In the tech world, there are three career paths to choose: either remain as a techie, move up to management, or move out as an entrepeneur. Unless you are already wealthy to begin with, remaining as a techie may not get you the big bucks. Even moving abroad may not guarantee your livelihood. Low-cost labor is one of the reasons why foreign companies are outsourcing their business processes to the India and Philippines. So companies in Singapore and in the U.S. are shutting down (or at least trimming down) their tech deparments and call centers and transferring them to these low-cost (or as I would rather say, high-value) centers. So even if you are considering working abroad, think twice””you may just end up back home jobless.
The IT industry is not as sexy or high-paying as some people think it is. True, there are billionaires like Bill Gates or charismatic CEOs such as Steve Jobs, but they represent the very apex of a large pyramid. These people created a new technology, had the vision and the tenacity to market it, but unfortunately the only thing that Filipinos may have made their mark in the tech world is the “œI LOVE YOU” virus.
To all those tech programmers out there who envision themselves as the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, this may be a tough pill to swallow: anyone can learn tech skills. IT certifications will only get you an interview or, at best, through the front door. But to those who want to survive, you need more than tech skills.
In my opinion, the following are the “soft-skills” that are essential in managing your career:
- Communication. The one skill that differentiates an ordinary programmer or engineer is the capability to communicate technical matters to a layman. What good is your brillant idea if you are unable to communicate it to your boss, to your users, or to your customers? Remember that most executives are no longer in touch with the technical nitty-gritties. The classic elevator scenario (i.e. you should be able to communicate your ideas in 15 seconds, which is how long you have if you are lucky enough to have the CEO in the elevator) is a skill everyone must learn.
- Teamwork. Businesses need fast delivery. So if you work alone and you are arrogant enough to think that only you can deliver the goods, then you will slow everyone down. Work with the team, and trust that your colleagues know what they are doing.
- Leadership. Leadership is the capability to motivate others to achieve your desired goal. It is a skill that a lot of techies have a difficulty to master, mainly because people are not as predicatable as computers. With a computer, if you say “œprint,” it will print. And it will tell you that it did. And if it didn’t, it will at least give you a message that it didn’t. People are different””they won’t do the work (but they will say they did), they won’t understand what you want, and if they succeeded, they will not update you.
- Organization. Some programmers or engineers consider themselves as “œartists.” In some ways, this is true””artists create do something from nothing based on their vision. But unless you are the owner of your own company, the “œvision” of your program is the vision of your boss. So forget about being the rebellious rogue programmer who locks himself in a room and who magically appears with the ultimate code. In the corporate world, it doesn’t work like that. You have to meet deadlines, abide by coding standards, write the documentation, subject your work to QA reviews. You have to code in such a way that the next programmer will be able to maintain it.
The last point is extremely important. This may sound like a paradox but assuming you have all the above-mentioned soft skills, you have to work in such a way that you become DISPENSABLE. A lot of us get tied down to our work. If you work in such a way that only you and nobody else can understand your work (poor documentation, poor coding, no teamwork), then you will stay rooted where you are and you will never move up the ladder.