20 ways to kill your IT career (without knowing it)

Paul Heltzel


Planning your IT career in a shifting tech landscape can be difficult, especially when your big plans can be wiped like a hard drive. Learning new tech skills and networking are obvious ways to solidify your career. But what about accidental ways that could put your career in a slide? Hidden hazards — silent career killers? Some tech pitfalls may not be obvious.

To tease out notable ways people end up hurting their prospects, we talked to a number of IT pros, recruiters, and developers about how to build a bulletproof career and avoid lesser-known pitfalls. Read on to see how to navigate them.  


Jumping ship

There’s nothing like a truly horrific work situation to bring your career path into focus. The question is whether you’d improve your career by changing jobs — or just hitting the eject button.

“How you deal with unfairness and lack of appreciation will shape your tenacity to keep moving forward,” says Box CIO Paul Chapman. “It’s easy to dismiss and/or presume the glass is half empty. And all too often I catch people looking to leave a company because they are running away rather than running toward something — anyone can run away.”

When your job is at its worse, step back, evaluate what happened — and game out what to do next time, Chapman says. “You should learn more from the negative experiences than the positive ones.”


Folding under pressure

According to Arti Venkatesh, senior director of new product management at Sungard AS, showing mental toughness is key — hitting the panic button too quickly can be an IT career red flag. “It’s an easy way to get fired,” Venkatesh says. “As soon as you show a hint of emotional instability, people will question whether you’re trustworthy and capable of keeping it together when it counts.”


Burning bridges

Building lasting relationships with the people around you is key to developing a successful IT career, says Venkatesh, who warns against the short-term satisfaction of telling your coworkers off: “Dropping an atomic bomb on any professional relationship is a major mistake that can end up hurting your relationship with colleagues and potentially ruin future career opportunities.”


Missing opportunities

Steve Cooper, co-founder of Excella Consulting, frequently sees what he calls “too much rudder and not enough sail” —  in other words failing to make a change when a good opening shows up.

He tells the story of a new hire who complained about nearly immediately being handed three junior employees to manage. The newly forged manager — a recent grad — worried he wouldn’t have time to develop his tech skills.

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