A common complaint I hear from software developers is that software has “no career path”.
There is a few things wrong with that statement, but one big issue is how silly job titles have become. Personal growth has been thrown out in search of iterating job titles. You job title does not define you, it identifies you. Your job responsibilities define you at work. The common fallacy though is that people think of the job they go to work to everyday is the same thing as their career, and it is not.
A kid in high school who has no college prospects decides he doesn’t want to be a fry cook anymore. He works hard to stand out and also makes sure his boss knows he is interested in management. Kid has no idea what it takes to become a manager but he solicits and listens to advice and then acts on it. He may not do things exactly like he was told but he does at least show the right initiative and makes changes in his work habits that make him management material. Maybe he even makes assistant manager before he graduates. After high school he continues to work hard in his “dead end job” and one day the general manager position is open and he jumps on it. The owner would rather promote the hard working 20 something than bring in a complete outsider. The kid continues to work hard and he can either find out how the restaurant works and maybe go through the process of opening his own franchise or moves on to a regional manager, district manager, whatever McDonald’s corporate has when general managers are ready to promote out of a franchise. I assume McDonald’s would want to hire people from the fast food industry with their existing experience. The point is, a fry cook at McDonald’s can have a career path. Does that mean every fry cook will become a regional manager? Obviously not, and that is why you have to manage your career path.
Your job pays the bills but it also is your marker of your career. Where you can go is directly related to where you are at. You can have a job without a career but you can’t have a career without a job.
Your career is essentially your professional goals. A plan of how you will get from where you are now to where you want to go. I would submit that anyone who says their job has no career path is actually someone who has no plan.
Your career is also like a muscle. If you don’t work on it then over time your career with atrophy. Too many people allow themselves to stagnate because they are comfortable and they feel like they earn enough. You don’t have to move on to management necessarily, but you should be forever working as a voice of authority on your team. Being the veteran and commanding respect means not only knowing the job well but being one of the first to embrace new changes and challenges. You see, having a career is not about becoming a manager in [X] years, a director in [X] years, and then a vice president in [X] years. If you really like being an accountant but have no aspirations, you should still manage your career. Why? The workplace is a competition, that’s why. Every company goes through good times and bad. If you are the super duper expert of all things accounting for your group, guess who will be the last one picked for layoffs?