Editor's note: This article is part of The Water Cooler, a recurring column for technology executives to digest, discuss and debate. Next up: What business technology tools do you use at home? Email us here.
When is the right time to move on? It's a scary prospect and an inflection point in any leader's career.
It's a transition brought on by ambition or failure, stagnation or opportunity. Diving into the unknown, switching up a career takes guts.
It embodies the sunk cost fallacy. An individual may think it's best to continue in the current role because of the time, money or effort invested. But perhaps what's needed is a total reboot.
Navigating this decision calls for talks with mentors, soul searching and a curiosity to explore the "what if."
To help other technology leaders navigate a role change, CIO Dive asked IT executives how they know it's time to relaunch their careers.
(The comments below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Mike Waas, Founder and CEO at Datometry
"When the urge to take on more is bigger than what my current career can offer — then it's time to move."
Founder, CEO at Datometry
Like so often in life, it's basically about knowing oneself. We all have traits that determine where we are happiest and where we fit best: for some of us that place is at the beginning of a major project when the canvas is still empty and it's all about ideation.
For others it's when the dust has settled and it's about figuring out operationalizing and executing like clockwork. Some folks are fantastic supporters and others constantly need to lead.
Personally, I think about a career change whenever I've truly outgrown a current position. Usually this means I've accomplished what I originally set out to do. I've lived through setbacks, proven my tenacity and I've reached the finish line with my team. Depending on the situation, that can be after three years or maybe 10. When the urge to take on more is bigger than what my current career can offer — then it's time to move.
Krishna Tammana, CTO at Talend
"Keen observers can see things changing around them, extrapolate the implications and act in time to re-launch their career."
CTO at Talend
External factors play a role when there are profound changes in one's industry. Keen observers can see things changing around them, extrapolate the implications and act in time to re-launch their career.
In the current pandemic environment, we don't have the luxury of time, and the ability to see around the corners doesn't help. That's when we find ourselves in a reactive mode, resulting in the need to relaunch your career and do it as fast as possible.
Internal factors for a career change can be role stagnation, sensing a new opportunity, or just feeling ready for that next challenge. Being mindful of your work environment and self-aware helps this process along.
You need to objectively step away from the day-to-day grind and take a bird's eye view at least every six months to assess the situation. It takes discipline but can be enormously helpful. When one of those factors appears, you must pull the trigger and re-launch.
Art Hu, SVP and CIO at Lenovo
"If you are excited about your growth, energy level and direction, then lean-in and keep going."
SVP, CIO at Lenovo
"Relaunching your career" can take a lot of different forms: an internal role change, a position at a new company, or even a shift to a new career field.
In my experience, it's a good idea to regularly check in with yourself and ask a few questions:
Looking over the past six months or year, have I continued to learn and grow? Are there opportunities that I've been seeking but not getting? And would a change in my current career path provide those new opportunities?
Is my job a source of energy or a drain? If it's the latter, how would you describe your interactions with your colleagues? You may want to get feedback from them as well, to see how you've been showing up.
Finally, how do I feel about the company I work for? Maybe your interests have shifted or you're not as passionate about the company vision as you once were.
If you are excited about your growth, energy level and direction, then lean-in and keep going. If the answers to the above questions are leading you to question whether a re-launch could be in order, the next step is to think about what steps you could take to change your trajectory. For example:
Could you reallocate your own time into key areas?
How could you engage with colleagues to reset or alter relationship dynamics?
What could you do to influence the company culture in a way that better aligns with your vision?
Regardless of where you land, working through these questions can help you better appreciate what you are doing and why, and renew your energy to pursue your aspirations.
Gladys Kong, CEO at Near Americas
"When everything I do seems so comfortable and familiar to me, I know it's time to expand my horizon, learn some new skills and find new areas of growth in my career. "
CEO at Near Americas
When everything I do seems so comfortable and familiar to me, I know it's time to expand my horizon, learn some new skills and find new areas of growth in my career.
For me, I spent the majority of my career leading engineering teams to build software products. I love bringing people together to work through technical challenges to build great products.
I have worked in startups where we built very innovative products, but the companies ended up not having the exit I dreamed of. So, I felt something is missing in my career and I want to learn how to build a successful business, not just a good product. That's when I started branching out from tech to learn about marketing and sales and eventually became CEO.
Stephanie Wilson, COO at NetImpact Strategies
"While many think of relaunching your careers as a drastic change, it doesn't always need to be — you should be revisiting your career wants and needs often and maintaining those regularly. "
COO at NetImpact Strategies
For those who have been continuously working, you know it's time to relaunch your careers when you sense stagnation. You spend about 30% of your life working (and for many Americans, it's way over that) and some of us are fortunate enough to build a career during that time. And as we go through the daily grind, sometimes we forget the keyword in that is "build."
Your career should be a progression towards your goals and your investments in your career should be investments that also translate to your personal development. This means that when your career is stagnant — you'll find the same lack of inspiration carries over to other aspects of your life and it manifests as demotivation.
While many think of relaunching your careers as a drastic change, it doesn't always need to be — you should be revisiting your career wants and needs often and maintaining those regularly.
Set goals for what you want and revisit those goals annually. Your goals will fluctuate with your life, your value system, and market trends and understanding and accepting its fluidity will allow room for professional and personal growth while keeping you honest about whether your career — or maybe where you're working — aligns with it all. Revisiting them is also important as a part of celebrating your accomplishments and who you are as a professional and an individual.
Matt Mead, CTO at SPR
"Ask yourself probing questions about the effort you are expending to manage your career vs. the joy and value you are extracting."
CTO at SPR
While I feel strongly that an employer should be proactively helping all employees with their career development, truth be told, it is really the employee that owns their own career.
I like to ask myself annually the following questions:
- Do I feel like I am still learning? There is that old saying, "When you stop growing you start dying," it is important to keep learning. By learning, you stay relevant and challenged. And especially in the technology industry, if you are not learning, you are definitely falling behind.
- Do I enjoy what I’m doing during my workday? Especially for people in the technical industry, where there is a surplus of jobs and a shortage of skilled technology professionals, if you are not enjoying what you are doing, make a change! The change may be as simple as talking to your supervisor about the work you are doing. Although, I believe that most times, lots of positive change is something that is within your control.
- Do I feel valued by my colleagues, employer and clients? As humans, we need to feel valued to thrive. If you don’t feel valued, explore why that might be the case. Are there things you can do such as learning new skills, changing how you do your work to extract more joy or have a better attitude? I recommend exploring this deeply before making any moves.