How to Architect Your Software Career

June 04, 2019

Contributor: Susan Moore

Successful application leaders create a balanced career incorporating technical, business and personal skills.

Frank is a software professional working for a large financial services firm. After seven years, he’s an expert in the company’s systems, but he’s wondering what’s next. What skills and attributes will he need to stay ahead. Accelerating technology change is disrupting industries and upending careers like Frank’s. In the past five to 10 years, the tide of innovation has brought cloud computing, mobile computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence (AI), automation, the gig economy and digital business.

“ Rather than gaining mastery in a single domain, become a versatilist”

Application leaders must work out how to ride the wave, says Eric Knipp, Practice Vice President, Gartner. “To be successful in the changing world of applications, you will have to be good, or even great, at more than one thing,” says Knipp. “The days of getting by on superior technical acumen alone are passing us by.” CIOs report that critical hiring areas are data analytics, digitalization, digital marketing and cloud computing. Target these areas for career longevity.

Prepare now

Rather than gaining mastery in a single domain, become a versatilist. Create a skill set that lets you apply depth of expertise to a progressively wider scope of challenges.

Knipp recommends that technical professionals in application roles take five steps to prepare their career for the future.

  1. Understand the future of apps. Understand trends that are driving changes in the immediate future, including the applications themselves. What will they look like in 2025? Consider the people using the applications. How will they change, and why does that matter? Look at the environment in which this happens. What are the key drivers?
  2. Find your key skills for the future. Develop a balanced skill set that will prepare you for new challenges associated with the digital age. Gain deeper business expertise and increase your professional effectiveness, including “soft skills” related to communication, vision and creativity. The most successful application professionals a decade from now will be the ones who create a balanced career that incorporates technical, business and personal skills.
  3. Conduct an honest self-assessment. Develop a career profile with a compilation of knowledge, ability, desire, personal considerations and the factors in life that light a fire in you. Solicit honest feedback from others, focusing on what you can do better going forward as opposed to what you did wrong in the past. Conduct a personal strength, weakness, opportunity and threat (SWOT) assessment of your career.
  4. Build your own professional development roadmap. Take career development into your own hands and develop a roadmap for your career progression. Key actions to prioritize: Master key professional effectiveness competencies; join and develop communities of practice; invest in the right technical skills; and seek stretch assignments that go beyond your regular job duties to advance your career.
  5. Stay on track. People often throw themselves into professional development with commitment and zeal, only to lose energy and interest over time. Focus on finding and exploiting learning opportunities, building interpersonal skills and relationships, using external groups and resources, and finding and being a mentor.

“The biggest barriers to career development are personal and psychological,” Knipp says. “We often carry around deeply entrenched attitudes that inhibit us from taking action to develop as professionals.” In the past, technical professionals could count on their employers to provide them with a “career path,” including training and a direction for advancement. Now, success is up to you.

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