The 3 pillars of a successful tech leadership career: Experience, curiosity and creativity

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There is tremendous value in learning how to code, but it’s not the be-all and end-all to a career in tech. In fact, it can be career-limiting when young talent’s coveted coding skills inadvertently box out opportunities to explore their full potential, especially as leaders.

But early on in our careers, we aren’t necessarily aware of that.

Therefore, the onus is on firms to better define the skills needed for tech professionals to advance into roles such as chief information officer, chief technology officer and even broader operations or strategy roles — not place them in the wheelhouse of “programmer” only.

Forrester’s research shows that only 41% of women and 54% of men currently agree that their respective companies provide effective training to become a leader or manager.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Several key elements should be top of mind for those in tech seeking to advance their careers and build out their skill sets. Topping the list are gaining as many diverse experiences as possible and embracing creativity.

It’s important to realize that both elements are interrelated: One’s breadth of experiences also helps develop and hone one’s creative skills. Creativity also helps iterate and fuel experimentation. However, tech leaders need to do more to encourage their team members to hone both elements, so they can advance into more leadership roles.

Gain as many diverse experiences as possible

Let’s discuss the value of gaining diverse experiences first. When I began working in tech, I chose consulting and purposely went with a smaller firm because I knew I would very quickly be thrown into the deep end. When this type of situation occurs, it’s a positive thing: You ultimately take the lead on many projects while being exposed to multiple companies, industries and perspectives.

By weaving in different perspectives and inputs that come from as many experiences and people as possible, you learn to solve problems in innovative and creative ways. To make the most of those experiences, you must have a curious nature, always asking “why?” or “how?” or “what if?” And for tech professionals, instead of thinking from a mindset of “What should the technology stack be?” shift course and approach situations from a business-solving perspective.

Embrace creativity wherever possible

I can’t underscore the significance of creativity in business enough, especially in technology. According to Forrester, leading firms will encourage their employees to be creative in order to deliver better customer experiences and outcomes. This will result in greater competitive advantage and productivity for firms. In embracing creativity, you also open up stronger potential to advance in your tech career, setting you apart from traditional, engineering-minded peers.

While there are many ways to hone creativity, I have found these four qualities to be extremely helpful in developing creative skills:

Look for ways to adapt

Technology is always changing. Use that innovation to ignite your own ability to adapt. Avoid the temptation to pick one area of tech to focus on. Mastery is fleeting in tech. Instead, change with technology.

Per Forrester, tech leaders who meet future customer and employee needs by being adaptive, creative and resilient outperform their peers. In being “future fit,” these executives have a unique opportunity to be the leader to drive their company’s growth and prosperity by developing the right tech strategy that delivers for their customers.

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Take smart risks

When I graduated from college, my goal was to be ingrained in a firm where I could be given projects I either couldn’t anticipate or wasn’t ready to tackle head on. I quickly found that taking a smart risk like this was proving vital to my career path.

Being unafraid of risk is key because you can then push yourself further to try new things or explore new areas of technology. But, having an interest is just one part of the equation; take it a step further by applying technologies in new and unique ways.

Be a problem-solver

Problem-solving is core to why most people choose to pursue careers in technology. Unfortunately, over time, many who work in technology fall into a rut of routinely identifying problems and risks, which is much easier to do than identifying solutions.

One easy trick: For every risk or problem you identify, challenge yourself to come up with more than one creative solution. That personal challenge alone will not only help you but also has a tendency to take root in your colleagues and company culture.

Embrace continuous innovation

If you work in tech but don’t want to learn about its newest innovations, you can still likely have a career in this field. Unfortunately, you won’t be exposed to new challenges or know how tech companies grow or achieve new avenues for change.

It’s important to stay curious. Keep asking questions and absorbing other people’s perspectives. This will help you better understand what’s new about technology, so you can foresee use cases where that tech can improve businesses and lives.

Experience, curiosity and creativity are critical components to advance into leadership positions. To anyone seeking to advance in tech, my advice is simply to unlock and harness the power of these three pillars.

To access further Forrester insights for technology executives, visit here.

Learn more about how tech leaders can shape their organizations’ future growth at Forrester’s Technology & Innovation North America Forum, taking place September 29–30, 2022.

Sharyn Leaver, chief research officer at Forrester
Sharyn Leaver, chief research officer at Forrester

Sharyn Leaver leads Forrester’s research organization, overseeing the analyst, executive partner and analytics teams responsible for creating Forrester’s research, frameworks and tools that help executives and functional leaders — across technology, marketing, customer experience (CX), sales and product management — plan ​and pursue customer-obsessed growth. 

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