Great career advice I ignored

How rebellious professionals made it to the top. You should not be afraid to follow your gut instinct when it comes to your career.

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Climb the corporate ladder. Keep your eye on the ball. Pay your dues. A lot of the conventional wisdom about how to succeed in your career is sound, and the oft-recommended linear path upward frequently works well enough.

Many successful IT leaders are iconoclasts, however. They went against the grain, ignored advice or turned away from trends to find ways that were right for them. Here, they share some of their stories about the junctures where they disregarded prescribed career road maps, and they reveal how those choices helped them make it to the top.

Brian L. Abeyta

Advice I did not take: "I was advised early in my career to take a road-warrior-type consulting job that would expose me to a wide variety of business areas. What did not seem right was the potential impact it would have on my young family," says Brian L. Abeyta, who decided instead to try his luck as an operations manager at a large telecommunications company doing innovative work.

The outcome: "I was in a position where I learned from some really sharp executives. They helped me to see how they manoeuvred their careers, how they managed and led in the private sector, [how] to be bold," says Abeyta, now vice president of the IT management office at insurance provider Aflac. He says he saw how they successfully balanced their personal and professional lives.

Bruce Brody

The straight path I did not take: Bruce Brody started his career in the intelligence community, where most of his colleagues were moving ahead within that field. "But this was the 1980s, and computers were just coming into the mainstream in the federal environment. I decided to take a three-year stint in private industry to learn computer security in 1990 to '93 and then return to federal service as an information security professional," he says.

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