Check out the latest job ads for software engineers, mobile developers, and data visualization experts, and you’re more likely than ever to find employers asking for candidates with a strong understanding of business operations in addition to the latest programming and coding skills. If you’ve spent your career siloed off in the IT department, eyes glued to a keyboard, you might wonder how someone’s supposed to intuitively know how to figure out budgetary constraints, sales initiatives, and brand identity.
Good programmers don’t automatically come with an innate understanding of the business side of the house—but you’ll need to acquire some of that knowledge in order to stay ahead.
You’re Already There
If you’re a developer, you’re probably used to working with other developers in the company. At some point, you’ll likely collaborate with the people handling product management, marketing, sales, and maybe even finance. In other words, chances are pretty good you’ll end up on a cross-functional team. So what’s the best way to understand all of the moving elements involved in getting the product out the door?
Reach out to the people already around you, said Lou Skriba, enterprise architect and client partner for Geneca, a custom software development company. Most of the time, if an IT employee shows an interest in digging into the business side, they’ll be welcomed with open arms. “CIOs are constantly pressured to align IT and business strategy,” Skriba noted. They want people to make the connection.
Skriba recommends leveraging your connections in the company as you make products.
“Talk up subject matter experts in meetings, and don’t take what they say verbatim,” he said. “Asking questions is good. It’s a way to build relationships with people outside of your group. You have to have a commitment, an investment, and a drive outside of tech. It’s all about personal development.”
Get steeped in industry knowledge, which means doing your homework, or even seeking out professional development courses in finance or project management. “Read trade journals, and get to know what’s happening in the market and industry in general and not just with IT,” Skriba added. Bring that information to the table at meetings.
A Way to Get Ahead
If you’re stuck on coding alone and putting business objectives on the back burner, then you’re likely to get passed up for a promotion. “You need to know how IT influences the business side of it, if you have any aspirations to move from developer to the management track,” Skriba said. Engage with business analysts and product managers, who can offer a perspective on the business side of the company; and don’t forget the head person in development, since they’ll have a firm grip on budgets, marketing, and sales.
The Power of Engagement
There are other reasons to move outside of your comfort zone of programming and into the thickets of business. Staying focused on the code alone probably isn’t the best way to stay engaged and effective at work, said Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks, which builds goal-setting software for enterprises: “The feedback I get is that ‘I don’t understand how my work fits into the big picture.’ You have to figure out what’s important and why you’re working on what you’re working on and how that connects with key initiatives.”
Having a broader understanding of what drives the business operationally, financially or strategically can only enhance your job.
Choose the Right Company
If you’re tied to a company that keeps IT cordoned off, then you should consider looking for a new job, said Jerry Irvine, CIO for Prescient Solutions, an outsourcing IT services company. “It’s hard to do your job without the understanding from other departments,” he added. “You want to be in a company that allows IT to be involved in the business’s goals. The C-suite has to understand cooperation and development.”
If you’re in the market for a new job, Irvine continued, it’s important to highlight that you’re a great programmer. But make sure to tell your prospective employer that you want to be at a company that wants IT to partner with business development: “It’s as much the corporation’s concern, as it is yours.”
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