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April 18, 2016

By Lisa Dare

There were only two ways down to the sparkling teal of the Mediterranean Sea on a dusty July day. One was a scary leap from an outcropping 15 feet over the water. The other was a terrifying plunge from a much higher cliff.

As much as I wanted to feel the warm waves, I had no intention of jumping. But my husband, a thrill-seeker to the core, insisted I try it.

Reluctantly, I climbed up and contemplated the ocean crashing against the rocks below. The jump seemed terrifying, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. But then I surrendered, plunging as far past the rock face as I could into the water.

Like most leaps into the unknown, it was utterly thrilling. Basking in the waves—which were every bit as delicious as they’d looked—I noticed the much taller jump, at least 40 feet above. “Let’s try that one!” I shouted.

My husband blanched but did it anyway.

Taking a step—or cliff dive—outside your comfort zone is scary at first, but it often proves exhilarating. And taking a professional risk can literally change your life.

Transforming careers through risk

There are two main types of career risks: changing your career path or asking for more responsibility. Both require courage. Here are some ways to contemplate risk and find the bravery to meet challenges head-on.

1. Contemplate the waves

You probably have a pet project you’re dying to try. Or a new role at your company you’d like to create. Or a conversation with your boss you’ve rehearsed many times in your head but never initiated. The first step to taking a career-changing risk is to define what it is you want, and say out loud why you’re so scared to try it. Often, murky fears lose their power when you specifically identify what it is about them that frightens you.

2. Test the waters

Figure out your career-changing IT skill and learn it.

If Hacker News is your go-to read, perhaps you’d enjoy information security. There is a growing demand for InfoSec skills that touch lots of IT roles, particularly systems administration, networking and application development. Knowledgeable InfoSec pros recommend you start building knowledge by simply reading a book about security topics. The InfoSec Institute recommends a few, including:

  • The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications
  • The Web Application Hacker’s Handbook: Finding and Exploiting Security Flaws

Other up-and-coming IT careers: IoT developer, data scientist and machine learning engineer. Start reading what these pros read and solicit practical advice for joining their field in user forums.

3. Find a friend

It’s time to network (with people, not computers).

Everyone’s least favorite career-advancing task is also the most fruitful. If you can commit time and emotional energy into networking, your career will reap rewards.

Here are three ways to start networking:

  • Go to an IT conference—and do it right. Industry conferences can be a fabulous way to reinvigorate your career passion. You can learn about industry trends and about types of career paths, but most importantly, you can meet people who can help your career. But don’t treat it as one big job interview. Natural networking happens when you form friendships with like-minded people. So go alone and talk to everyone you can. Sit with people you don’t know, and by all means attend the receptions and pub crawls. Chat with presenters. Establish Twitter relationships with people you connect with. IT conferences are expensive but many offer smaller, cheaper regional versions.
  • Join a user group. These are inexpensive to join, and many high-level IT professionals recommend them. You’ll learn how to do your job better, network with local peers and demonstrate dedication to your job that will impress potential employers.
  • Get online. Spend a couple of hours a week on Twitter or in a user forum. Become an active, generous user who comments on others’ posts, compliments authors and shares information, and you’ll start to establish a network of people who can help your career.

4. Try something new

If you want to branch out from your current work, schedule a talk with your recruiter. Be honest about your career aspirations and ask your recruiter to keep you in mind for new types of positions.

5. Take the leap

Changing industries can open up a whole new set of career options and refresh your enthusiasm.

Some interesting industries to consider:

  • Healthcare. Ever heard the call of mission-based work? You might consider the healthcare industry, where IT pros work to advance one goal: making people healthier. From data pros to security engineers to desktop support, people who work in healthcare IT say it’s more a calling than a job. While the industry prefers to hire workers with healthcare experience, the current demand for IT pros outstrips the supply, making this a good time to find opportunities.
  • Manufacturing. With all the complexities of supply chain management and data opportunities, manufacturing offers interesting opportunities for people who enjoy problem-solving and the chance to work with new technologies.
  • Marketing. For IT talent interested in digital and creative technologies or data science, marketing represents a new and fast-growing opportunity.

6. Imagine how you’ll feel after jumping

Taking risks is scary and uncomfortable, but remember that exhilarating feeling of diving into the unknown. It might be the motivation you need to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and find a career you’re passionate about.

Related reading

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