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New Year. New You. An IT Professional's Guide to Goal Setting and Taking Control of Your Career

Dec. 22, 2017
Zane Schweer

IT guide to setting goals and planning career pathIt happens every year. We enjoy Thanksgiving as best we can before Christmas bulldozes its way into our lives. We’re spending money left and right on gifts, eating way too many savory treats and, oh yea, wrapping up the year at work while dying a little bit on the inside as we count how many paid time off days we’re losing this year. Then we’re straight into New Year’s with some last-minute, traditional resolutions about eating better, losing weight and improving fitness by following some plan that has “Hack” in the title. And, BLAM, you’re in 2018. Only to start it all over again. *facepalm* Are we in a hamster wheel?

But, this year is going to be different. If you’re looking for serious change, focus on your IT career. How much can you really learn from a five-point “Hack” list that speaks to everyone and thus speaks to no one? Not much. Too many articles rattle off a quick hit list. After reading this goal-setting guide you’ll be able to develop a game plan to bring successful change in your professional life.

Let’s jump in.

Why do you want to set goals and take control of your IT career?

You’ll find it easier to self-reflect first. Write down your answers to questions like these:

  • What do I want to achieve? Why?

  • What does success look like and how am I measuring it?

  • What obstacles and distractions do I expect to encounter?

(Click here to download a 2018 goal planning template.)

Don’t build goals on sand

It’s important to understand the two types of motivation that drive us: intrinsic and extrinsic. Otherwise, you’re building your goals on an unstable foundation by not identifying your underlying motivation.

  • “Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior arises from within the individual because it is naturally satisfying to you.” (Source: Intrinsic Motivation)

  • “Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, fame, grades, and praise. This type of motivation arises from outside the individual, as opposed to intrinsic motivation, which originates inside of the individual.” (Source: Extrinsic Motivation)

By knowing what’s motivating you, you’ll be able to keep stoking its fire. More importantly, when you hit potential roadblocks (heads up: you will) you’ll be able to remind yourself why you’re doing this.

Learn more about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and how to identify if you rely too much on extrinsic motivation. As well as how to develop more intrinsic motivation.

Now that we have a basic understanding about how we motivate ourselves, let’s talk mindsets—there’s three.

You’re either happy where you are, in maintenance mode, or trying to continuously improve

“I’m happy where I am.”

If you’re happy where you are, be prepared to fall behind. Why dance around it? As the digital transformation continues to eliminate and redefine jobs, people are required to learn new skills. You could be out of a job sooner than you’d like. It might not be this year, but you’ll be displaced or limited in your career opportunities.

“I’m focused on maintaining where I am.”

Reading blogs, attending webinars and free courses will keep your mind fresh and provide you with cursory insights into future changes. Maintenance mode people don’t plan to be caught completely off-guard by change.

“I’m trying to continually improve.”

You do everything that one does in maintenance mode and then some. Take training classes and courses. Join a committee at work to expose you to new perspectives and processes. Find something in an area where you want to lead the charge for within your organization.

Taking on these new opportunities requires changing behaviors and reprioritizing your daily routine takes work. It takes dedication and it’s challenging.

Watch out for these goal setting “gotchas” that cause people to fail

Understand this is a marathon, not a sprint

It’s easy to think success happens easily and all the time. Our social media feeds have us thinking that “real life” is all selfies and perfect lives with new jobs, new homes and cars, artisanal coffee, parties, travel and deep inspirational quotes (which have a habit of being misquoted).

The reality is that that selfie took 50 takes. That promotion? Your friend has been working his/her butt off. That house? They could be in debt up to their eyeballs. Even latte art design seems so easy. It isn’t.

We’ve lost sight of the behind-the-scenes blood, sweat and tears of hard work. Instant gratification is expected. There will be quick wins along the way and they should be celebrated, but the big picture successes you’re aiming for take time. People come up with new terms (*cough* "hack" *cough*) in efforts to somehow hide what goes into bringing change: work. Work is not a dirty term.

Life doesn’t always go as planned

IT success takes hard work Achieving your goals isn't linear. If you expect setbacks and roadblocks, you'll be able to overcome them.


This "What Success Really Looks Like" drawing keeps things in perspective. You don’t always see the work that goes into people's “overnight successes.” You can have the greatest plan in the world, but life doesn’t care. There are many factors outside of your control.

Learn to say “no”

This is tough. Especially if you like helping people, being the “go-to” resource for your peers, or jumping on that new committee. Time is finite. You need to prioritize. It’s okay to say “no.” Say it nicely and share with them why. “I’ve set goals for myself this year and I need to stay laser focused.”

Harvard Business Review had an article about “How to Say No to Things You Want to Do,” that helps put things in perspective. It’s easy to say “no” to things you don’t want to do. It’s the things you want to say “yes” to that are hard.

Build a support system

Don’t do this alone. It’s easy when times are good, but when you’re struggling or frustrated, that inner fire might need some extra stoking. Having someone to vent to and remind you why you’re doing this is critical. Get some tips from Addicted2Success’ “5 Ways an Accountability Partner Can Help You Reach Your Goals.”

Let’s talk about your IT career

A CIO article titled “Digital transformation:  Your career at a crossroads,” talks about how IT leaders are needing new skills while balancing other priorities. This applies to everyone. You need to have a plan because technology is changing so fast. Computerworld highlights 8 tech areas to future-proof your IT career.

You need to reflect on where you are and where you want to go.

Assess yourself

Self reflection

  • What skills do you want to learn or reinforce?

  • Where do you feel you’re weak?

  • What questions do you ask a lot? Is there a common theme?

  • What interests and excites you?

  • Are you vying for a senior position? You’ll need advanced-level skills.

  • Striving to make the leap into management? You’ll need enhanced soft skills.

  • Working towards upper management? You’ll need business acumen training.


If you don’t like where you presently are, realize this, you’re already making a positive change by acknowledging it.

External analysis

  • Questions to ask:

    • Where is technology going?

    • What topics/areas matter?

    • What certifications are must-haves?

    • What certifications will get you paid?

  • Resources like our in-depth IT Skills and Salary Report provide detailed reporting about the state of the industry. Find out how information like how your compensation compares to others.

  • Talk with your boss about career growth. It's a great opportunity to ask for guidance. They were once in your shoes.

Use learning paths and IT certification roadmaps as guidance

Check out the exclusive Global Knowledge learning paths. Our subject matter experts and learning architects develop these paths to introduce you to or guide you further into a topic. They help IT professionals by providing a roadmap to achieve technology mastery.

So, if you’re not sure what the next step is in areas like cloud, cybersecurity, AWS, Cisco and more, review our learning paths and certification roadmaps.


People don’t take training for the sake of it. They take training to learn, improve and close a gap, which results in them being better at their job. The average Global Knowledge student saves 143 hours annually performing job-related tasks, which represents a 6.9 percent productivity increase.

Track the new you

    • Write it down – You have to. Get a journal. You might think you have a great memory, but your memory isn’t as good as you think it is and writing it down allows you to come back and see where you’ve come from. Capture your insights. And it’s crucial when you might feel down.

the biggest lie i tell myself is that i don't need to write that down, I'll remember it To remember your wins along the way, write them down.

      • Check them off – Keep a sticky note wall, spreadsheet, anything to help you see progress.

      • Celebrate the wins – Privately and publicly. No matter how big or small. Progress is progress.

Prevent yourself from thinking you’re not improving

This is why writing down the wins is important. Each time we recall or tell a memory, we edit it. You’re essentially skewing the past and if you’re in a tough spot, you may be harder on yourself than you really should be. Reviewing your wins reminds you of the progress.

If you’re relying on extrinsic motivation be mindful that the promotions, bonuses, and even the “Hey, you’re work is improving” may not be immediate. Keep that fire. Further develop your intrinsic motivation.

Make a plan for 2018 and see your IT career blossom

Regardless of whether you’re intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, procrastination, apprehension and fear affect the quality of your success. Make a plan. Ignore the haters and take pride in knowing you’re bettering yourself. By becoming a continually improving person, your career and personal life will reap the rewards. And don’t forget the people that helped get you there. There will be setbacks, but overcome them—just do it.

What are your tips for success? Share them in the comment section below.