You have long years of experience in the IT field and you really know your stuff. But when you go to conferences or offer to speak to local user groups, nobody knows your name and you can’t command the high consulting rates the IT superstars are bringing in. How do you establish yourself as an expert in this industry and build a reputation outside your own organization? It requires a lot more than just being good at your job.
Here are tips you can do to get yourself recognized as one of the IT elite.
Even though IT experience isn’t enough to get you recognized as an expert in an industry that’s filled with experienced IT pros, it is the first prerequisite. No matter how brilliant you are, regardless of the fact that you were building your own circuit boards as a kid and made straight A’s in computer science, real-world experience still counts. You probably won’t begin to be taken seriously until you’ve been working in the real world in some capacity for at least five years (10 is better).
The good news is that the form your experience takes can be flexible. It can be gained through working in the corporate environment, doing IT work in the military or for a governmental entity, running your own IT-related business, consulting, etc.
If you’re a midlife career changer, you can even leverage your experience in a different field to help build your reputation in IT. As a former teacher, I had “instant credibility” in the areas of educational technology. I was able to teach more authoritatively on IT subjects related to my field, than someone without that background. And that brings us to the next tip.
Concentrate on a specialty
The IT field has grown to the point where, as with the medical field, it’s impossible for one person to master all of it. If you try to be a jack of all trades, you’ll probably never become enough of an expert in anything to stand out from the crowd. Sure, it’s possible to be an IT generalist, but the quickest route to “fame” (and some measure of fortune) is to find yourself a niche.
When I started to build a reputation in IT, I began by specializing in Graphic design and, later branching out to Web development in general and then to the broader field of social media marketing and blogging.
You can focus on a particular product as I did, on a brand (such as becoming an expert in Web development), on a branch of IT. The key is to pick something that really interests you, something you can get enthusiastic about — because enthusiasm about your area of expertise is what others pick up on and it’s what sets the top “experts” apart from others who know just as much (or sometimes more) but to whom it’s all “just a job.” The second important factor in choosing a specialty is to pick one where there is currently no one established expert. That leads into our next tip.
Once you’ve decided on an area of expertise, your goal should be to take ownership of that particular product or topic area. You want to become the person whom everyone thinks of when they think about that topic. You want your name to be inextricably associated with SEO or Digital Marketing or whatever you’ve chosen as your specialty area.
If you don’t like being locked into such a narrow area, don’t worry. Remember that this is advice for becoming recognized in the field. After you’ve accomplished that, you can branch out to other technologies. For years, I was known as “Mr. Globaltech” (My company name), some called me “The Internet” (My book)
No matter how ambitious your ultimate goal is, you’re more likely to attain it if you’re willing to start small and get there in increments. Begin by becoming well known and respected in one particular venue — such as on a particular Web forum or within a local IT user group. Hone your leadership skills and become a big fish in these small ponds, and that will lead to opportunities to swim in much bigger waters.
When I started my IT consulting business back in 2007, I began building relationships with local businesses. But at the same time, I became extremely active on a few of the biggest IT newsgroups and mailing lists (such as Nairaland, Naijapals etc). I posted frequently to those groups and attempted to answer as many of the other group members’ questions as we could. Sometimes that meant extensive research, but it quickly got me recognized as “a helper” — person who had some knowledge about IT and was willing to share it to help others.
Take on writing assignments
Not everyone has the time, interest, and stamina to write a book. It’s a lot of hard work. Sometimes it pays off handsomely but other times the earnings, given the hours you put in, don’t even add up to minimum wage. An easier way to make money writing about IT is to produce 500- to 2,500-word articles for IT webzines. Leverage the reputation you’ve built on forums and the relationships you’ve formed there to catch the attention of editors. Pitch a query, and when you get your first assignment, put your all into the article. In the beginning, don’t worry too much about the compensation — even consider doing a freebie or two to prove yourself and show the editor that you reliably produce accurate, well-written, on-time contributions. (Don’t continue to write for free, though, if you really want to be considered an expert. People intuitively know you usually get what you pay for, and those who are good at what they do rarely give it away without some special reason.)
Watch out for the Part II on how to become an IT Superstar.