IT careers: 3 misconceptions that hold people back

Today's business environment is changing long-held beliefs about IT careers, enabling new possibilities. Both IT pros and IT leaders should move past these outdated notions
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Today’s talent market is experiencing some significant growing pains. We’re witnessing a structural realignment of what it means to work and what careers can look like, with employers and candidates each offering their own unique take on the subject.

While the specifics vary across industry, experience, and education level, the greatest opportunity for talent re-examination exists within fields that have suffered from longstanding mistaken beliefs.

IT is a prime example. Reinforced by decades of standard operating procedure and rigid widespread processes, building an IT career has often seemed to mean resigning oneself to one of several predetermined paths. However, today’s unique market conditions are upending traditional workplace assumptions, and now is the time for IT professionals to shed their hindering beliefs and embrace new possibilities.

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Here are three outdated beliefs about IT careers that we should look beyond in order to help IT talent move forward:

Misconception 1: Career advancement is a tradeoff between IT and business

There is a common belief that career growth in IT means trading technical responsibilities for business ones – which is a hard pill for many to swallow. For example, a software developer who revels in hands-on deployment and innovation may worry they’ll ultimately find themselves managing more budget allocations than lines of code.

There is a kernel of truth to this trend: IT organizations are prone to hiring from within; for example, elevating one-time engineers to positions of managerial authority. And traditional structures certainly prioritize business skills in senior staff. However, IT professionals today do have a say over what their experience can look like – and leading organizations recognize that old career tracks no longer apply.

[What tech skills are most valuable now for IT job hunters? Read also: Open source IT jobs in 2021: 15 statistics.]

Increasingly, successful engineering cultures have made way for deep technical leadership that includes passionate technologists who work side-by-side with engineering teams. In fact, companies are recognizing that a tech-first leadership style is a growth driver for the entire organization and that senior IT engineers provide unique perspectives both in the field and in the boardroom. That dual vision, which includes both the business and the technology, is what makes IT such a powerful voice in C-level conversation.

Companies that empower IT talent to advance in their careers and still architect and deploy cutting-edge technology boost retention and demonstrate the joint power of business and technical leadership.

It’s more critical than ever for IT leaders to see the importance of empowering diverse teams to succeed collectively rather than as individuals.

Misconception 2: IT leaders need to be the most skilled in the room

Today’s organizations are under pressure to innovate at high velocity, leaving little room for engineering cultures built around a particular person or skill set. To operate at speed and differentiate among competitors, it’s critical to equip IT talent with common and documented best practices so that proven solutions can be repeated and scaled across the enterprise.

This approach challenges old notions of leadership, where knowledge is sacred and top-down, and instead favors technical excellence, where skills are never limited to one person or one team. But it’s more critical than ever for IT leaders to see the importance of empowering diverse teams to succeed collectively rather than as individuals. This mindset creates a technical leadership path for people who understand that if something can’t be replicated, then it’s not a success – it’s a flame.

Misconception 3: Success in technical fields is all numbers and code

By nature, many software developers and engineers wake up thinking about what new technology they can learn that day and are passionate about getting their hands on emerging capabilities. And they should be. But successful leaders model that long-term IT careers can combine technical expertise with an immersion in the organizational or client mission.

For example, when my colleagues partnered with the Federal Government to build the new platform, it wasn’t enough to focus on the technical components of the modern e-commerce platform. To gather insights and take a human-centered approach to the project, they needed to go to the parks and experience being a camper so they could understand the day-to-day demands of being a park ranger. And when the pandemic hit, the team needed to innovate ways for people to experience national parks in a socially distanced manner, such as designing new technical features that enable timed entries.

A tech-only mindset can overlook the business need. A new fix or functionality might be attractive from a technical standpoint but does not solve root issues. IT leaders need to keep a dual focus and always remember that their success requires focusing on the bigger picture.

Move your IT career forward

There has never been a better time to reinvent an IT career and to take ownership of your experience in powerful ways. As the IT ecosystem adjusts and adapts to new ways of thinking, shedding the most common misconceptions is the first step to growth and advancement. By moving past old notions of leadership, organizations can set a new path for IT professionals to make their careers their own.

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Senior Vice President Haluk Saker is a modern software architecture and technology leader. He has been with Booz Allen for more than 20 years and is co-author of the Enterprise DevOps Playbook. Haluk is responsible for the design, development, deployment, and operations of cloud-native applications.