Imagine that you had your own personal roadmap that laid out the specific steps you need to take to get to the next destination on your career path. I know it sounds too good to be true, but I wanted to walk through how I’ve done this for myself multiple times — and how you can do it too.

Navigating a career path in the tech space can be tricky. There are times where things can move fast. There are times when things can move incredibly slowly. New teams pop up or disappear out of nowhere. On top of that, it’s just human nature to get bored doing the same thing over and over again for a long period of time. When you combine these factors, it’s easy to feel trapped, and it can be super stressful.

I talk to so many people that put off working on their own career path because things get busy or they get stressed just thinking about it. This is totally understandable — but you have to be intentional about setting time aside for you to work on yourself. In the age of our “treat yo self” culture, just look at it as your professional self-care.

Something that always kept me engaged (even when I was unhappy in a role) was keeping my next career step in my sights. It sounds like a simple concept, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Whether it’s a long-term or short-term goal, it’s still important to have something to focus on.

When the bigger picture is in your sights, it allows you to focus all of your actions and decisions towards that next step. If you approach each day as an investment into the future you, it makes the daily grind worth it. I read an article recently that said that people that have their next vacation planned, no matter how far ahead, were generally happier. I’ve found this to be a similar concept that I’ve applied to my professional life.

I’ve always taken a fairly logical approach to moving to the next step in my own career path, and it’s been pretty effective. People that I have led that have followed these steps have found clarity and success as well, so I wanted to share it with you. In reality, it’s pretty scientific — and delightfully straightforward!

Here are the 7 steps to navigate your career path:

  1. Do some research
  2. Make a list
  3. Know that everything will be okay
  4. Start to fill in the blanks
  5. Drill down into the gaps that you discover
  6. Get specific
  7. Take action

1. Do some research

Assuming you have a general idea of what role you are working towards, head over to Glassdoor, LinkedIn, or even your own employer’s career page and find listings that match what you’re looking for. Most job listings will have a “requirements” or a “what you will bring” section.

Make sure to not just check one listing from one company or even just your employer’s requirements. This is the data-gathering step. We all know that the more data, the better.

2. Make a list

Once you’ve gathered a couple of comparable job listings, you should have a lengthy list of requirements. Fire up Google Drive and create a new doc. Throw a table together with 2 columns and put all of the requirements that you collected in the left column. (We’ll fill out the right column in step 4.)

Now, if you’re anything like me, at this point you’ll see a list so long that the existential dread and anxiety will set in — and you might question whether or not this is what you really want.

3. Know that everything will be okay

There is nothing in this step. Just take a breath and know that you got this.

4. Start to fill in the blanks

You have probably seen those comparison charts on G2 that compare the features of 2 or more competing software programs. This part is kinda like that — but instead of two different software programs, It’s just the future you versus the current you.

Now it’s time to give yourself some credit. Go down the list and put a checkmark next to the requirements that you have experience with.

I have a quick little litmus test that I use to determine if I feel comfortable enough to check a requirement off or not. It’s pretty simple: If someone asked me to share an experience where I demonstrated the specific responsibility, could I give specific examples? If you can give specific examples, you can probably check it off. If not, I would leave it open.

5. Drill down into the gaps that you discover

Now that you’ve filled in the blanks, you will notice the glaring (or not so glaring) gaps between current you and the future you. The transparency gained from this exercise alone is worth it. These gaps, as scary as they are, empower you to be laser-focused on the actions that you can now take to get closer to the next step in your career.

Now that you know what you need to learn, it’s time to get after it.

6. Get specific

After going through that exercise, you will now have a very specific list of skills, experiences, and competencies that stand between you and the next step on your career path.

This is another point where things can get overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. I typically take each of the needed skills, experiences, or competencies and make a sub-list of things that I can do to master them. Some of them might require some education or certifications, so make sure you ask your team lead or manager if your company offers help with those things. For the other requirements, you’ll find that there are probably things that you can do in your current role to build those skills or get that experience.

Here is a quick and practical example:

Leadership skills or experience needed Possible action items
Public speaking
  • Represent the team at a large all-hands meeting
  • Coordinate with my manager to run a team meeting once a month
  • Participate in customer-facing events
  • Take the lead on a team or department project and make assignments to peers
  • Read a book on effective delegation skills and share it with my manager
Tough conversations
  • Give my leader some direct feedback
  • Volunteer to communicate a team process change
  • Roleplay different feedback

7. Take action

Now that you have a list of specific action items, it can be tempting to take on too much at once. I have always found it to be most effective when I just pick one or two things to focus on and see them through before taking on more.

Conclusion: Giving yourself time to focus on your career path is professional self-care

Focusing on your professional development requires you to take time and focus on yourself, which can be hard for some people. And let’s be real, if you work in the tech space, you probably have a never-ending pile of work to do. Do yourself a favor and set some blocks of time on your calendar for you and your development. You owe it to your future self.