4 ways to creatively to grow your IT career

Have you ever heard, my company is too small I will never grow my skill set here. Or maybe you have heard my company is too big no one ever gives me a chance to do new things. Or maybe my boss is not a good leader I am not learning leadership from them. All of those are excuses pointing at outside factors and blaming those factors on something only we can own. We all own our development and here are 4 creative ways to develop yourself.

One of the dudes Spencer X. Smith says, “Only after I prove they work.” In this case I have proven all 4 of these work.

  1. Coach a youth sport team
  2. Volunteer for Jr. Achievement
  3. Teach religion classes
  4. Become an official or referee for a sport you enjoy

Coach a youth sport team

Let me start by saying I am an average athlete at best. So you don’t have to be a sports super-star for this to work. When my oldest turned 5 years old I decided I would like to coach his Tee Ball team. I coached baseball and softball for over 10 years and sometime in the middle of that I decided to coach basketball for 10 years as well. Total calendar time was about 15 years.

I learned more about team dynamics in those 15 years of coaching than I have at any time during my IT career. The most important thing you learn is a team with no common goals will fill the goal vacuum with individual goals. At 5 years old this might mean picking dandelions in the outfield. By 8th grade it is scoring 20 points in a game. If a leader does not set team goals, individual goals will over take the team and the team will wander in the direction of its strongest contributor. If you have a Michael Jordan on the team that may be enough, but most teams don’t so team goals are crucial to success.

These 2 pictures are girls I coached from 1st grade to 8th grade. They are now all freshmen in college. They gave me some of the best lessons in life I could ever ask for.

Volunteer for Jr. Achievement

Junior achievement fosters work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills. My wife taught junior achievement at our kids school and it really helped her to understand business and I am not going to discount that aspect of it. What I want to focus on though is a very different experience I had in Junior Achievement. I volunteered at schools in poverty stricken areas in Milwaukee. This experience helped grow my sense of empathy more than any other exercise I have undertaken. You feel empathy for the teachers who are working in one part education institution, one part war zone and one part correctional institute. You feel it for the kids who in some cases have the school as the only safe place in their lives.

Developing this sense of empathy is extremely important in an IT career. I talk more about it here. By having a stronger sense of empathy we can create much better interactions with others. Abe Lincoln said it best “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.”



Teach religion classes

When I started teaching religion classes when my oldest son was 7, I quickly learned lesson number one of teaching. In order to teach you learn more about the subjects you are teaching than you knew when you started. I thought I had developed a very solid faith and understanding of religion, but I found out until you have to explain that to a student you don’t understand how much you don’t know. Those first few years were rough, but eventually I felt comfortable and continued learning so I could hopefully plant the spark of learning in some of the students.

How does this apply to an IT career one may ask, well I would suggest it applies in 2 ways. First you must always keep learning. There are new ways to do things in IT all the time and as soon as you stop learning you stop growing. Second seek out ways to teach people what you know. You will absolutely know more about the subject you are teaching than you did when you started.

Become an official or referee for a sport you enjoy

I was researching CIOs during a job search in my past and found a CIO who had a mentor that said knowing your stuff is an important part of growing your career. There is no better way to get an understanding of how important it is to know your stuff than when become a sports official. From the very first time you blow your whistle to the very last time you leave the floor there are coaches, players and fans who question every call you make. For the judgement calls that is very easy to just ignore, but for the new rules and rules interpretations you often times need to explain to the person just what the rule is. Knowing your stuff is table stakes to being an official and being a strong IT professional. However it is not the biggest thing you learn.

The biggest thing you learn as an official is how to deal with difficult people. In one youth basketball game my partner did not like the way a coach had called a timeout and made his team run lines because they were not hustling. I did not like it much either but that is not an officials job to judge. My partner let it spill over into how he managed the coach the rest of the game. Normally we were lenient with the stay seated rule at youth levels, in this case my partner decided we needed to enforce it. Afterwards he admitted it was more out of retaliation for making the girls run. The coach did not take the stay seated direction well and after my partner gave the coach the first technical for standing up, he quickly gave him a second and had him escorted from the gym because the coach picked up his seat to coach the next play. In this world we will run into people with methods we don’t agree with. We have to learn when it is time to take a stand and when it is time to ignore their actions.


There are a lot of creative ways to grow skills. These are 4 ways that will not cost any money and are very effective at growing different skill sets.

Want to sign up for a mentoring session with me go here: Booking Time with Greg

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