can clearly explain his or her work, needs and issues to anyone. And without making anyone feel inferior. Remember, snorks are people, too.

In addition to verbal skills, having the ability to write well can take you far. Writing well doesn’t necessarily mean spending all day on; instead, it means being able to break down your thoughts into logical components and communicating them in a way others can quickly and easily understand.  

Finally, documenting code and processes is an essential skill for a developer who wishes to lead. Find the right balance of documenting your code enough to allow others to work with it but without spending the unending time you could invest. 

Writing up essential processes helps your boss understand what you do and how much value you add. Significantly, it also helps you overcome that “you’re too valuable where you are to promote” hurdle.  

We'd love to hear your thoughts about what soft skills helped you earn a promotion as a team lead, project manager or more. Leave them in the comments or join the conversation on LinkedIn

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