If leading job indicators are to be believed, many tech workers are enjoying high demand for their services these days, making this the prime time to assess whether your current employer is a good fit for your career goals.
"IT managers have had it relatively easy for the last few years as their staff members hunkered down to keep their jobs, let alone look for a new one and run the risk of ending up in a less desirable situation," says Nicholas Colisto, senior vice president and CIO at Xylem, a water technology provider. "With the job market returning, [IT] staff will likely get more aggressive with their job search."
Here are some leading indicators that your IT career growth might be of little interest in your current employment and that staying where you are could mean further spinning your wheels at a time when your technology skills are in great demand.
1. New ideas meet red lightsEarning a stable income to endure ongoing tedium isn't everyone's ultimate goal for a career in IT. Unfortunately, that's all some employers have to offer -- even if it didn't seem that way when you took the job years ago.
Stagnation can mean career death in a competitive field, and if your company isn't offering unique, forward-looking projects, it might be time to hit the road.
"The speed of change that businesses are seeing today means that our IT organization needs to be more flexible, more adaptable, and we challenge the status quo more than ever," says Philip Garland, CIO at consulting firm PwC. "Disruptive innovation is the name of the game for our IT professionals."
The surest sign that your employer isn't facing this reality? A pervasive fear of failure can be felt throughout IT.
"We facilitate an environment that is conducive to innovation, and our IT professionals know that it's okay to fail when they're coming up with new and innovative ideas," Garland says.
If your company puts the brakes on new ideas because failure isn't an option, it might be time to polish up that résumé. Otherwise, your career may take a hit when it comes time to find a job at a company that thrives on innovation.
2. Respect and recognition are afterthoughtsCompetitive pressures should not translate into poor treatment of staffers and co-workers, but all too often, dignity and respect take a back seat when the going gets tough.
When contention impedes results, a change of scenery may be the right call.
"Passionate arguments are required [in IT], but insults or anger never brought a system from an idea to the production environment," says Bill Thirsk, vice president of IT and CIO at Marist College.
Respect means more than just the occasional pat on the back. Employers intent on retaining tech talent offer formal or informal rewards systems to recognize extraordinary efforts or achievements.
Marist's Thirsk, for example, encourages staffers to take risks and apply for awards. "It could earn them a really nice trip [that] we will sponsor, a Starbucks gift card, or an end-of-year cash bonus," he says.
If your company doesn't do the same, it may be a sign that it doesn't adequately respect good work.
3. No clear career path -- beyond management Management isn't for everyone, but far too few employers offer career opportunities beyond managerial ones. For many IT pros, this means alienation from their one true love: working with tech.
If your employer offers no clear career path for your niche, chances are it does not recognize -- let alone value -- the variety of career interests that a healthy IT organization should support.
Managers have to recognize that not everybody in IT is the same, says Greg Meyers, vice president of global IT at Biogen Idec, a biotechnology company. There are different types of IT professionals, he says, and each wants to be offered viable career paths.
Some people might like to run projects that deliver basic services to the organization, while others are happiest when they're continually experimenting with new technologies or testing new theories. Still others might want to dedicate themselves to security or governance efforts.
"We need to first be clear on which type they are, and then make sure we've created career paths for them," Meyers says. "There is room in IT departments for all of these types. I think where [organizations] often fail is they don't recognize that different groups of people need different things to give them a sense of hope" at work.
It's up to the supervisors within individual areas of IT to make sure that employees are receiving the appropriate career development and coaching they need. Is your supervisor showing a genuine interest in what you want to do over the long haul, or is it a day-to-day grind with no consideration for where you're headed?
4. Leaders are sought -- but not from the tech ranks Working on an IT project from concept to completion and seeing the impact the effort has on the business can be hugely satisfying. If your company isn't creating opportunities for IT pros to have input throughout the lifecycle of IT projects, let alone lead them, then it might be worth looking for a new employer that does.
As PwC's clients demand edgier, faster, and more innovative offerings, the firm has created roles in its IT organization that are focused on strategy for each of its business lines, Garland says. "To provide the highest level of client experience and meet the ever-expanding demand for new solutions, we've created roles responsible for owning IT products through the entire lifecycle," he says.
This fits with the firm's IT strategy of appointing leaders to conceptualize business strategy first then develop technology tools next. "We are in the strategy game now, not just the technology game," Garland says. "In addition to being cutting-edge technology specialists, our IT professionals are proactive business leaders across all of our service lines."
And nothing says dead end like a lack of leadership opportunities.
5. Training is encouraged -- on your own time or dimeLet's say you want to learn a new programming language or develop some business management skills, but the only way to do this is by paying for classes yourself and taking them on the weekend or at night. You might just be training yourself for a new job at a new employer.
Companies that are invested in their employees are willing to pick up the tab to train them. They also offer career development initiatives, such as formal or informal mentorship programs, says Melisa Bockrath, vice president of the IT Americas product group at Kelly Services, a staffing services firm.
Some even allow employees to rotate through various projects, exposing them to new technologies as well as different parts of the business, Bockrath says.
So if attending an offsite workshop or an industry conference is a stretch for your current employer, it's probably time to expand your horizons elsewhere.
6. The vision for IT is cloudy or conflicted Working in an environment where strategic goals for IT department are vague or contradictory is a recipe for frustration. Worse, it can indicate that management is conflicted over the long-term role and value of IT.
"People value workplaces where they feel that they have a meaningful purpose, both as a group and as individuals," says Mike O'Dell, senior vice president and CIO at retailer Raley's Family of Fine Stores. "The painstaking and usually slow process of building leadership, creating a mission, and developing a culture of excellence" is how successful companies foster this sense of purpose.
If your company hasn't put in this work, or is showing signs of backing away from it, it may be because IT is viewed as back-office commodity work, ripe for cost-cutting measures.
Or it may be simply a matter of weak management within IT.
"We've all heard for years that employees don't leave organizations -- they leave because of direct management," Kelly Services' Bockrath says.
Superiors who lack leadership skills or are ineffective at communicating the value IT can derail the career goals of those who report to them. Don't miss the signals.
7. Teamwork feels like a thing of the past Poor teamwork often leads to failed projects. The problem is that while the project is in motion, it's not always easy to spot poor teamwork in action.
One sure sign is a top-down disinterest in your work.
Encouraging excellent communication should begin with managers, says Michael Wright, vice president and IT director at HomeTown Bank. "Nothing discourages employees more, in my opinion, than an unanswered email or phone call."
And in this age of mobile devices and online collaboration tools, there's no excuse for people not to stay in touch.
"I'm interested in fostering feelings of value and worth among the team members. That's a critical piece to me personally, being responsive, even if it's a 'no' or 'not now,'" Wright says.
If you find yourself working in a vacuum or battling others for attention and recognition, teamwork may have already eroded behind repair.
8. Tech trends are met with skepticism IT trends are always emerging, and not every company can benefit by jumping on each new wave. Social networking, gamification, big data -- valuable IT resources can be wasted following the flavor of the month.
But if your company steers clear of every new trend in favor of keeping the lights running, consider it a red flag worth paying attention to.
Organizations interested in the career growth of their IT employees allow IT staffers to spend a higher percentage of their time on forward-looking projects rather than on operations, says Mark Farrow, vice president and CIO at healthcare provider Hamilton Health Sciences.
And the reason is simple: It keeps people engaged, Farrow says.
"I have also tried to allocate a percentage of our time and budget to really advanced projects, like getting into mobility [and new] app development before they became mainstream technologies," Farrow says. "The ability to feel like they have some leading-edge work keeps them interested. Some of these have gone forward to be much larger projects, others were more proof of concept or investigative only, but it certainly helps keep people sharp."
9. You have little outlet to experiment with new techAlong the same lines as staying up on and embracing some of the latest trends, organizations that do not encourage IT pros to experiment with new tech tools are doing their employees a career disservice.
Farrow says he tries to get IT staffers "the latest technology to be able to play with, so that they can learn. But also [to] help them think about where it could take us, while giving them access to new things to learn. We do this in a focused manner, as we cannot get tech for the sake of tech, but it is a way to harness the interest and advance the learning."
People that venture into IT careers typically enjoy working with the latest technology, Xylem's Colisto says. "So if you work for a company that doesn't enjoy the risk associated with using bleeding-edge technology for its finance systems, you can at least allow your staff to dabble in the latest and greatest trends in safer areas."
And if you find yourself unable to scratch that itch with new tech, tedium and stagnation may be just a few steps away.
Don't let it kill your career.
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