I had a discussion about career choices with a friend recently, and was fairly taken aback by one of his responses. We were discussing some additional responsibilities that had been added to his plate, and I wondered aloud whether the new duties were a direction that he wanted to go in, based on his desire to get into software coding.

"It seems like you really enjoy coding and you've really come a long way in being able to write complex SQL queries. Where do you want to go within the company?"

"Wherever Bob (his boss and the president) wants me to go"

What? That's ceding a great deal of sovereignty to a hopefully benevolent career despot.

I'm no narcissist but, brothers and sisters, you have to have a plan for yourself. You can't rely on the good judgment of your superiors to put you in a position that's going to be the best for you. You have to know where you want to go and how to get there. Even more than that, you have to communicate that to your boss(es).

When I was 18, I worked part time in a grocery store. I worked hard. Probably harder and smarter than anyone else in my department. I took great pride in my work and always did my best. When a full-time gig came up, I figured I was a shoe in, that they'd fairly quickly give me the job and that I'd have even more cash to waste on things that 18-year-olds waste money on. The thing is, I didn't tell anyone. I just assumed that my good work would stand for itself, and that they'd just bestow the job upon me. I was a little dejected when the job went to someone else who'd had the good sense and presence of mind to actually express interest in the job and communicate that it would be the next step in his long career within the company.

It's a lesson we all need to learn. You can't go through your life taking the default selections in the installation program that is your career (or your life, for that matter).You have to check out the advanced settings, telling your boss of your long term career goals. Don't know them? That's a problem, but not insurmountable. Forget long-term career goals in the five year plan paradigm. Keep shaving off a year until you're at least looking out six to 12 months, anything that makes the future a more real possibility. It's one thing to try to figure out what meal you'd like to eat in five years, but an easier thing to imagine what you'd like to have for lunch today. See? It's actionable.

Figure out what you really want out of your career and then get a plan together. I don't know who said it first, but it's brilliant: The difference between a dream and a goal is a plan. Once you know where you want to be, you can look at where you are, and then how you can get to your goal. To use the food analogy again, if you decide you want a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, then you can check to see if you have the ingredients. If you don't have cheese, then you need to go to the store and buy some. It's much the same with career planning. 

Where am I at now? 

Phone support for a SaaS tool.

Where do I want to be in the near future?

A SQL Server administrator.

And there you have it. Can you get to be an SQL Server admin in your current company? If so, then make a plan and talk to your boss about it. If not, make a plan and move to where that can become a reality

Don't leave this stuff to chance. Carpe diem, Dicers!

-- Chad Broadus

Chad Broadus is a writer and tech professional living in the Pacific Northwest.