If your tech career doesn’t seem to be taking off, the problem may not be totally obvious. Signs may include seeing your colleagues take better positions, get better pay — and work on high-profile assignments — while your skills and experience fail to reach escape velocity.
When you don’t feel like you’re moving up, it may be time for a career self-check. We talked with a dozen IT pros to help identify why your career might be stalling.
They told us what to look for: signs of trouble as well as how to improve work relationships and performance reviews, and how and when to approach your boss to ask about a raise or promotion. If your tech career needs a boost, read on.
Your friends and family are feeling the brunt
Tech jobs are well known for demanding schedules and rolling deadlines — there’s a reason agile development uses the word sprint. But if your friends and family seem worn down by your venting, it’s a likely sign you’re not growing.
“How long someone can stay in a role before they get bored or frustrated will depend greatly on the individual, but if you're dreading going to work or you find yourself complaining all the time, then it’s probably time for a change,” says Nic Grange, CTO of Retriever Communications. “If you believe that your company is still the right fit for you, then talk to your manager and make the case for change. If you can't see a positive future there, then it may be time to try a different company.”
You can’t tell where you stand
When you feel like you’re at a career dead end, it may be due to external factors you can’t control. It’s the corporate version of “It’s not you, it’s me.” And it may be specific to your current company.
“Sometimes constraints are due to that particular organization, for example its size,” says Howard Seidel, senior partner at career advisory firm Essex Partners. “Typically, the most direct way to learn is to seek feedback from managers or others,” including project stakeholders and dotted-line supervisors, he says. “There’s nothing wrong with asking, especially managers, ‘How am I doing?’ If you think you’re experiencing negative signals, you can also ask directly about it to make sure you’re interpreting those signals accurately.”
You’re doing more with less
Software maker SolarWinds’ head geek, Kong Yang, says if you don’t feel like you’ve got adequate resources, but your backlog keeps growing, you’re going to continue finding yourself doing the same things day after day.
“If you’re not being challenged to become a better version of yourself every day, then it’s time to do things differently,” he says. “If you are not inspired, empowered, and rewarded to become better, then it’s time. Your career is stalling and may be in for a rude crash landing.”
You’re getting passed over
If you’re like a lot of tech pros, communication with your boss may not be your career highlight. Most people aren’t sure how to ask for a raise, for example, but there are some simple tips that can help you earn more and do meaningful work.
“Data is your friend,” Yang says. “Research the average market rate alongside roles and responsibilities using PayScale, Glassdoor, Indeed or LinkedIn. Show your value and sell why you deserve the promotion.”
Once you know how much you’re looking for, give the timing some thought.
“The best time to ask for a promotion is after a successful project delivery or accomplishing a big feat,” says Daniela Field, senior consultant at Mendix. “Otherwise, asking at the beginning or end of the year — during yearly reviews — is a good option as well.”
Are you the “go-to person” for your group? Then you should be getting a promotion, Field says. And if you’re getting pushback, ask what you need to do on your end to make it happen.
Once you’ve got your case laid out, the focus should turn to your manager.
“One thing I always focus on is this: How can my promotion make my boss’s job easier, and how can that help the company progress?” says James Stanger, chief technology evangelist for CompTIA. “Be prepared to give specifics.”
You’re focused on the wrong metric
Patrick Holder, a talent acquisition manager at business management consultants Candid Partners, cites the advice of management guru Jim Rohn: The most important thing to ask yourself, Rohn said, isn’t what you’re getting, but what you’re becoming.
“Look at your skill set and determine where you could be most effective,” Holder says. “Do you have new skills/passions? Do you want an increased salary and benefits you are not currently getting? Where do you see yourself in five years and does this company add to that vision or take away from it?”
You’re creating a career you’ll regret
Seidel says he hears the same few thoughts from people who wished — as their careers winded down — that they’d done things differently and acted sooner.
First, they let their skills get out of date. “They found their company to be a comfortable place and kept doing the same old thing for way too long,” he says.
Some get lured into management when they’d be better off coding or otherwise contributing to initiatives, without needing or wanting to develop the skills for managing a team. “Then they wondered why they stalled there. They let their technical skills decline. Building a reputation for being average at something doesn’t usually make someone who was previously excellent at something happy,” Seidel says.
Some instead waited too long to push for a promotion or move to a better gig, only attempting a move when they were completely convinced they were ready. He advises timing the jump earlier.
“Their younger self would be advised to go for better jobs much earlier, when they were 70 percent to 80 percent capable,” Seidel says. “Bet that the hiring manager is under a deadline to get projects out, that they are running out of time — and that a fairly capable person who is motivated and a quick learner is far better for the project than holding out for the perfect candidate. The result is faster promotions, better money, and more interesting work.”
You’re missing out on new technology
If you’ve staying current with new technology and platforms but don’t have an opportunity to use them, you may be drifting off course. Ask yourself: What is the single most crucial element or advancement in your field? And why aren’t you using it?
“In my current role, it is data, data, data,” says David Parmenter, director of engineering and data for Adobe Document Cloud. “So I’m always pushing my team to use the data we have, get more data, find better insights.”
Parmenter says Adobe’s research shows that access to cutting-edge technology boosts job satisfaction.
“Do you read about innovative things and think, ‘Man, I wish I was working on that!’ If you’re good at your job, but having trouble becoming great, or just feeling topped out, look to some strategies that’ll benefit you and the business. Develop your leadership capability by mentoring junior people, or help the organization scale by finding a more efficient way of doing things. Propose solutions to the ‘gaps’ — missing functionalities, tasks — that help your organization run smarter and more efficiently.”
“The worst thing a tech person can do is seem stale or out of touch,” says Seidel. “It’s up to the professional to seek out new opportunities and learning, through new projects and trainings — internally and externally if necessary. If you believe a current role or organization presents a technology dead end, it’s time to seek out new opportunities, either in or outside your company.”
Your goals aren’t aligned with business goals
Are your projects synced up with the company’s priorities? It may be that the technology you’re using falls outside of the organization’s core functions.
“Do you see your current job role morphing as the company pivots and morphs to meet new demands?” asks CompTIA’s Stanger. “We’re hearing a lot about the buzz phrase, ‘digital transformation.’ The companies that stay alive are constantly morphing and transforming in one way or the other.”
A computer is taking your job
The introduction of AI to the enterprise is obviously no longer hype and is either in progress or in current plans for many organizations. If your job can be done by AI — or a combination of AI and the cloud, or other platforms and technologies, what are you planning to do about it?
“We’re seeing a lot of different time-honored jobs get replaced through automation,” Stanger says. “We’re also seeing jobs get outsourced to cloud-based organizations. In some ways, cloud-based solutions are to 2018 what offshoring was back in 2002. Are you seeing that the company wants to move capability to a partner? That means your job could be next. I don’t mean to be a fear-monger. But make sure that your job role is something considered core, and something that can’t be replaced by a third party, which could be a cloud provider or an automated solution.”
“Is your job repetitive?” asks Stanger. “Does it rely on simple activities that can be easily replaced by a pattern-matching AI program? Then it’s time to be careful. If you see that your job is increasingly repetitive and focusing on older company solutions and not changing significantly in its approach, it might be time for a change. Even worse, it might be time for your company to have made that decision for you.”
A merger is making you redundant
A company buyout or relocation can also be a danger sign, especially if either is happening after a period of missed goals or profits. If so, keep your head on a swivel.
“Be on the lookout for when a company might be going through a merger or acquisition, moving company locations to another state or just simply heading in a direction that you don’t want to be a part of,” Holder says.
“Even valued employees get replaced, because one company has a dominant position, and they have similar workers,” says Stanger. “If you find yourself dissatisfied with your existing gig, then ask yourself what will bring more satisfaction. If retirement isn’t a valid answer — it rarely is — then consider focusing on skills that your business needs. Those skills might seem a long ways away from your current skill set. But don’t worry about that. Set a goal that’s inline with your business. Then, take fundamental, real ‘baby steps’ towards that goal. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll get to a fantastic place in your career once you start down that path.”
You’re fighting change
Consider your job performance reviews. Are they going poorly? If so, your priorities may not be lining up with your organization, no matter how well you’re executing. And it may be time to retool.
“Another signal can be where you find yourself in opposition to a new change,” CompTIA’s Stanger says. “Sometimes, that opposition can be based on valid concerns about technical or business viability. But take a close look at your reasons for resisting a change. Technology and business approaches and values have changed more quickly than ever before. Take a step back and evaluate your perspective in light of what’s happened in your particular business sector. Look carefully on how much new information you’ve learned over the past year to 18 months. If you haven’t learned anything new, then consider finding ways to either learn some new skills, or even reinvent yourself.”