1. Own Your Career
Nobody is going to walk up to you and give you advancement opportunities (unless your last name is the same as the CEO's). You need to make yourself valuable and decide exactly what you want your career to look like. Do you want to be a DBA? A Manager? A VP? Think about what you want to gain out of your career and work towards it. That brings us to the next point
2. Set Goals
Take the time to sit down and map out some goals for yourself. Think about what you can do today. Think about what you can do in five years. Think about what you can do in 10 years. Goals can be as simple as joining Linkedin or Twitter or more complex like getting certified. Don't beat yourself up if you don't meet your goals. If you wanted to get certified by April but weren't ready, Don't Sweat It, reevaluate your goals and give yourself a new deadline. The important part is to keep evaluating where you are and where you want to be.
WRITE IT ALL DOWN. Get a journal and make a plan in it. Then go back and re-read it and revise it as needed.
3. Join the community
The best way to learn is to find people who do what you do only better and talk to them. There is a User Group in almost every major city for almost anything. You have your SUGs and your LUGs and your MUGs and your Pugs. Join one, go to the meetings and get involved. Raise your hand and ask questions. Answer questions. Introduce yourself. Stay late and meet people. Exchange Business Cards. Network. You never know what can come out of a chance encounter. Just by going to the CACTUSS meeting last night I came away with two job opportunities for a friend of mine who is currently unemployed.
Join online groups. There are tons of forums on the internet. Find one and join it and spend some time there. Many of us in the IT industry, especially those of us at small to mid-size businesses, don't have people to talk to about what we do and what we are doing wrong and how we can do it better. Forums are a great place to find that needed camaraderie.
4. Learn and Make Time to Learn
This one should be a no-brainer for anyone in the tech industry. We need to learn constantly just to keep up with our jobs. I buy books and subscribe to magazines and read blogs and try to listen when I can. It goes beyond just learning how to do what you do. Learn about different or better ways to do it. Learn about things you didn't even know you could do. I wish I had researched SSRS a year ago, I have been doing things with third party apps like Cognos and Crystal I could have been doing straight from SQL.
Make time to learn. Find a time of day you can stop working and read something. I use the netvibes website to group rss feeds of the blogs I read into one page so when i get to work in the morning I can get all the new posts from one place. Here is the public page to my SQL tab in netvibes: http://www.netvibes.com/rutherford#SQL .
Don't be afraid to learn at work. I have never met a boss who would get angry at an employee trying to do his job better (as long as productivity doesn't suffer).
5. Build a brand.
I read an excellent article by Andy Warren (website|twitter) which can be found here about building your brand. That article actually inspired me to join twitter, start this blog and join my local user group. I won't try to repeat what he says, I'll just ask you to read it and hopefully it will change your career life like it did mine.
If you are a clock watcher who thinks of his/her job as a way to pay the bills, this post probably isn't for you. But if you love your career life (not necessarily your job) as much as you love your home life, I hope you give this some thought.