Now that 2011 is coming to an end and 2012 will soon be upon us, many will be making New Year’s resolutions. The most popular resolutions probably relate to health.  However, many people also include career goals in their resolve.  With the continuing economic challenges, it is tough but not impossible to feel like personal career growth is continuing. This article is only peripherally related to our current series of discussions on job roles and tasks.  This is article is a New Year's Article that focuses on five key things that everyone can do to help keep their careers moving forward, even in tough economic times.


Tip 1 - Find a Mentor


Finding a mentor may be a challenge. In many cases people tend to keep what they know to themselves. Some people seem to think that if they are the only person that can do a task, they are more valuable to the organization. Furthermore, some people like to place themselves high on a pedestal and have the desire to stay there. I think we have all met people like Nick Burns. I doubt Nick would make a good mentor


For those unfamiliar with Nick Burns, here is a video excerpt from Saturday Night Live.


A good mentor is someone that you can trust and who can help you stay on track. This is not a person that does everything for you when you get in over your head.  This is a person who gently steers you in a direction that is conducive to your career or your particular role in an organization. This person can not only be beneficial for career goals, but also for specific tasks that may be a stretch for your abilities. The challenge is finding someone that is willing to take the time to share their experiences. If you cannot find someone within your immediate circle, you can always have lunch with others in the industry and learn from each other’s experiences.


Tip 2 - Build your Network


There are many networks out there, so let me elaborate. There are social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. What I’m talking about here is YOUR network. It may consist of contacts that you have met personally, as well as a subset of individuals from any or all of the social networks I mentioned. What is important is that you start to build solid relationships for a couple of reasons.  You never know when you might need a “go to” person or a subject matter expert in a particular area.  Additionally, making others aware of your areas of expertise or experience can be beneficial. People are in YOUR network if you feel comfortable reaching out to them and they feel comfortable reaching out to you. Don’t abuse your network. It should be a “qui pro quo” arrangement that is mutually beneficial for you and them.


Tip 3 - Help Others


Helping others is sort of the opposite of finding a mentor.  Helping others can actually help you in many ways. First, there is no better way to solidify concepts than pushing your knowledge to the point that you can explain something simply. I am not advocating that someone should share their knowledge about something that they know nothing about.  However, an individual that has worked with a specific topic or technology often will initially struggle to explain it. Working through this struggle often leads to a much deeper understanding.


If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

-Albert Einstein


Tip 4 - Continue Learning


Since you are reading an article on The Cisco Learning Network, you may naturally desire to continue learning.  This is a good thing.  With networking technology, I do not think there is a point that you look at yourself and think “I have arrived”. Like other career choices in technology, we must be comfortable with change. The value that you bring to an organization is your ability to work with that change. Your thirst for knowledge should not just be in deeper understanding, but also broader understanding. How technologies interact with one another is as important as knowledge about the individual technologies. Nothing lives in a vacuum anymore. All areas of technology are interoperating with other areas to achieve some business goal. Although the fact that someone can configure a router or a switch is very important, companies are looking for people that can solve the business goals and challenges.



Tip 5 - Keep your life in Balance


If you love the challenges of technology, keeping your life in balance may be difficult. I think it is important to keep your relevant areas such as family, church, health, and personal time in check. Others tend to view your priorities based on how much time you spend nourishing each of the “loves” in your life. This is valid because we tend to spend more time with those things we enjoy. So if technology is dominating ALL of your free time, you may need to schedule “technology free” times to balance out your life. I have personally witnessed family or personal issues that have had serious adverse effects on individuals’ careers.






I think everyone knows that many challenges exist in the current job market. The challenges seem to be even more prevalent with those who are young or inexperienced to the field in which they are seeking employment. Although technology jobs are more prevalent than some other fields, challenges still exist.  If you are not employed, my recommendation is to do what you can to get employed. Even if your employment is less than what was expected, there is always room for growth.  For those employed, focusing on these five tips will help keep their careers on track. As new and exciting challenges present themselves, simply gravitate to the areas that are of interest to you.