Many companies struggle with developing technical career paths. Why are technical career paths different than other areas in a company? Because technologies are constantly changing and evolving. To complicate it further, companies are using multiple platforms, multiple operating systems and using applications for intended and unintended purposes. Just because you still have applications running off of COBOL, does that mean you want to hire COBOL developers? Do you want to grow COBOL developers? I would think not. So how do you design a career path when the foundation of the job(s) is shifting beneath you?
In order to create a meaningful technical career path, an organizational designer must identify and distinguish those skills that transcend the technology used. A good coder can learn a new language. So the specific languages known may be less important than the softer skills listed below, especially as the technical professional progresses in his/her career.
- Design and Coding best practices: Mentoring and coaching is critical in today's fast paced business world. Companies do not have time to send everyone to classroom training to learn key skills. The technical professional who understands design and coding best practices and can mentor junior resources in those practices, sets herself apart from her peers.
- Code reviews: Similar to the first point- code reviews should be a key element to the increasing responsibility of a technical professional not just as a quality check but as a way to coach and mentor junior technical resources.
- Security concerns: Given the plethora of hardware and software most companies want to be able to support and maintain (and the critical information housed on/within them), all technical professionals need to understand security basics and how to implement quality tools within security constraints.
- Learning: It is critical for the technical professional to hold themselves accountable (and to be held accountable by their organization) to learn new languages, new tools, emerging technical trends, and best practices. With technologies changing more than ever, technical professionals need to focus on their own learning to stay on par with or ahead of the curve.
- Requirements solicitation and interpretation: The ability to work with key clients and to truly understand their needs is critical for technical professionals to build quality products for their customers. You may not always have an analyst to do this work for you!
- Relationship management: The best developer in the world will not progress past a certain point in most organizations unless he can build and maintain relationships within the IT department and outside of it.
- Vendor management: In today's global economy, some technical work makes sense to outsource. That being said, a technical professional can prove themselves invaluable to their organization by leveraging their technical abilities to provide oversight for an outsourced vendor. He/She can ensure that the vendor is delivering the quality technical products and adhering to SLAs.
- Communication and presentation skills: As businesses become technology enabled, technical professionals need to be able to clearly communicate to non-technical stakeholders. Being able to present effectively to key business users and executives is critical to moving up any technical career ladder.
- Project management: More and more technical work is conducted as projects. Technical professionals can truly enhance their value to their organization by building basic project management skills through PMI, Agile or other methodologies.
In summary, organizational designers can build career paths that do not get bogged down in a laundry list of technologies and languages, and technical professionals will build a long career from building their soft skills.