Tim Mitchell (b | t) asked me an interesting question: “What should you do if your employer won’t support your career development?” It’s a question I had to answer early in my career, and I am going to share my challenges and solutions.
My first IT jobs were help desk. After taking classes at FVTC, I got to help the DBA write reports. I was very interested in SQL Server and database development, but I knew I didn’t know much. I wanted to attend a training class or a conference. In 2010, I had the opportunity to attend SQLSaturday #31, Chicago. My company paid for two nights of hotel and mileage. Later in the year, I asked to attend PASS Summit. I was told I wasn’t allowed to attend because I’d already used my training for the year, and there was no budget for it. I was livid, because I’d attended on a non-work day, and I hadn’t been told it would be my only training option for the year. I decided that would never happen again – I was taking charge of my career and professional development.
I’ve come to understand that training and development have two pieces: time, and money. There are ways to work around both of these constraints. If your company won’t send you to a conference, send you to a week of training, pay for an exam book, or provide leadership training, here is what you can do to better yourself.
Make time for learning, and put a priority on it. There are many things in life that can consume our time. We have families. We have to work to support ourselves and them. We have hobbies. You need to prioritize your time. I used to wake up early and spend 30 minutes reading from one of my SQL books while I drink my morning coffee. You could read at lunch time, or in the evening before bed.
This isn’t limited to reading, either. Perhaps you have the PASS Summit or 24 Hours of PASS recordings, or a list of PluralSight videos to watch. Block off time to watch them on your calendar each week, and honor that time. The same can be done for Microsoft Virtual Academy or CBTNugget courses, or even working through one of the Microsoft exam training kits.
Yes, in the short term, this takes away from “me” time, or family time. But the dividends you will earn in your career later will make it worth it!
Start saving money to send yourself to training. I did. After I attended that SQLSaturday, I realized how valuable attending more training would be. When my request to go to PASS Summit was I denied, I figured out how much I would need to save per month to be able to register in time for the early-bird discount the following year, and I started saving. Yes, this meant that money didn’t go to other things. But it was a sacrifice I made to improve my career. The money I invested in myself all those years ago has paid dividends many times over.
(It turns out I didn’t have to use that money for the next PASS Summit. I got a different job in the meantime, which offered a week of training, so it was paid for. Instead, I used my savings to travel to more SQLSaturdays and chapters. I still keep a small reserve in case there is an event I want to go to.)
Bring training to the company. That’s right. This is especially helpful if you have management that doesn’t see the value in their employees getting paid to learn. Start a regular brown-bag-lunch-and-learn series. Give a talk. Ask your coworkers to give a talk. Watch a free webinar. Watch a recording. Let people ask questions and talk among themselves after. Ask how you can apply it to your company. Then, start applying those lessons. Don’t do this once and hope it works – do it regularly. Once a month, or once a week – whatever your schedule allows. After your leadership sees the effort you are putting in, and the positive effect it has on the company, they may be more willing to invest in outside resources.
After you’ve invested your time and money into learning more, if you want your company to support you, you have to show them how it is helping. Solve a long-standing problem. Implement a new technology. Pass an exam. If the company still won’t support you, it’s time to leave. The classic question comes to mind: “What if we invest in our employees and they leave?” and the answer is, “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?” It may be time to look for a different job with a different company, and during negotiations, ensure they support your career development with time and money.
Take the time today to invest in your career!