Climbing the Tech Career Ladder

Just began working in Tech? Start thinking about your growth now, in order to make the right moves towards the career you want!

Tech is a huge sector with a growth that shows no signs of slowing down, just like its demand for skilled professionals. So we can see why you’d be interested in a career in this field! But, once you’ve broken into tech, how do you build a successful career in it?

It’s important to think about your career growth even in the early stages– when you start a journey, it’s better if you have an idea of where you want to go! And you don’t need to know every detail (it’s totally fine if you don’t know yet!) but now is the time to try out options, find out what you like, and take the steps towards your final objective. And you do this by doing things like building the right skills, choosing jobs in companies that encourage your growth, and targeting roles that set you up for the right direction.

What Do Tech Career Ladders Look Like?

Tech careers can involve dramatically different skills and responsibilities, depending on what the role is. A UI designer could, for example, direct their efforts towards improving their overall skill across types of mediums and customer needs, or specialize in one, increasing their mastery of it. A web developer could advance their career by widening the areas they work on, acquiring more proficiencies in programming languages and software development, and work on solidifying a full-stack expertise; or they could narrow down their focus on one small area and deepen their knowledge. They could become an expert in their specific field, being the go-to expert in the company they work for; or they could participate in planning, strategy, or in directing other teams, thus going towards more managerial roles.

These choices each have pros and cons, which you should consider early in your career and compare to your overall objectives in your professional life, as well as your internal motivations and what makes you passionate about your job. Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, or 15 years? 

If you choose the path of specialization, you will invest time in acquiring knowledge about your profession that, increasingly, will be rarer to find, thus making you a valuable asset for companies, worth competing for. You will not only have higher salaries offered to you, but also the power to negotiate, make, and influence decisions. If you have the drive to dedicate years to specializing in one thing, you can become a leader in your field! Your prospects will be wider, you will be recognized as an authority in the topic, and your opinions will carry more weight.

However, specializing also brings possible disadvantages with it: the main one being career inflexibility, or the ability to only find suitable jobs in a very narrow range. There aren’t as many jobs out there demanding high-level experts in Scala, or Erlang, as jobs asking for a decent understanding of JavaScript plus a handful of other assorted Web Dev languages– and it’s likely that you will not be asked for your input in anything other than your field of expertise. But these jobs will appreciate your uncommon prowess and pay for it well, and if you are really passionate about your specialization and you’re certain you could dedicate your life to it, it might very well be the path for you!

The other path is becoming a generalist: while not as profound as a specialist’s knowledge, generalists can do a good enough job in the many areas they are able to handle, and if they can’t solve the problem, they definitely know who to ask or where to look! Because of this, managerial positions are almost always appreciative of more generalistic backgrounds, although you don’t necessarily have to end up as a manager if you want to be a generalist. Being able to see the full picture and make decisions that pertain to many areas are skills that can also be used in more unusual or hybrid jobs.

Generalists tend to have more transferable skills (those that can come in handy across radically different jobs or industries), making them more flexible in their choice of career, which opens up their choices a lot. Being jacks of all trades, generalists are often knowledgeable enough to be strategic and make better predictions in the face of uncertainty. They are open to acquiring new skills on the go, and know enough to know what needs to be done, even if they don’t have the skills themselves to get it done: this is why generalists make good managers. They often have great people skills, too, which is a must to lead teams!

But choosing breadth over depth can have downsides, too: though leadership positions are often well paid, generalists often have less job security than specialists, since they can switch careers and roles a lot more. 

If you want to know more about what it’s like to switch to working in a more managerial role, Kara Payne told us what this transition entails in the Ironhack Podcast– listen to it, or check out the blog post about the interview!

Developing Your Leadership Skills

Even entry level roles require some leadership skills, because you collaborate and may have the opportunity to lead projects. Not only managers make use of problem-solving, critical thinking, or interpersonal skills: every professional needs these!

Soft skills, which are all of the skills used in professional settings that aren’t ‘hard’ or technical skills, can be acquired in many ways. They’re sometimes picked up on the job, especially if you have a good manager who pays attention to your needs and worries about your professional development. There are also soft skills courses for professionals, and many companies provide funding or educational materials for their teams to develop these skills.

If you’re interested in pursuing leadership roles or just deepening your leadership skills, tap into these resources and ask your company about educational resources or schemes available for you. You can also try your hand at leadership in smaller scales by asking for related responsibilities in your job, such as leading teams and tasks. Walk before you run!

When you believe you’re ready to lead people, let your manager know. A good company will listen to your wish for career advancement, and make space for you to develop and acquire new responsibilities. 

Leadership Skills For any Level

As we’ve stated earlier, it’s still important to acquire leadership skills at any level. It makes you a better person, a better teammate, and a good candidate for leadership roles when they arise! 

A lot of leadership skills are tied to traits like proactiveness, which you can actively practice and get better at. Some ways you can improve your proactiveness are, for example, always trying to find solutions to problems, instead of going straight to ‘can’t do that’! Your attitude will be noticed by everyone around you, and you will motivate others. If you don’t know something, try to find the solution by yourself and communicate that.

Being a good colleague also goes a long way: take responsibility for your mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, after all, and it’s okay to have the occasional slip up. By owning up to what you’re responsible for, you’ll show integrity and a willingness to help fix it up. Likewise, give credit to others for their work and ideas, uplifting them and sharing the spotlight, and you will strengthen the bonds in your team and show you’re a great professional who can be trusted to lead justly!

Setting Yourself Up for Career Success

It’s important to think about your future early on in your career to avoid getting stuck in dead-end situations. And here’s how we avoid that and plan for the future!

Firstly, you must know where you’re going. Planning out your desired career in advance and always keeping the long term view in mind will make decisions easier and help you find a workable path. You can use resources like our Career Vision Planner to accomplish that!

Knowing what you want will help you choose the right job. Another thing you should do is make sure that the door towards development is always open: during job interviews, ask for growth opportunities, and set expectations with your manager early on so that they know you're ambitious and looking forward to establishing an evolving career. And, once you get that job, don’t rest in your laurels! Know or find out your next step, and grow and work on your skills to get ready for that leap.

And don’t forget to stop and celebrate how far you’ve come!

Sign up for an Ironhack bootcamp to acquire the skills you need and land the perfect entry-level job right off the bat!

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