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Now What? — Setting Goals, Professional and Personal

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Now what? You need goals to know whether you are where you want to be in your career. Setting yearly goals is one of the first steps that IT professionals have to take when planning a career in a field that changes at lightening speed. This is how one IT professional sets yearly career goals.
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Now what? Over the last several months, many who have read the Now What? articles have e-mailed me to ask for career advice. Some readers want to know what sector of IT to enter based on life experience. Others want to know which vendor certification is the hottest. In essence, what I am asked by these readers is to help them establish a professional goal. I have spent a lot of time designing goals for myself, both short-term and long-term, so it is fun helping others do the same. No matter what field you happen to be in, it is essential that you have goals, both professional and personal.

To me, a goal is the same as a vacation destination. I need to plan where I want to go, when I want to be there, and how much it will cost me to get there when I want to go on vacation. I need to laundry-list the criteria that help me choose my destination. Do I want to go somewhere warm and sunny, with miles and miles of beach, that is cheap and close to home, or do I want to go somewhere exotic that will require extensive planning and travel, and cost a lot of money? When I make the decision about where I want to vacation, I have set a goal. In our professional lives, we have to set goals in order to know whether we are where we want to be at any given point in time. This holds true especially for IT professionals, who work in a field that changes at lightening speed. To all of you career changers and IT professionals that read these articles on InformIT.com: What are your professional goals for this year? You read what all of the experts say. What do you say? Setting yearly goals is one of the first steps that you have to take when planning your career.

In this Now What? article, I will take you through my professional goals for 2001 and 2002, and the process I work through to establish those goals. I hope that this will give you some ideas for setting yearly goals for career growth. I am not advocating that my goals should be yours. Absolutely NOT! Rather, I hope you will take something away from the process that I use to define a goal and focus on it.

One of the companies that I work with is MeasureUp.com, an online practice test provider. Twice a year, MeasureUp asks each employee to evaluate his/her future goals. It is a valuable exercise. It causes me to reflect on the past and look to the future. This is something that I have done since I formally entered IT in the mid-90s. I always take a look back at where I have been and assess it; and then look forward to what I want to do, where I want to do it, and when I want to be able to say that I have arrived. I have to keep in mind that Murphy's Law can step in and throw all of my goals in the tank. Personal crises, health emergencies, or job displacement can radically alter my plans. At the point of crises, I need to assess the goals, and decide whether the goals should be changed. Goals can be modified to meet a situation. In anticipation of the MeasureUp evaluation, I spent some time over the holidays just thinking about life in general, and particularly about the career goals that I set for 2001. When I took out the paper where I had scribbled my goals for last year, I was amazed to see the results. Take a minute and think back to the beginning of 2001: What were your career goals for the coming year? Did you have any? If you did not, how do you know if you are where you want to be? Have you arrived at your destination?

Since I have been in IT, I have had a strict rule not to be vendor-dependent. I decided I would not be a casualty of one vendor's poor business decisions. Having said that, my career goals can be categorized by vendor and in some cases by task. Not all goals require that I obtain a certification, though many do. Certification is like an interstate mile-marker—I know how close I am to my vacation destination. Some goals simply require that I begin to look at a topic, study a concept, build a lab, take a class, learn a skill, or investigate a process. One of the main things I keep in mind when setting goals is that I need to make the goals reasonable and obtainable. They can be costly and seem impossible, but I realize that I have to have some reinforcement so I don't become discouraged. I don't want my goals to be so out of the question that I could never realize them. I also have to keep in mind that I have to work full-time while working toward my professional and personal goals. In some ways, my regular work has to contribute to reaching my goals, yet in many cases I have to spend personal time while working toward my career goals. I also make sure not to set an unreasonable number of goals. For the most part, I try to establish no more than five or six goals per year. Honestly, I did not reach all of my goals for 2001, but I did reach the majority of them. Will I reach them for 2002? Check back with me next year.

Here are my professional goals for 2001 and 2002. I have listed them by priority. The goal that is most important to me is listed first, and the one that is least important is listed last. Some might classify these as Warren's top IT picks. That is not my intention. Primarily, my hope is that the process I use will help you develop your own goals. The process I use for setting goals is the following:

  1. I define the goal.

  2. I establish a reason why I want to pursue the goal.

  3. Over the course of the year, I document any thoughts or feelings I have about the goal in a Comments section. If I am looking back at previous years' goals, I log what the results were.

  4. I determine whether I reached the goal. If not, why not?

For this year, 2002, I don't have any results at the time I am writing this, but I expect that by the time this is published, 30% of my goals will be reached. On to the process.

Now What? 2001 Goals

1. Cisco

  • Goal(s): Earn the CCNP, CCDA, and CCDP; and assemble the materials to begin studying for the CCIE.

  • Reason: I already was a CCNA, but I knew that to prove my understanding of router technology and WANs, I had to have something concrete that would get the attention of HR folks. The CCNP would satisfy this. The CCDA and CCDP would be nice, but not necessary.

  • Comments: I considered taking the CID exam to earn the CCDP, but could not find a reason to do so. I saw few ads out where the CCDP was required. I opted not to take the CID exam leading to the CCDP. I chose not to pursue this goal.

  • Result: I enrolled in a 12-day CCNP bootcamp with CCPrep.com in January 2001. At the end of 12 days, I walked away with the CCNP. When I walked into the bootcamp, I was skeptical that I would be successful, but I was. It was principally due to the level of instruction offered by CCPrep.com instructors and all the support offered by those affiliated with CCPrep.com.

    I tackled the CCDA the week after I left the CCNP bootcamp, and was successful. The CCDA was not part of the CCNP curriculum, but I decided to take the CCDA exam to test myself and see if I really knew some of the basics of Cisco design.

    The other Cisco goal I had for 2001 was to begin acquiring the routers, switches, lab equipment, and textbooks needed to prepare for the CCIE in 1–2 years. I got 65% of the way there by doing a lot of research and shopping on e-Bay and online bookstores. Quite honestly, I did not complete that goal because finances dictated that I allocate resources for other projects.

2. Microsoft

  • Goal(s): Earn the MCSE-W2K by June 30th.

  • Reason: Microsoft had imposed a deadline for existing NT 4.0 MCTs and MCSEs. Additionally, I wanted to get the Microsoft process out of my hair.

  • Comments: Once I completed the MCSE-W2K, I wanted to test the employment waters, and see how many teaching opportunities and consulting opportunities would pop up because of this certification. Does the word "ZERO" hit a nerve? In none of my research did I find active interest in MCSEs with the W2K certification. Many in IT were disgusted with MS, and opted to either stay with their NT 4.0 platform or wait to see what MS had up their sleeve for 2002 before allocating resources without cause. XP was coming out. .NET was coming out. God knows what else MS was going to release. Most folks in IT were/are hesitant to upgrade when they have no clue what MS will do next-case in point MS's October 11th reversal on the NT 4.0 MCSE certification. There is an issue of trust.

  • Result: I completed that process by June 15th, by attending a 16-day bootcamp at Focus Learning Systems (http://www.focusls.com) in Tallahassee, Florida.

    I reached my MS goal for 2001, but based on demand, my MS goals for 2002 have been severely revised. I am really put off by MS, as are most in IT.

3. Prosoft

  • Goal(s): Earn the MCIW-Administrator certification.

  • Reason: I had earlier earned the MCIW-Designer, as I was learning the fundamentals of Web design. Mainly, I wanted to explore the job roles of professionals involved in Web Administration. My focus was not so much on the certification as learning what was involved in each job role.

  • Comments: I had earlier earned the MCIW-Designer as I was learning the fundamentals of Web design. Now I wanted to fully explore the Web from an Administrator's point of view.

  • Result: In early spring, I finished the requirements for the MCIW-A, which included passing the exams for the Server Administration, Internetworking, and Security Professional job roles. The certification was a welcome addition, but not the fundamental goal.

4. Novell

  • Goal(s): Pursue Advanced Novell training by sitting two week-long classes.

  • Reason: I wanted to maintain the MCNI certification and to stay in touch with Novell's technology.

  • Comments: Despite all of the MS marketing and Novell nay-sayers, I still firmly believe that Novell has the best Directory Services and the best network operating system on the market.

  • Result: I sat a five-day NetWare 6 Update class and a five-day Certified Directory Engineer bootcamp. The CDE bootcamp was one of the best advanced technical classes that I have ever sat. It covered Novell, Microsoft, and Netscape directory services in an open and objective fashion. My classmates left the CDE bootcamp with the certification. Because of a family health crisis, I opted to take the exams for the CDE in January 2002. So, I did not earn another Novell certification this year, but that was not a defined goal.

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