Oct 202016

Lateral Career DevelopmentThis Tech Talk is going to be a little different than prior posts in this category. I’m not going to talk about a new gadget, technology milestone or the latest news headline. I want to know what it takes to achieve lateral career development. You can advance your career along two axes. The common route is vertical by getting a promotion, perhaps a title change and some underlings. You can also advance your career along the horizontal axis (i.e. laterally). This is most often accomplished via some form of training. When you improve a skill set or acquire new skill sets, you are a better asset.

Depending on your employer, lateral career development will not necessarily render more money. I understand for many that is the motivation behind additional training, but usually its training that isn’t very interesting. I’m talking about the kind of training that not only enhances your career but it’s also fun and interesting. There are a plethora of ways to get the training you want; Pluralsight comes to mind. However, this post isn’t about where to get your training (perhaps that can be a future post).

How Do You Transition Your Career or Integrate Your New Training?

Unfortunately this post also will not answer that question. I’m legitimately asking. In some cases integrating your new training can happen fairly naturally. For example if you are a .NET developer and you completed training on Angular development. Those two technologies are so tightly coupled, finding an opportunity to implement your new skill is going to be easy. I know that because I have done it.

On the other hand, what if you are a .NET developer and you completed training on iOS or Android? These two technologies are obviously two completely different worlds. I’m not necessarily suggesting a permanent transition. It might be for some but personally I want to increase my skills beyond .NET (and perhaps even my value to my employer). The challenge is overcoming the pigeon-hole of so much time working in one technology.

This kind of lateral career development can be stymied by various factors. Priority, budget, opportunity or even employee perception can be a factor. Of course the obvious hindrance is experience. The developers with more experience are the first to be selected for the project. It goes back to that age-old conundrum “you need experience to get the job but you need the job to get the experience“. Your expertise is more cost-effective on a project where you can be the most efficient.

How Do You Get on a Relevant Project?

Again I’m legitimately asking! Obviously this is beyond your control. I imagine certain things have to align properly. First you need people who are willing to let someone with little to no experience work on a project. Then, of course, the right opportunity has to come along. It will probably have to be something that is low risk and has a flexible timeline.

I’m curious if anyone has had any recent success expanding into other technological paradigms. Working in the same technology every day for several years starts to feel pretty stale and mundane. I understand that mundane usually means job security but it kills ambition. I found this quote by T.S. Eliot – “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” Sometimes you have to push yourself to get to the next level but it does help if there is someone willing to take a chance on you.

Perhaps that’s all it takes to make that lateral move; someone who recognizes your potential and gives you a shot. The greater the risk the greater the reward. I guess, in the meantime, you keep working on those projects at home. It will help keep your skills sharp and you have the free reign to push the envelope a little bit.


apple_logo-263x300The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do
– Steve Jobs

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