Professional development activities can help you stay competitive in the marketplace. Eric Patel describes ways you can benefit from extracurricular career activities such as volunteering, joining professional associations, attending and speaking at conferences, and pursuing continuing education.
If you had told me two years ago that I would embark on a journey which would involve speaking in front of audiences, writing for magazines, teaching students, and even volunteering my time all on behalf of my profession, I would not have believed you. Who has time these days to do job-related extracurricular activities? Who would want to?
Well, after reading this article, I hope you will want to. After all, competition for jobs can be fierce. Managers have come to expect more from software test professionals than they used to. Remember when all you had to know was testing? Nowadays, employers want (and sometimes expect) several other skills—scripting, automation, programming, and even foreign languages. Professional development activities can help you stay competitive in this new marketplace because not only do you benefit from the achievement of your career goals, recognition, and perhaps additional income, your employer also benefits from increased company exposure, competitive advantages, and perhaps an enhanced reputation.
Why Get Involved?
I remember the first time I was asked to give a presentation. A former colleague touched base with me and asked if I would be interested in speaking about Web testing at a meeting he was organizing. I found myself quickly and enthusiastically committing to give the presentation, which was a mere four months away. After several revisions of my PowerPoint presentation and many hours practicing, the night finally arrived. I ended up talking for almost an hour and answered many questions. Feedback from the meeting organizer and participants was positive. Not bad for my first run, I thought.
Afterwards, I felt more confident. I submitted to subsequent meetings and conferences and was accepted more times than I had anticipated. The following year I had eleven speaking engagements throughout the U.S. I talked about several topics, improved my presentation skills, and networked with a lot of other professionals. Along the way, I discovered that I have a passion for our profession—my enthusiasm motivates me to add value to our industry by contributing my time, talents, and energy. I want to give something back to the software community, and more importantly, inspire others to participate and become more active in our profession.
That's my motivation. It may not be yours. We each have different things that stimulate and inspire us. You have to find out what your motivation is, which can sometimes be hard to do. It's easy to get distracted by the details of your job and forget about your goals. In an effort to stay focused, try spending some time planning your career on a regular basis. By documenting your career objectives, you can come up with a general strategy on how you are going to fulfill them. This gives you a roadmap for your future. As the saying goes, How can you get there if you don't know where you're going?
After you map out your course, spend some time gathering information on activities that may support your goals. What you’ll discover is that as you participate in these activities, your interest in pursuing additional activities will increase.
Ways to Become Involved
There are many interesting and diverse activities available to help you reach your goals. Here are just a few.
Joining an organization is perhaps the easiest way to get started. For the cost of becoming a member, you'll enjoy the affiliation, the networking, perhaps a periodical or two, and other benefits (like discounts and insurance programs).
Attending a meeting is another simple way to begin. Several national organizations have local chapters that conduct monthly meetings, usually involving an invited