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How To Become a Highly Paid IT Professional (And Be Rich)

Estimated reading time: 10 mins

Most of us want to be rich. At least rich enough so that we can make our own choices of who we work with, when we work and how we work. How about you?

Despite what many marketers would like us to believe, there isn’t a magic bullet to become rich overnight, notwithstanding major inheritance or a lottery win. Building a career is like building a space rocket. But there are clear formulas for accelerating success in order to earn major salaries and become rich. These formulas are not tricks, secrets or an asset of an inner circle, which means I can share them with you with confidence that you can follow them too.

There are two ‘paths’ you can choose from in order to become a big-shot with a big wallet. These paths are somewhat mutually exclusive (i.e. you can’t do both at the same time) but they can be interchanged, at will, to become a blended success strategy. Both rely entirely on the generation of value to their organization, but each has its own different way of manifesting the value. Generating value = generating profit, hence why highly successful IT Professionals use one (or both of these paths) to create success and wealth.

In the eBook ‘The Ten Habits of Highly Successful Professionals ‘, I share with you tactics on effective value delivery. If you haven’t read this report yet, then I can send it to you immediately if you fill out the short form on the right of this page.

Although each path, as you will find out, has its distinctions, pros and cons, both paths have one thing in common though – they require an attitude for success:

Path One: The Rich Guru

In Information Technology (especially when starting out a career in the industry), we have the choice to become a guru in a particular technology or method. E.g. system performance, RATIONAL development, or ITIL.

A guru is a person who has developed their skills and wisdom in a technology to the point that they are a recognized expert, or guru, in its application. You probably know some, or have heard of them. These are the people who are dropped into a project for a specific purpose, enjoy all the air-time, and then disappear as quickly as they came. They become the SWAT team of problems or opportunities.

The career of a guru follows a fairly linear path of acquisition of knowledge and experience, bound together by a string of high-profile successes (and also failures). As their career progresses, they earn increasing amounts of trust in their employers or clients, and also credibility in their technology and the technology community. This is because the number of people with equivalent knowledge and experience to a would-be guru diminishes exponentially, as this illustration shows:

#Gurus available in market

The guru becomes as such when their name is recognized and associated with the technology, before anything else. The very name of these people is a brand that commands respect and generates equity for the guru. They’re quoted in the press, and sought for comment on the technology they master.

For example, Jim Gray was a renowned guru in MS SQL and scalable servers. Don Page is known to be the Godfather of ITIL, and certainly qualifies as a guru.

The wealth of a guru is a result of increasing salaries and incentives (such as bonus, stock-options, etc) to stay with their employer, or be exclusive to their client. This is for two main reasons: 1) because they deliver much more value to their employer than they extract, and 2) their employer doesn’t want the guru to be made available to their competition.

Other streams of income eventually come from becoming a speaker at industry events and writing books, or it can be as simple as writing a foreword in a technology book. The power of the guru’s brand makes marketers drool, and the guru can make serious cash from endorsements.

Pros:

• The guru has total control of their destiny
• There is much esteem associated with being a technology guru
• Future opportunities are in abundance (see below for a caveat!)
• Opportunities to generate wealth are numerous

Cons:

• The value of the guru to employers, clients and the social fabric diminishes as the value of their chosen technology diminishes to the same communities. I doubt a guru in PSTN dial-up will have the same value and future prospects now as he did 20 years ago.
• It’s high-risk: one piece of bad advice or failed project could spell disaster for credibility. It could be a major fall from grace.
• It’s an insular path. Becoming a guru is an inward-looking path that focuses on the contribution to the guru’s knowledge, experience and brand rather than on the contribution to other people (which is a secondary outcome).

Path Two: Serial Contributor

The serial contributor is someone who makes it their mission to contribute to the success of other people. Wait though, aren’t we talking about personal success and riches here? We sure are, and this is path is as valid as the first.

So what I am talking about? I am talking about the path of the entrepreneur . But I want to qualify something first. An entrepreneur isn’t just someone who operates independently outside of an employers terms. Entrepreneurs can be employees too. To make this distinction, the term intrapreneur was developed. But I’ll just use the term entrepreneur from this point, and an entrepreneur’s client can be external and internal to an organization.

Examples of great entrepreneurs working inside an organization are:

  • Spencer Silver & Art Fy who developed Post-It notes whilst at global company 3M.
  • Ken Kutaragi pioneered the Sony Playstation during his time at Sony’s sound labs, who then founded the Sony Computer Entertainment division.

An entrepreneur is a person who makes money by continually contributing to the success of other people and their organization. The entrepreneur takes their cut, but the majority of the value created is experienced by their client.

The difference between an entrepreneur and someone who is ‘just helpful’ is that an entrepreneur thinks big. In other words, they’re helpful to many people in many ways and make enough profit from each instance that they can make it big.

How do you make ‘profit’ inside an organization? Isn’t this the key to the success of this path? Sure it is, and I want to explain how profit is generated inside an organization; Profit isn’t immediate cash, except if you’re on a sales commission of course. What I mean is that real profit (cash) occurs through the generation of equity in the organization. Equity is a measure (often intangible) of goodwill, respect, achievement, influence, power and authority. The more you gain in these things, the more real profit can be extracted in the end (i.e. through bonuses, stock options, etc).

Back to the ‘contribution’. An entrepreneur makes it his or her job to help others to be successful, and does this by using their knowledge, resources, influence, contacts, and charisma . Entrepreneurs have lots of these things, but for most, it is charisma that starts it all off.

Charisma is the ability to influence people through charm. Have you noticed that some people can get things done just by asking for it, without any formal power to enforce? These people will probably have lots of charisma. It’s an intangible quality, but you know it when you see it. It is the essence of leadership and the basis of getting things done with people who feel good about it.

By using charisma and their other tools, entrepreneurs influence other people to take actions to help themselves and others. The role of the entrepreneur is to solve problems in order to contribute to a successful outcome, and the benefit is felt by the organization. In turn, trust, respect, influence and equity grows in the entrepreneur. It becomes a virtuous cycle.

The entrepreneur cashes in their equity at various point in their career by negotiating bonuses, options, as I mentioned above.

Pros:

• Very fulfilling and rewarding from a point of self-esteem
• Future opportunities are very diverse as entrepreneurialism is largely industry-independent
• Contacts and relationships can be exploited in the future
• Failure is very much part of entrepreneurialism, and therefore has less stigma attached to it

Cons:

• Because this is about people, success is not totally in control of the entrepreneur, and is dependent on culture, morale and the zeitgeist of the organization
• Susceptible to major organizational changes or mergers/acquisitions. Equity could disappear overnight if it isn’t spread across the organization to cope with organization restructure. E.g. a team leader will lose all her equity if it is just stored up in the relationship with her boss, and then her boss retires
• Success can be at the mercy of resource availability (I found this article which explains more: Creative Entrepreneurship in a Downturn )
• Unsteady work patterns
• Can be very stressful

I mentioned that you can interchange between paths at will. Nothing will stop you except for your own intuition and the goals you have set yourself. When and how you interchange them will be dependent on your own situation. It is perfectly viable to focus on a single path. Many people do this to great success and wealth. Most of us will choose different paths at different times.

Which do I think is the most successful path?

I tend towards entrepreneur, but in truth I use both paths at different times. I have learned how to make the best use of each path at the right time. For example, when developing my blog, I require both:

• Continue to research my subject and grow my knowledge about the industry and technologies (guru)
• Learn more about how technology is applied to business and its impact on people (guru)
• Write useful content that will solve the problems of my readers (guru)
• Apply my solutions to my readers problems (entrepreneur)
• Promote my blog to people who are experiencing these problems (entrepreneur)
• Connect with other bloggers who are addressing people with similar problems (entrepreneur)

Get the picture?

Whichever path you choose, having a path is what it is all about. You won’t get rich by focusing on yourself without building significant knowledge and experience you can apply in business. Nor will you become wealthy if you’re helpful but don’t make sure you earn equity in your organization. Choosing a path means you know how you will generate value, and more to the point, so do other people who will be your paymasters!

What about Recession?

In an economic downturn, you won’t see an abundance of bonuses and discretionary payment. (If you do, such as in the case of the banking industry, the press descend like vultures!)

However, this doesn’t mean that equity isn’t accrued. In fact the opposite is true. Value contribution to an organization is even more important during an economic crisis, and those people who generate the most value will eventually reap the rewards, albeit sometimes by a deferred payment. In many cases, promotion or other financial incentives are offered which can result in significant payback once the economy recovers.

How do I start my journey on a path?

Well, first I think you need to have an idea of what success means to you, and let this guide you in which path you choose at this moment. You might need to do some intense soul-searching and ponderation (I think I just made that word up) to come to a conclusion on the path you will choose. Remember, you don’t need to stay on one path forever, but you should only tread one path at a time.

Coming Soon…

I will be talking to some gurus and entrepreneurs about their experiences on their path, and also I will share some insider tips on how to move quickly along your path. Receive notification when I write about these subjects by subscribing to my RSS feed

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This post is part 1 of 11 in the series Careers in IT

About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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6 Comments

  1. Dave Crain

    Simon,

    Great article and lots to think about. For me, the most important point directly related to the subject, is toward the end where you talk about creating “value”.

    As you correctly state, value is different from profit or cash, but they certainly sleep in the same bed. The more value you can create, regardless of which path you walk, the more rewards will be made available to come your way.

    It’s interesting to see you put so much emphasis on charisma when speaking of the entrepreneurship route. I’ve always felt that passion is the number one quality for successful entrepreneurship. Of course, there is no “one” answer, but it got me thinking that maybe there are different critical qualities depending on the situation; charisma may be critical for intrapreneurship inside a company, whereas passion may be critical for traditional risk-taking entrepreneurship. Something to noodle on…

    Regardless, good post with lots to think about.

     
  2. simonstapleton

    @Dave – that’s an interesting view. Passion? Perhaps hard to define. Although no more or less than ‘charisma’. In both cases, you know it when you see it.

    You know, I figure that we have a slightly differing view on ‘passion’. By your comment, I think you see passion as an enabler to entrepreneurship – it is the cause of the effect, and you might just be right about that. I see passion as the effect where entrepreneurship is the cause.

    Perhaps we’re both right? Entrepreneurialism and Passion are cyclical and co-dependent – right? Whether they are cause or effect, who cares?

     
  3. Dave Crain

    When I talk about passion I think it’s more geared toward drive and perseverance. Being an entrepreneur is hard enough, and with all the disappointment, roadblocks, and outright failures you will encounter, if you are not passionate about what you are undertaking you will be sorely pressed to see it through.

    Agreed though that these are “squishy” traits.

     
  4. Asif Shah

    Dave I think we all need to be passionate about anything we do if it is a rocky road. Or else we wouldn’t have kids would we. Lol. If you are an entrpreneur and ploughing lots of your own time and energy into something then you must have passion or you will give up and it will all be a waste.
    Maybe there should be an entrepeneurs graduate school where this stuff is taught?

     
    • simonstapleton

      @Asif – in fact there was a module I completed during my MBA on entrepreneurialism. It can be taught, and indeed it is. Passion and energy are included within the module. I know you can take specific MBA modules (without committing to the full course) so maybe you could look into finding one at a business school in your local area?

       
  5. zymex

    I really appreciate your article on how 2bcome an IT Guru. I’ve been reading about and practising IT since i was young, but i’ve nt had any formal training yet. I’ll appreciate if U can give me professional advice abt taking IT as a career.

    2ndly, can IT professionals consult? And what’s the best way 2 go about it.

     

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