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Career pathing: Advancing your career in the data center

AFCOM founder Leonard Eckhaus offers career advice for data center pros.

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they achieve their success -- was it simply a stroke of luck, or did they perhaps have a plan?

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There is an old adage that if you are dedicated, and work hard, you will be successful -- truth be told, that is seldom enough. It is also said that luck is better than brains, but rely on luck to carry you to the top and see how soon your peers begin to rise above you.

So then, how do you advance your career? The answer is "Career Pathing" -- the art of planning and achieving your career goals.

Step 1: Have a target

To build a career you must have a career goal. Look at your company's organizational chart. Is there a position in the data center that you aspire to? Do you know of a position that someone from the data center has been promoted to outside the data center? The point is you must pick a position in your company to which you aspire (your goal).

Now you have a goal to work towards. Most employees don't. They simply take any promotion that comes along, whether or not it advances them on the path to what they really want. Having a specific career goal makes choices much easier. If you are offered an opportunity, you accept it if it takes you closer to your goal, and you turn it down if it doesn't.

Step 2: Network for success

When it comes to your career, there is no such thing as too many friends.

Join industry associations and user groups like AFCOM and SHARE. Forums such as these give you the opportunity to meet your peers and make contacts you can call on when you need help.

In addition, work at networking within your own company. Higher level data center and user management can become great allies when you need their help. Building their confidence in you can be just the edge you need when they are affected by data center problems you have to resolve.

Volunteer to serve on company boards, committees and advisory groups outside of the data center -- anything that allows you to work closely with other corporate managers. Again, this is all part of building relationships that can help you.

Finally, use this internal networking to find a mentor -- someone higher up in the organization who believes in you and is willing to give you advice and be an advocate for your career.

Step 3: Manage your boss

In order to further your career and continue up the ladder, you must be successful at every rung. To accomplish this, there will be many things you need along the way -- additional employees, new positions, new hardware, money for education and training -- things that will enable success in your department, and ultimately, for you.

Ever wonder why one manager seems to always get what he wants and why another has to struggle for everything? The difference is in managing your boss -- figuring out how to get what you need from him/her -- and it is incredibly important to your success.

No two bosses are alike. You might get what you want from one by explaining how the new equipment you are requesting will benefit the data center. Another might be more likely to approve the request when presented with the serious and costly scenarios that might result if you don't get it. The point is: in order to get what you need you have to learn how your boss will react to specific stimuli and use that to your advantage.

Step 4: Avoid shotgun management

Given the demands of today's data center, many managers are so focused on just getting through the day, that they can't or don't make the time to plan ahead. I call this management style, "shotgun management."

Shotgun managers walk through the data center putting out one "fire" after another. As employees approach this manager with a problem, he tells them what to do and then goes on to put out the next "fire". Believe it or not, most shotgun managers actually enjoy this, but the approach is limiting.

Solving day-to-day problems on the fly may make them feel good about themselves, but it diverts time and energy from the bigger picture, and, ultimately, doesn't bode well for their career. If this is you, get out of this mode now. Take the time to plan for tomorrow. Instead of being proud of all the problems you solve, begin to measure your success by how few fires you actually have to put out.

Step 5: Report your successes

Don't keep your success to yourself -- make sure your boss and your staff know how well you are doing.

Create a monthly report that highlights all the successes and progress you've made in every area. Be honest -- don't dodge problems or failures -- but present them along with the steps you are taking to correct them. Turn the problem into something positive by owning up to it, and then, later on, when you report it is corrected, actually getting credit for solving it.

Career pathing: The means to achieving your goals

Success in your career isn't something that just happens. You have to work at it, beginning with a goal and a plan to achieve it. It takes more than just yourself, so you have to build credibility within the data center and elsewhere in your company. You have to plan for tomorrow instead of spending all your time putting out fires today. You have to make sure others in your organization recognize your contributions. And, you have to prepare yourself for the next step, the next promotion, on your way to the top. This is career pathing -- and it is the difference between simply having a job and building a career.

Leonard Eckhaus is founder and former President of AFCOM, a leading association supporting the data center industry for more than 25 years.
 

This was last published in September 2006

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