It seems inevitable that we only discover the kind of advice we needed as young professionals once it's years (or decades) after the fact. No one enters the IT field with all of the hard skills they will need for their career, but it’s also the “soft skills” – the interpersonal knowledge – that make the biggest difference. These are three things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out in the IT sector:

  • Don’t be afraid of failure: This applies to any career, but rings doubly true for young workers in the IT sector. Whether it’s in software development or help desk support, learning by doing – which includes failing from time to time – represents one of the most important sources of on-the-job learning. Experience-based knowledge provides the tools to overcome a variety of common obstacles. By treating a misstep as an opportunity for improvement, one can determine what can be done differently. Though at times we seem hard-wired to avoid failure, it's one of the fastest, most valuable ways to grow.
  • Learn to be an active listener: Even if you don’t know how to solve a problem, chances are someone does. Don’t neglect coworkers’ wisdom; they are often your best source of insight. Asking the right questions, listening to the answers, and following up can guide the conversation to benefit from others’ expertise. Even in casual conversation, there are often ways to steer discussion toward relevant IT topics; you'd be surprised how willing most people are to mentor and provide guidance. Try to anticipate future challenges you may encounter and ask follow-up questions as needed. The more complete your understanding of a problem and its solution, the more self-sufficient you will be later on.
  • Be confident in your strengths and weaknesses: Recent graduates and professionals new to the IT field are often too hard on themselves. Inexperience is to be expected when beginning a new career and it's far from a sign of incompetence. Even when you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, remember that you’re not alone. Plenty of your peers likely feel the same way, and countless IT veterans have been in your shoes. Don’t let beginner obstacles intimidate you. You can and will overcome them with experience and persistence.

It’s easy for young professional in the IT sector to be overwhelmed by the complexity of the technology they're working with and their level of responsibility. Especially in a field that may take a more laissez-faire approach to employee management, some new hires can feel like they’re floundering. With the right attitude, and a willingness to learn both from your own mistakes and those around you, young IT workers can face any challenge head on.