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3 Habits for Continued Career Growth in the Age of AI

An innovation mindset and openness to trying new things are key as state and local gov tech professionals look to continue growing their careers amid ever-advancing technologies.

closeup of two people in suits shaking hands with digital lines over the top
Adobe Stock/chaiyan
Like many technology professionals, the holiday season is a time when I reminisce about the past year to assess career progress, thank my teams for their support and accomplishments, and look to set personal and professional goals for the coming year.

I know, I know, this article is already sounding Pollyanna-ish. Most people abandon their New Year’s resolutions within the first few weeks of January. Indeed, TV programs, social media websites and popular magazines are full of tips and guidance for how to successfully start over (again) in setting goals for the new year, despite the odds.

So why am I tackling this topic in a cybersecurity column for Government Technology?

Because, just as enterprise organizations need to consistently re-evaluate and update their cybersecurity strategies, individuals and teams also need to improve and even re-invent ourselves as new solutions — including people, processes and technology — are being developed at an exponential pace.

So how do we own the titles of “lifelong learners” and innovators in our new age of AI?

I was recently inspired by an article written by Adam Grant for CNBC that highlights 11 habits that highly successful people practice every day. I encourage you to read his entire list, which covers topics like finding trusted sources, setting a mistake budget, striving for constant improvement and turning the daily grind into a source of daily joy.

But I want to focus on three specific habits that may seem out of place but are essential for cybersecurity and technology pros to consider for career growth.

First, get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Grant says it even more strongly: “Successful people seek discomfort. Instead of just striving to learn, aim to feel uncomfortable. Pursuing discomfort sets you on a faster path to growth. If you want to get it right, it has to feel wrong first.”

Technology pros can certainly identify with the need to continually adapt to multiple “new normals” as we look back at the pace of change over the past few decades. From Wi-Fi networks to cloud computing to the Internet of Things, experienced cybersecurity pros have learned that they must get to a “secure yes” or face career derailment.

Put simply for 2024, how are you growing in your knowledge and application of AI? Soon the same challenges will apply to quantum computing.

Second, successful people teach what they want to learn. Grant writes, “The best way to learn something is to teach it. You understand it better after you explain it — and you remember it better after you take the time to recall it. You can do this in groups, with each member teaching a distinct skill or slice of information.”

As a CISO for multiple public- and private-sector organizations, learning by teaching has been essential in my career journey. My advice: Take a cutting-edge tech or cyber topic and teach coworkers, colleagues, even family members what they need to know. Strive to cover the good and bad about the new topic in memorable ways that are refreshing and fun.

Third, successful people ask for advice, not feedback. Feedback looks backward, and it can lead people to criticize you or cheer for you. But advice is forward-looking. Asking trusted leaders for advice will lead them to coach you.

Grant suggests that we get both our critics and cheerleaders to act more like coaches by asking a simple question: “What’s one thing I can do better next time?”

I found this to be true in 2023 as public- and private-sector professionals worked together on developing the latest cybersecurity road map for the state of Michigan. As leaders from diverse domains came together to both celebrate successful projects and map new, innovative state cyber goals, a strong focus on the future was imperative and impactful.

One final thought: Being an innovator isn’t incompatible with helping others. Successful people also open doors for people who are underrated and/or overlooked.

Almost everyone I admire most in government technology and cyber-security leaves a legacy. This includes both projects that positively impact citizens and help society as a whole, as well as efforts that help staff, co-workers, students and others as they climb their career ladder. So perhaps consider mentoring others as a part of your career journey.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.