IT careers and are perhaps the worst-defined careers on the modern job market. That's largely because of the extremely high level of diversification of IT work, and the fact that the entire mode and form of employment keep changing every two or three years. Technology, IT outsourcing, and the rapid reshaping of the global economy into the modern 'core business' idiom has effectively created an obstacle course for IT professionals in the past. That's now changing, and much better career dynamics are creating clear career options.
Although IT careers do follow a broad general pattern in terms of qualifications, experience and different types of IT support roles and advanced professional work, there's not really a set methodology to IT career paths. It's quite possible to take up IT as a career at any age, or simply because you like it. As a matter of fact, a set methodology can actually get in the way of career development after getting basic qualifications.
This very high level of flexibility, however, is also one of the great strong points of an IT career. Career paths can be almost literally a series of electives, in academic terms. Valuable portable skills can be obtained almost instantly, anywhere in the world.
It is a good indicator of the degree of complexity and diversity in IT careers that the employment market took approximately 15 years to evolve something resembling a true career path in this field. The old ad hoc career modes have now been replaced with bona fide career streams.
Career progression in IT is both selective and opportunistic. Although qualifications, experience and talent are the bedrock requirements for IT professionals, understanding the job market is absolutely critical to career success. Until recently this has been undeniably the most fickle, cost- conscious, and changeable employment market in history.
IT careers have in effect been reverse engineered. IT positions were formerly based on purely functional considerations, now they're based on actual management principles and the result has been a completely reinvent the IT job market.
IT professionals also have one additional potential major asset. This is an area of science where you can virtually invent your own career, and some people do. Innovation and IT are natural partners, and talent can take IT careers a very long way in a hurry.
On the business level, IT professionals often branch out into consultancy work later in their careers, and their prior experience is often a major force for change, creating new and better ways of doing things in the IT field. The consultancy roles also include a lot of financially very high value work, and many IT professionals start their own businesses on this basis.
IT careers also often involve academic work at teaching level, and valuable feedback mechanism for the industry, passing on experience and ideas which can travel around the world in seconds when someone takes them up.