20 ways to get promoted in the tech industry

20 tips from CEOs and CIOs on how to advance your career

11. Take deadlines personally

Deadlines and meeting budgets can often fall by the wayside when IT projects -- err, business projects with an IT component -- come round. Unfortunately, that's given techies a bad rap in some circles, which is all the more reason to transcend the stereotype.

"Late and over budget is a moniker of sorts for IT people," notes Reid Carr, president of Red Door Interactive, an Internet consulting company. "Part of that is probably because they've not been the ones to set the expectations, but are forced to comply."

Professionals who fail to make deadlines and pay attention to details "are likely going to find they are low on the list of potential candidates for a promotion," Hudson's Taylor says.

12. Share the wealth

Anthony Hill, CTO of Golden Gate University in San Francisco, says that beyond exhibiting technical competency, the best thing an IT worker can do is to share ideas and knowledge with co-workers and colleagues.

"The No. 1 attribute of technology leaders who get promoted quickly is their willingness to share their ideas and teach others," Hill says. "You can be a brilliant programmer, but if you just display your brilliance in your code and don't cross-pollinate, you won't become a thought influencer and leader.

"Selfishly hoarding your knowledge and skill is part of the old economy," Hill adds. "In the new economy, the more you give away, the better you do. It's not about how smart you are. It's about how many others you can bring along with you."

13. Be your own cheerleader

"Being the best doesn't matter if nobody knows about it," Chubb's Drewry says. "You've got to find a way to get your accomplishments known. You can't assume everybody knows what you've done."

On the other hand, jumping up on the conference room table with pom-poms and a megaphone won't win you any friends, either. So how you go about promoting your accomplishments is nearly as important as what you've done.

Turn your good deeds into agenda items when you meet with your supervisor, suggests Carly Drumm. "Just talk about them matter of factly -- 'Here's what we've accomplished so far, and here's what we still need to do,' " she says. And, whenever possible, tie your accomplishments to their effect on the organization's bottom line.

"Frankly, if you don't do it, you're not just cheating yourself, you're cheating your company," Drewry adds. "What happens to them after you're gone and they don't know what it took to make something happen? You truly owe them the full complexity of your accomplishments."

14. Build your own portfolio

When it comes time to review their own performance, many IT pros find themselves tongue-tied -- and their career at loose ends.

"One thing we often find missing in technology experts is an ability to communicate the successes they provided to the company," KForce's Bair says. "If you completed a project that was 30 percent under budget or developed an innovative technology that let the firm recapture millions of dollars in cost, that's a big deal. But many IT pros don't know how to communicate their impact on the firm."

The solution? Keep an ongoing written portfolio of your accomplishments, which you can then present to your boss at the appropriate moment. It can be as formal as a list of achievements you'd clip to a resume or as simple as handwritten notes. "The important thing is the ability to talk about how all the good you've done for the company over a period of time," Bair says.

Develop a set of metrics that proves your worth to the company, adds Paul Groce, who runs Christian & Timber's CIO recruiting practice in New York. "Successful managers 'measure' everything, from uptime, to availability, to head count per million dollars of revenue," Groce says. "Some of the more successful are very aggressive about dashboarding and sharing performance metrics -- not only with internal management but also on the view of IT's importance to the success of the business."

15. Schmooze it or lose it

Joining user groups, professional associations, or nonprofit organizations exposes you to new people, adding to your network of contacts. It also can expose you to new ideas and give you a sounding board for your own.

"When you donate your time and technical expertise to nonprofit groups or business organizations, you can develop a center of influence outside your own company," Spherion's Courtney says. "You may also get the chance to develop skill sets you might not get an opportunity to develop in your traditional workplace."

Becoming a valued member of the technical community is a long-term investment that can really pay off, KForce's Bair says. "You can learn what other companies are doing on the cutting edge and apply that to your own company's business processes," he says. "Technical innovation often comes from the outside."

16. Walk and talk

If you want to walk the walk, you've got to talk the talk -- and in a way everyone can understand, Hudson's Paul Taylor says. Joining outside organizations can help, as can taking public speaking courses. But this also means ungluing yourself from the computer screen, wandering the halls, and meeting people in other departments.

"All too often, IT professionals become so accustomed to speaking tech jargon that they become virtually incomprehensible to the outside world," Taylor says. "For outsiders, it's like they're speaking a foreign language. Someone who can translate that into layman's terms is much more attractive for a senior position, which will likely require more interaction with others outside the IT department."

17. Hire your own replacements

Tech people are often loath to bring in new talent, fearing they'll have to compete later on for the top jobs, Groce says. A better strategy? "Mentor and develop the talent who can take over your position" so you can move up to the next level.

"Tech leaders can be the worst in the world in this area," Groce adds. "They're afraid that developing the next generation of leadership may push someone ahead of them on the next-in-line list."

Hiring good people also scores points with top management, KForce's Bair adds. Eventually, you'll develop a reputation as the person who always knows where to find the talent -- making you even more indispensable.

18. Embrace the gray areas

"Leadership is something we're looking for in every area of the company," Chubb's Drewry says. "But in order to show leadership you have to demonstrate that you're comfortable with gray areas. IT people tend to seek clarity first, then do the design after they know all the details. As a leader you don't have that luxury. You need to deal with the lack of clarity, set a direction, and get people moving, then alter your direction as things become more clear."

19. Keep your nose clean (not brown)

Kissing up to the boss doesn't work over the long haul, Drewry says. "Sooner or later the kiss-up becomes annoying to that person, especially once they notice they're not getting anything from that employee but kissing up."

On the other hand, Drewry emphasizes the importance of managing up. "That means understanding what your boss wants, his strengths and weaknesses, his hot buttons, and then educating him as to what you can do to further the company's goals."

Internal politics always plays a role in who gets promoted, and pretending to be above the fray isn't an effective strategy, Spherion's Courtney says.

"In general, IT people take pride in being countercultural, but that's not the way to get ahead in the business community," Courtney says. "If two people are equally qualified, I'll take the one with the political astuteness to manage inside a corporate culture. The more polished a person, the business acumen they posses, the more likely they are to get promoted. You can call it being political, or you can look at it as being a student of corporate culture."

When push comes to shove, however, go with your gut, says David Zink, client executive at outsourcing consultants EquaTerra, and former CIO of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

"I have the personal policy of doing what is right, not of doing what seems politically right," Zink says. "This policy has made me a standout and gotten me promoted; it has also gotten me in hot water. It takes courage to stand up to your peers or even your boss, but it makes it easy to look at yourself in the mirror. And when the politics change and the right thing was done from the start, you are a hero."

20. Consider a switch -- for the right reasons

If you're stuck in a place where IT is just there to keep the lights on, or there's no opportunity to learn something new, it may be time to seek out a new opportunity or an industry where IT is viewed more strategically, such as financial services or telecommunications.

IT pros in dead-end positions should also consider relocating or accepting contract work, says Matt Colarusso, branch manager of national recruiting at Sapphire. Colarusso says a former colleague at a Florida high-tech company found success by exploring short-term gigs after he was laid off.

"He quickly discovered that even though the market was tight in his geographical area, there were other markets in the Southeast that had contract opportunities looking for candidates with his area of expertise," Colarusso says, adding that the former colleague is now a senior administrator at a Fortune 250 company in North Carolina.

Although it's fairly common for IT pros to move up by moving sideways -- from job to job and company to company -- it's not always the best strategy, Spherion's Courtney says.

"If you're moving up in the organization, and you continue to get opportunities to expand your skill set, work on different projects, and get raises, you're better off staying with the organization that knows you," Courtney says. "You'll have more political capital internally than you would with a new firm."

If the opportunity curve slows down, or if a particular technology interests you but isn't a fit for your company, you may need to cross that bridge, Courtney adds. "Until then, stay where you are."

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