6 Things You Can Do Now to Advance Your Data Center Career

If your company doesn’t promote you, promote yourself.

5 Min Read
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By John Parker, global data center operations and disaster recovery, ESRI. Board member of the Data Center Institute

Are you like most people and want to advance your career, make more money, get into management, or just increase your skills and opportunities. Most of us want these things at some points in our career. Climbing the IT career ladder can be stressful and frustrating, but figuring it out can be rewarding. Below a few key items that can help you.

I have spoken on this topic at several conferences over the years, shared the information with my staff and peers, and helped many of them advance their careers. On March 19, at Data Center World in Phoenix, I will lead a session on this topic with many more details and examples than I can provide in this short column.

Determining Your Career Path

When determining your career path, job boards and company website job postings are a good place to begin. Look at postings with titles reflecting where you want to be in 10 years or so. From there, see what the requirements are and begin obtaining those skills. There are many ways to obtain the skills you need. One that has worked for me is taking on more responsibility outside of my current role. Do this, and in five to 10 years you’ll be amazed how many new skills you have. You will have made yourself more marketable at your company and in the industry, not to mention a better position to negotiate a higher salary.


It’s great to have a mentor, whether they know it or not. Let me explain. Notice the successful people in your company. When you are in a meeting or are around them, pick up on their good qualities, mannerisms, demeanor. Ask yourself, what is it that they do well that makes them successful. Then start doing these things yourself. And of course, speak to them when you get the opportunity. As you get to know them better, maybe even ask for advice or mentorship in certain areas. Most successful people don’t mind sharing how they’ve advanced their careers.

Internal Meetings

When you attend meetings, pay close attention to the meeting chairpeople and pick up the good qualities they display in running and managing meetings. Also note anything they do poorly. This information will make you more confident and stand out in the meetings you lead. If you do not lead meetings, volunteer for follow-up tasks and in the next meeting present your findings. This is a step toward leading a meeting, and since you already have been observing in meetings, you will have picked up good qualities to have when providing follow-ups.

Attend Conferences

Attending conferences is one of the best ways to help you determine your career path. For example, you may not be sure which area of IT to focus your career on. Most industry conferences offer various skill-level sessions in different areas of IT, such as cloud, systems and applications, security, data center operations, and so on. A good example is something I did mid-career. My NOC team worked closely with the data center team, especially nights and weekends, and this got me interested in data centers and facilities. I regularly attended Data Center World and started going to sessions on data centers and facilities management, where I networked with technical and management staff. After doing this for about five years and getting to know the data center and facilities teams at my company, I had a promotion opportunity to manage our data center and took it. Of course, I was nervous at first, but I had a network of data center people I had met at the conference to call from time to time and ask for advice.

Association Meetings

To me, this one is a no-brainier. If you really want to get ahead in your career, attend technology association meetings. This is the best single thing you can do. At these meetings you learn about new technologies, hot skills, and jobs companies are looking for. You meet industry peers and experts and often have opportunities to participate in educational sessions. The networking is fantastic, and if you are thinking of switching companies, talk to the vendors attending the meetings. They call on many companies and usually know who is hiring and can give you the inside scoop and help determine if you may want to work for that company. Sometimes, you even meet people that work for a company you would like to work for. Get to know them and increase your chance for getting a job there. This happened to me and, yes, I did get the job, and I have had the opportunity to do so many more times.


The last example is what the father of my best friend in college told us at a graduation party at his house. His statement was, “Boys, when the company you work for does not promote as fast as you would like them too, then promote yourself.” We looked at each other dumbfounded. He explained: If you are doing the right things to advance your career, expect a promotion every three to five years. And if you do not get one, then “promote yourself.” How, we asked? He then explained that we should look at job boards, company websites, newspapers, and so on. We’d see what the jobs are as well as the requirements and skills. If we had at least 50 percent of the skills and understood the rest, we should apply for a promotion. If we didn’t, we needed to acquire the missing skills.

There is a lot more detail to all of this, so if you are at Data Center World, attend my session or catch me in the hallway or at one of the networking events and I can explain more fully. What I can say is, my friend’s father was correct, and my career success is proof!

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