I find it hard to believe that I can look back now and say that I have worked in the IT industry for close to 15 years. Where has the time gone? It is always fun for me to reminisce and think about the path I have taken and the opportunities I have been given along the way. The one common thing in all my reminiscing is the fact that I am where I am today only because of the people along the way that have supported me and helped me take that next step. They have helped me develop my business acumen, my strategic nature and in some cases even my thicker skin, although I am still working on that last one! One thing that I have learned through it all is that it’s all about that next step and being encouraged to take it. I hope that this article will help someone else take that next step, because I want to leave a legacy behind me like those that have left a legacy for me.
My journey started at a point in time when the economy wasn’t in the greatest of states and IT jobs were hard to come by. I had just finished college and had a degree in computer science and the only thing that I really knew for sure is that I didn’t want to write code every day. I loved writing code in school, but I just knew that wasn’t what was in store for me. I loved technology and I loved listening to problems and then creatively using technology to remove the problems. I loved interacting with people and I knew I wanted to be in a place that allowed me to work on a team. I simply started sending resumes everywhere I could think of. I wasn’t really sure about the exact job I wanted or what I should be looking for; I just knew to keep looking. I attended job fairs and went to workshops to help me finalize my resume. Eventually I narrowed down the locations that I wanted to work and simply started to apply at every major company in the area. I started at the top of the list and by the time I made it to the companies that started with the letter B, I was offered an internship. It wasn’t much, but I knew that if I could get my foot in the door, I could open another one!
As I expected, my first internship turned into my first job. I spent three years learning much about business, technology and office politics. I was blessed to be on a team where my direct management saw potential in me and went out of their way to help me build and develop new skills. I got my roots in a little application that was known as SharePoint 2001. Little did I know that learning to work with that application would change my life in so many different ways. As we started learning how we could best use the software internally, I was learning to gather requirements and speak with many different areas within the business. I was daily faced with business problems and I was able to use technology to solve them. I was able to work very closely with a team of people whose job was to focus on solving needs within an organization. Many of the people on my team had years of experience and working with them allowed me to gain an even greater foundation.
When the time came that I was no longer thriving and happy at the organization where I got started, I reached out to a few contacts that I had within the industry, seeking advice for what might be next. During this outreach, someone suggested the idea of working as a consultant. I had never once thought of taking a position like that, as I thought it was not something that I would be good at. After much encouragement, I started to reach out to some local companies where I was able to start that next phase of my career.
From the point I moved into consulting, I don’t think I have looked back once. I learned that I thrive delivering a message and that I truly love spending my time spread across a varying collection of companies within many different industries. I am constantly learning new skills and new technologies and I am thrilled that I get to share what I have learned with others.
As I look at where I am today, I know that I wouldn’t be here without the support and help from others within my life. I know that I have a legacy that I want to pass on to others. I have by no means arrived at my final destination, nor have I accomplished all of my goals, but I am walking the path and I want to leave some mile markers behind for all those coming after. With that in mind, I want to close out this article by leaving a few words of encouragement that have helped me along the way.
Members of Jennifer's community include Laura Rogers, SPMonkey and Mark Rackley, pictured here at SharePoint Conference 2011.
The first recommendation I offer is that a community of common interests is everything. Surrounding yourself with others on the same path is a huge part of enjoying the journey. While you can learn from those that have come before you, you can enjoy the journey with those walking beside you. This has proven true in so many areas of my life and in so many situations. By surrounding yourself with a community of people you are able to have a great support system to lean on when you need them. I am surrounded by a great group of folks that I can reach out to at any time to just ask for feedback or input and in turn I can do the same for them.
The second recommendation I offer is that when you find someone you respect or someone you admire that you should consider them a mentor in your life. Even without some type of official mentor relationship, you can learn a lot by simply observing others and engaging them in conversation. In many cases I have found that when I was willing to learn and I was forward in asking for advice or critique, that those I respected around me were more than willing to pour into me. I was able to see how they handled themselves in difficult situations as well as how they approached the everyday. I keep a running list of mentors and I am constantly studying them to learn how I can improve myself.
The final piece of advice I offer is the idea to always be giving back. No matter where you are in your career or where you are on the path you have chosen, you have something to give back and your voice is important to the community. If you are just starting a blog or joining a user group, you have influence on a circle of others. And that perspective is what helps us each make each other stronger. Community is the joining together of many of us at many different experience levels and with many different goals and backgrounds. We each have something valuable to add and we should each be looking for a way to share our voices. Community is something that I am very passionate about, and I hope that building community is something that you will also join me in doing.