Little things that can shape your career in IT

What would you like to do in the future? Who would you like to be? These are the kind of questions adults often like asking little kids. The answers – covering pretty much everything from an ice-cream seller, through a ballet dancer to a firefighter – are based on children’s fantasy-fuelled perception, rather than hard facts or realistic prospects. They are not usually carved in stone, either. But while it is fine to keep changing your answers and choices every now and then when you are 5 or 6, there comes a time in everyone’s life when it’s time to start to take it more seriously.

Choosing the right career path

There are several factors to consider when deciding on your future career. These include the present situation on the labour market, the prospects of getting an interesting and well-paid job, and last but not least – your talents, interests and skills. If they are IT-related, you should consider yourself lucky, as IT can be one of the most enticing and rewarding fields to go for. The industry offers diverse career paths ranging from software development, through networking, database administration to IT security. No doubt, IT is nowadays a significant element of business success, as it enables companies to build a competitive advantage over their rivals, helping them become more innovative and customer-oriented.

But how to steer your career in the right direction? What should you remember about? What mistakes to avoid? If you happen to be a high school student on the brink of graduation, these questions are probably swirling in your head. Luckily, you are not entirely on your own, when trying to figure out what to do with the rest of your life. At the Open Source Days 2014 conference that was held from 28 to 30 March 2014 in Bielsko-Biała, Poland, one of the discussion panels was devoted to the subject of careers in IT. The panellists, including Arkadiusz Kwaśny (Selleo), Michał Czyż (Selleo), Piotr Nedzyński (GetBase / Hive) and Anna Foltyniak from an Academic Business Incubator at ATH, discussed several factors a young IT wannabe should take into account. After the panel, some interesting insights were also shared by Jiri Folta, a Senior Corporate Recruiter, who talked about the prospects for programmers who would like to pursue their careers with RedHat.

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Start early on

All the speakers agreed that if you are serious about finding a job in IT, you should not wait until you finish your education, or limit yourself to what your college curriculum has to offer. On the contrary, it is advisable that you actively search for various ways to broaden your skills and horizons by attending various conferences and workshops, but also by independent reading. That way, you not only gain knowledge, but also develop a fresh perspective and get a chance to meet new, interesting people with a real passion for what they do. Attending conferences and training courses might also be a way of getting yourself involved in engaging and challenging projects and building an interesting portfolio.

Define your expectations

Another thing that you might start doing early on, is figuring out what your expectations are – both when it comes to your dream job and the IT field itself. Are you merely looking for a good nine-to-five job, or is it something you are genuinely passionate about? Given the fact that you are going to spend at least a third of your life at work, there is no point wasting your time on things that you find dull or mundane. Do not leave your professional life choices and decisions up to pure chance. Take the matter in your own hands, define your interests and goals, and whatever you do, try to remain in control of your career at all times.

Build your web presence

Some speakers pointed the importance of a good CV, which should contain relevant and verifiable information, and – together with your portfolio – create a coherent image of your professional identity.

It is often a practice among HR department professionals and job interviewers to google candidates before they show up for an interview, in order to find out more about their personality and interests. And while the recruiters may not necessarily be interested in your Facebook or Twitter profiles, it is always a good idea to build your web presence ahead of time, and not just using the social media. Having a website or a professional blog, where your potential employers could browse through the projects you were involved in, will always give you some extra points. Create a profile on Linkedin, keep it updated, and join groups in your industry. Sometimes, the very company you apply for a job with, organizes industry-related trainings, workshops and conferences. Never miss out on opportunity like that, and take part in such events whenever you can. Another idea worth considering is sharing various professional presentations via slideshare, or joining forums, discussion groups or online communities that are relevant to your business. In other words: be active. Applicants who take care of their public image in this way and build their professional credibility, are considered more likely to care about the company’s image and online presence. In the world where it is becoming increasingly difficult to get noticed, you should take every chance to stand out of the crowd and show what you are truly worth.

Be curious

Applying for a job without realizing what your expectations are, is a common mistake made by young job-seekers. Applicants go to job interviews, answer questions while trying to make a good impression, but remain passive. What they often forget about, is the fact that recruitment is a two-way process, in which both the interviewer and the applicant should play an active role: ask questions, show interest in how the company works, and in its projects and ambitions. Remember that asking the right questions during an interview can tell your potential employer more about your character than whatever you write in your cover letter or present in your profiles. What is more, it can give you some insight into how the company operates, what your future leaders and supervisors are like, and, most importantly, whether you want to work with them in the very first place. A person, who does not ask any questions and is not curious about the environment in which they might work, appears indifferent to the work culture and the internal workings of the company. Surely, you do not want to make such an impression, do you?

Become a T-shaped person

Any specific pieces of advice relevant for software programmers? All the panelists seemed to agree that what is crucial is not only the knowledge about a given technology, but also having a genuine understanding of how it works, what it is used for, its benefits and limitations. Besides, too narrow a specialization may as well be a limiting approach; a T-shaped skills portfolio is often a better alternative to being an expert in just one discipline. Further, what is of immense value in today’s job market is not only specialized knowledge, but also broad horizons, the right attitude to problem-solving, critical thinking and interpersonal skills. Nowadays, companies are much more willing to hire individuals who show every sign of being able to work as part of a team, easily communicate with others and share the same positive attitude towards work. Teaching a new technology to a person who is great to work with as part of a team is much less problematic, than trying to communicate with someone, who, while an expert in their discipline, is uncooperative, unruly, and difficult to work with.

Attitude and contributions to open source

Since the panel was held during the Open Source Days, it was difficult not to touch on this subject and the guests were asked about their attitude towards open source contributions. All the panelists emphasized the value of open source and admitted their companies contribute to it whenever and to the extent they they can do so. If only, their contracts with clients do not preclude open source contributions, the code is not related to some competitive advantages and the developers themselves are willing to share their work with the community, the source code is often shared on an open source licence and is available in public repositories on GitHub. If you plan to embark on a career path in software development, selecting and contributing to an open source project may be one of the best ways to prove your value and get to know other contributors who may turn out to be your future employers, colleagues, project collaborators or business partners. So choose wisely and contribute to the open source community effort.

mczyz

Michał is the man behind designing and delivering technical documentation / specifications and takes operational responsibility for the projects delivered by his team. He collaborates closely with our clients to provide high-quality advice and manage clients’ engagements.