How to keep your Small Business IT career from being Lost in Space

My first title was a lame spring cleaning analogy and then to dig deeper into that whole of lazy titles I was going to do a list. Then I realized I needed to tie the article to something I enjoy. I recently watched the new Netflix series “Lost in Space.” Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys science fiction. I want to try to tie some important lessons from the series into an article on Small Business IT career planning.

One of the main themes in the show is not judging a book by it’s cover. There are characters that look good but are not and characters that look menacing but are not. The same is true with the first step in small business IT career planning. Don’t judge any opportunity to quickly. I was talking to a soon to be college grad a month ago and her goal was to find a huge company, somewhere to “learn the ropes.” I would be a hypocrite if I tried to say huge company experience is bad, however it is not the only way to learn how to work in IT. In my career I have found that the breadth of experience you gain at a small shop is definitely different than the silo experience at a large shop. Both have their place but I would say if you are struggling with what to do next, a small shop is a great place to do lots and help make that decision.

The next struggle for our main character, Will Robinson, was learning from the people he had at his disposal. Will was very creative in where he found learning opportunities from the people around him. As a person in a small business it is not always easy to find people where you work. This is why you need to be creative. In my career I have picked up many mentors along the way. They range from former bosses, to neighbors, to faith formation coordinators, to referees I worked with and most importantly family. In a small IT shop it is not always easy to find mentors. The key to finding them is simply asking. Choose the mentors for a specific purpose. If you are not good at writing find a writer. If you need help with giving presentations find a great presenter. If you don’t understand how business works, find an entrepreneur. Finally, use LinkedIn to find mentors. It is such a great source of people. Use it to find people who can help you grow.

In order to qualify for the original journey into space everyone had to take several different tests. To build out a good career plan there are several different assessments you should be doing on a regular basis. You should be doing a SWOT assessment for your self at least annually, quarterly would be better. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is the baseline for knowing where you can go and what you need to improve to get to that hard to reach destination. If you do that quarterly, I suggest choosing 4 other tests you rotate through annually so you are doing 2 tests every quarter. Here are 4 examples, a DiSC test, an EQ test, an annual physical, and a physical challenge (5K, bike tour, get your black belt, play in a pickleball tournament). I am guessing those last 2 are sort of a surprise for lots of people, however understanding your physical health and trying to push it a little are very important parts of having a successful career.

The next key is managing your fear. Our main character, Will Robinson was often times paralyzed by his fear. This is where the weakness and threats portion of our quarterly assessment needs to be addressed. If we have that assessment our plan needs to address one weakness and one threat constantly. As we grow our capabilities to address weakness and threats, that capability becomes a strength and more opportunities present themselves. Consider this story. In the past three weeks, I have given a seminar in interviewing, taught several people how to use Hubspot for their marketing and sales process and edited a book. Those are strange things to do for an “IT guy.” When my position was eliminated at JCI 4 months ago, guess what I had listed as weaknesses, writing, sales and interviewing.  By focusing my learning on those through taking up blog writing, getting certified in sales and doing tons of interviews, I have turned those weaknesses into strengths. With a little practice anyone can do this.

While the Robinson family is “Lost in Space,” their key to returning is to address what comes each day and have a long term plan. Using some of the strategies above you can do the same for your small business IT career.

About the author:

Greg Stellflue is a remarkable Information Technology leader with rich experience in multiple IT disciplines.


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