Leveling Up in IT

What is the difference between a junior and senior position? One pat answer is $20,000. If you are going into IT, a huge question is probably ‘how do I get to the top of my field?’ Well, IT has a few unique characteristics that make it a place where advancement happens quickly. For example, most IT staff do not spend more than five or six years before becoming a senior-level staff person (at least if they remain in the same field), and the average is probably closer to three years. This is also further verified by Glassdoor.com, Dice, and Monster, as well as Payscale and other career planning websites. It must be duly noted that IT has a rapid progression, as the demand for skilled staff is greater than the supply, and probably will remain so. Companies are often desperate to find and retain technical staff, and job titles such as ‘Senior Software Engineer‘ help to soothe the ego…

Junior IT staff typically have no experience in the field, or perhaps one year at most. They are considered just above interns in capacity, and typically require a fair amount of hand-holding, especially during the initial phases of the career. Straight out of college, junior staff usually have just graduated. Sometimes junior personnel don’t have formal training from college, but come in due to knowing how to do the task at hand (i.e. programming, database design, mobile app development, etc.) When it comes to IT, think of the Wild West, not the Federal Government – things happen quickly, change is a given, and skill often counts more than a degree.

‘Regular’ IT staff (noted by the lack of a junior or senior designation), are still in the trenches, and rank in there with the average IT person. They usually have been working in the field for at least one year, but less than five. Promotion to a senior position usually occurs within three or four years, especially since there is an entire career field (the IT recruiter) that specializes in recruiting skilled staff for competitive organizations. If you don’t give your staff the promotion they deserve, someone else will – it is almost a given. Hence, the rapid rise.

As a note, I come from a library background. This is a typical government position in that people will work for years before being promoted to an actual librarian, even if they have the graduate education required. The IT field is absolutely the opposite of this. Take note, future librarians.

Senior staff typically have over three years of experience, and often over five. They are next in line to become project managers, program directors, or department heads. Often, it is an especially savvy senior IT person whom gets put in charge of those do-or-die projects. Someone can technically remain a senior staff person for many years, but promotions still occur, and fairly regularly. This is an important point, and cannot be overlooked: Senior staff almost always have a college degree, and often going past the senior staff level requires at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a graduate degree. This is the point at which education starts to really pay off – not a couple of years out, but a decade from the start of your career.

For career changers, there can be a few roadblocks – many IT companies prefer to hire young. Don’t let ageism get the best of you, because it does happen. There are companies that are renown for hiring at 22 and laying off at 40 – but even if you are 55, there are still career options out there. Retaining the capacity for self-learning and internal motivation are critical for achieving the upper levels of the IT career path – I have never met a successful senior- or executive-level IT person whom was mentally stagnate or lazy. Be prepared to bring your mental focus to the forefront of your work, every day.

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