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Be honest. Have you ever really thought about where you want to be in five years’ time? Are you worried your development career might be going down a road which you know probably isn’t right for you? If so, it’s important to take control now.
First up – don’t panic. As a developer in today’s market, you’re in an amazing position. Thanks to the widening digital skills gap, professionals with your technical and non-technical expertise are more in demand than ever before. But, when you’re in demand, you have choices – which can be both confusing and overwhelming especially when you’re trying to decide what direction to take your career in.
Consider and evaluate these three career path options
To focus your thinking – it helps to understand that there are broadly three career paths that developers typically follow:
1. The Future Chief Information Officer (CIO), or leadership/managerial position
2. The Coding Chameleon, or a professional who chooses to specialize in a particular technical field
3. The Entreprogrammer, or a professional who decided to branch out as a contractor.
As a first step, I would strongly recommend you consider each of these key options and make a decision in your mind in terms of which route suits you best. To help with your decision making, I’ve provided more information on each of the three options for you below.
Do you have your sights firmly set on one day becoming a CIO – a hugely influential, senior IT professional whose sole responsibility it is to drive forward business growth through technology and continuous innovation?
If so, making this become a reality will require a great deal of planning, determination and perseverance. Here are a few things to consider, which should help you come to a decision:
You’ll have less time to code:
When considering whether this option is exactly right for you, I’d strongly recommend that you reflect on how important coding really is to you. As a CIO, or even a professional in a managerial position, you’ll have far less time to actually write code – so, think about whether or not your heart lies in coding. If it does, this could be a deal breaker for you.
You’ll need a combination of business acumen, soft and technical skills:
Like any executive position, the CIO is concerned with strategy, influence and collaboration. If you’re blessed with business acumen, strong soft skills and an unrivalled technical understanding, then this could be the right career path for you.
The first steps to becoming a CIO:
As I said earlier, it’s a competitive market, so you must have the unrelenting ambition and drive needed to climb the highest echelons of the career ladder.
To help you on your way, I’ve outlined a few of the first steps I would recommend to help you get to where you want to be:
If you’re happiest knee-deep in code and are always obsessively on the look-out for the next big development trend, then you may want to focus on building your technical experience.
For the majority of developers, this typically tends to be the path they choose. In fact, according to a Stack Overflow report, more than half of the respondents said they want to be in the same or a different technical role in the future, while one-third of developers want to work in a different or more specialized technical role in the next five years. These roles include: DevOps specialists, data scientists, engineering managers and machine learning experts.
So, if you think this path might be for you, I’ve provided a few considerations below, which should help you come to a decision:
You’ll need to be committed to staying bang up to date
As the heading implies, becoming a software developer is a moving target. While the daily tasks of architectural design, code writing, software testing and bug fixing remain constant, the tech market is in a constant state of flux and you will need to stay bang up to date to satisfy demand. It is always more about pleasing the end-user than indulging in tech-led fantasy.
So, you’ll need to be consistently using both formal and informal learning, swotting up on the best programming languages, practicing how to structure code, understanding algorithms, mastering platform development, as well as developing, testing and debugging, in order to ensure your skills are relevant and are those which are most in demand.
But it’s not just your tech skills you’ll need to be committed to improving – it’s your soft skills too. Particularly around communication – as a coding chameleon you’ll need to be adept at explaining your work to others in a way that they can understand.
You won’t necessarily spend all day coding
It’s important to be realistic here. Depending on where you work, you won’t necessarily spend all day coding. This is particularly true if you work for a larger organization; life being what it is, you will need to attend your fair share of meetings, interacting with clients and mentoring juniors.
The financial benefits could be more than you were expecting
By choosing this career path, you won’t lose out financially as expertise in some technical fields is valued highly. For example, the Stack Overflow report reveals developers using languages such as Go, Clojure, and F#, are paid more than those with the equivalent level of experience in languages like COBOT, PHP and Visual Basic 6.
The first steps to becoming a coding chameleon
If you’ve decided that this is the right path for you, you must start now by building your knowledge in one technical specialism across multiple industries and projects to give you a broad range of experience. There are different ways to achieve this:
Do you think it might be time to leave the world of permanent employment and start your own business? IT contracting enables you to take greater control over the projects you work on and, because you become responsible for your own learning and development, how your skills progress.
While there are some amazing positives to contracting, it’s important to realize that this career path isn’t for everyone. So, here are a few things to consider:
You’ll actually be running your own business
One of the huge perks of contracting is that you’ll have the freedom to choose projects that appeal to you, work with people you like and avoid office politics. If you want to take an extended holiday between contracts then, assuming you can afford it, that’s your choice.
However, despite such flexibility, you would be running your own business and with that comes additional responsibilities and risks that you just don’t have to deal with as an employee. You’ll have to market and sell yourself – your ‘product’ – to generate new contracts, account manage your clients, handle your own financial affairs (or find someone to do it on your behalf) and there’s no guaranteed wage or next contract, or even getting paid.
Therefore, you’ll need to be highly self-motivated, adaptable, and organized in order to find work and maintain momentum with day-to-day work. While you won’t have a traditional boss, you do have to manage client expectations and will need self-discipline and commitment to your work. A huge part of this comes down to the strength of your people skills, and indeed your own self-belief.
You won’t always feel like part of the team
This can be a hard adjustment for some to make, especially if you’ve previously been in permanent roles and part of a tight-knit team. As a contractor, you’ll find that your relationships with your co-workers will change – so it’s important that you’re able to hit the ground running from day one and are willing to work hard to build and maintain strong relationships.
So, while contractors typically build solid networks and connections from project to project would you, in reality, feel happier to continue to be a permanent member of a team?
The first steps to becoming an Entreprogrammer
I hope the above has helped you to crystallize in your mind which career path really is right for you. This is often the hardest decision of the entire career planning process – but do always remember that there’s no right or wrong career path for a developer. If you don’t enjoy a certain path, you can do something else. Nothing is set in stone if you take a proactive approach to your working life – just don’t waste years journeying aimlessly throughout your development career without a plan.
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