Some professionals, like pilots, tend to do things the same way. And that's a good thing – there isn't much wiggle room on FAA regulations or landing a plane.
But the tech field is a bit more like the Wild West. Sure, some IT folks just want to quietly code, but a lot more choose a career in tech because they'd rather break rules than strictly follow them.
We talked to some tech business owners and execs to learn how not following these four rules helped their careers.
Rule #1: Get Certified
If you scan an IT job candidate's resume, it's often filled with certifications:
- Cisco Certified Network Associate
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer
- Citrix Certified Integration Architect
- Oracle Certified Master
While it's important to sharpen your technical skills, don't become too fixated on racking up certifications like you're going for the high score on Ms. Pac-Man at your neighborhood barcade.
Break the rule: Opt for real-world experience, suggests
Jeanine Banks (@femtechie),
EVP of global products and solutions at
"Back in my early days, one of the big focuses for anybody who wanted to be in tech or associated with computers was to acquire certifications," says Banks. "You really had to do those if you were going to get ahead. And frankly, I felt like once you get the certifications – then what? You have to keep renewing them and doing it, and I thought, 'I'm already in college, I have my bachelor's – it just seems like the wrong way to go.' So for me, I just decided that I wanted more hands-on, real-world experience."
The takeaway: Certifications can certainly show a potential customer or employer that you have the necessary expertise for a particular job, but in many cases, IT work experience can also show you've got the chops.
Rule #2: Go to School
While there are some amazing colleges and boot camps that can prepare you for a career in IT – several of which we spotlight in "5 of the Best Colleges for Future IT Business Owners" and "How to Launch a Second Career in IT in 3 Months" – you don't necessarily need to enroll in order to work in tech.
Break the rule:
Saad Malik, a
senior digital marketing manager,
chose to dive into an IT career without a diploma, believing that he could land jobs by proving he had the knowledge and experience.
"The fact that I was able to invest years of time, effort, and money into real-life experience that would have gone into education is proving to be a big differentiating factor for me," says Malik. "While there are some major brands who will not hire a person without a degree, most companies see that I have hands-on experience and actually have given precedence to my application, as opposed to someone with a college degree and half the experience that I have."
The takeaway: A coding boot camp or college degree is typically a reliable path to prepare for a career in IT, but it's not the only one. If you don't have the budget for school, sometimes you can still get your foot in the door by simply demonstrating you have the technical expertise and know-how to get the job done.
Rule #3: Give Customers What They Want
It's easy to give customers what they ask for. But sometimes it can pay to offer them a solution to a problem they didn't realize they had.
Break the rule: Give customers what they need, not necessarily what they want.
Rob Boirun (@RobBoirun),
CEO of digital marketing agency
(@PopNetMedia), saw a need for SEO services, but realized that many potential customers felt frustrated by a practice they didn't fully understand or even trust.
"Most companies I talked to knew that they needed SEO but didn’t really understand it, and most were turned off because of the spammy practices that were being sold to them," says Boirun. "If I followed the rules, I would have just offered 'SEO services,' which would have just led to more customer confusion and frustration. So by instead offering training courses and down-to-earth talks about SEO, it really helped these businesses understand what they needed and made this a viable business for me to have."
The takeaway: It might seem counterintuitive to not provide the service that customers say they want, but you're the expert. Your customers are looking to you to help them solve their technical problems – including the ones they don't know about.
Rule #4: Follow Established Processes
Okay, so be careful with this one. Obviously, not following orders point blank is a quick way to get fired in a lot of cases. But there are some exceptions.
Break the rule: If you can prove you have a good reason for not playing by the rules, it may potentially help your career. This turned out to be the case for
Vikas Bhatia (@vikasbhatiauk),
founder and CEO of
"A long time ago, I was working in a security team and needed to be on call, and one of the requirements was that you needed to stay at home," says Bhatia. "One particular day, I was supposed to be on call and was actually spotted outside of my home by someone in my company. A few days later, I got pulled into a meeting with HR and they deemed it gross misconduct."
Bhatia admits he thought that his misstep might cost him his job, but was able to turn the situation around by alerting management to some flaws in their system.
"I said, 'Well there's actually a problem with your process, which doesn't actually state or specify that I need to be at home,'" says Bhatia. "I was asked to identify where that was and I ran my management and HR through the documented process and circled the deficient area. I was not fired, but actually was tasked with the project to redevelop the complete response process. So it gave me exposure into areas of business process, clients, and regulation that I wouldn't otherwise been exposed to had I not almost been fired."
The takeaway: Violating company process or ignoring your job duties can be a risky move. But if you can prove you had a good reason or expose a flaw in the system for which you have a solution, it can sometimes pay off with valuable insight into the larger business.
Breaking the rules can definitely help get you ahead as a small IT business owner, but it also exposes you to increased risk. Learn how to manage the risks your business faces in our eBooks 3 Common Habits That Bite into Startup Profits and Risk & Project Management eBook for IT Professionals.
About the Contributors
As executive vice president, global products and solutions, Jeanine Banks is leading Axway’s innovation, growth, and marketing strategy. She is responsible for determining the development and go-to-market of Axway’s products and solutions and is overseeing Axway’s digital transformation. With over 17 years of IT industry experience, Jeanine has held product management, marketing, sales, and general management positions within technology startups and major international companies alike, including CA Technologies, Sterling Commerce / IBM, and Canon.
Vikas Bhatia is the founder and CEO of Kalki Consulting. Headquartered in Manhattan with offices in California and London, Kalki provides SecurITy ™ to small- and medium-sized businesses in a range of different industry sectors, including financial services, healthcare, education, and manufacturing. Vikas has more than 18 years of enterprise information technology experience, with more than 16 years dedicated to information security operations, auditing, compliance, and consulting engagements.
Rob Boirun is CEO of PopNet Media, an online marketing firm located in Huntsville, Alabama, offering SEO and other online marketing services to local and national clients. He also founded the Reviewster Network, which is a review and comparison site helping consumers with their research for popular products and services.
Saad Malik is a senior digital marketing manager at a vacation rental management company after moving from a senior project manager role at an Inc. 5000 online marketing firm.