What Is Your Career Investment Portfolio?

Every year, financial advisors will recommend their clients to take a review of their investment portfolio and make necessary changes according to one’s financial reality, like whether you are going to be married, to have a baby soon, to have a new house or to change your career etc, so as to make the best return within the risk tolerance boundary.

Actually, to me, an IT professional should also do something similar annually, i.e. review our professional skills, which is arguably the most valuable asset to a professional, and make corresponding change to their skill investment.

In an investment world, roughly there are three types of portfolios, Conservative, Balanced and Growth, they correspond to different combinations of return and risk.

Portfolio Type Risk ROI
Conservative low low
Balanced medium medium
Growth high high

I think this concept applies to our IT professional skill investment as well, I will use SQL Server DBA skills for illustration later.

I define career investment portfolio as the following (do not pay too much attention to the percentage number, it is just used as an illustration to indicate the relative quantity)

Portfolio Type

Definition

Conservative 100% of your resources (time and budget) on enhancing existing skills and knowledge that are needed to handle the 80% of your daily work.
Balanced 50% of your resources on your existing skills / knowledge that handle 80% of y0ur work, and another 50% on the knowledge and skills that are required for the 20% of your daily work.
Growth 100% of your resources on the knowledge and skills that are required for the 20% of your daily work OR those not directly related to your current work.

 

For example, as a DBA, if I choose Conservative approach, I will invest my resource to deepen my SQL Server internal knowledge, research more on SQL Server Extended events, understand better about various physical/logical operators in Query Plan, practice new T-SQL features etc. work more on service brokers, High Availability setup / troubleshooting, XQuery to manipulate XML, explore more about new features in SQL Server 2016 even if I am only working on SQL Server 2014 (or below) currently.

If I choose Balanced approach, I will also spend time on improving my skills on SSAS/SSIS/SSRS trouble-shooting, development and I may even spend time in master data service. I will also spend time in PowerShell to make my administration more automated or spend time in C# to learn how to create various CLR objects.

If I choose Growth approach, I will spend most of my resources in learning some trendy IT knowledge which may or may not help me as a DBA, such as development in iOS, Android or Linux (SSRS is now supporting mobile report, while SQL Server vNext will run on Linux), or Web development using various Google Frameworks (Google chart is my favourite topic and can be useful for DBAs when we need chart presentations), or other stuff like Docker, Chef, Hardoop or various AWS / Azure services. The new skills may greatly improve a DBA’s productivity in one way or another, but the resources needed and the risk that there is no ROI for your current work is also big.

All the investment targets are dynamic in nature. For example, if 10 years ago, learning PowerShell would be considered an investment in Growth portfolio because there is some risk to its ROI, but now it is mature and is adopted and hailed by the IT community with MS keeping on investing on this technology, so it should be considered as a good investment in Balanced portfolio for DBAs.

In career investment, there is always an opportunity cost. I believe everyone needs to make the decision based on one’s job stability, work requirements, personal aspiration and investment time window (long term or short term).

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