How Can I Move Up From A Junior Tech To An Engineer?

A member raised a very good question in response to our Integrator Salary Survey 2014 report, wanting advice on how to move up.

In my own career and from what I have seen in fast risers are a combination of 2 things: superior knowledge and advanced execution.

Most junior people cannot even attempt senior tasks because they simply do not know the concepts, technology and issues involved. And, if they do, they quickly become disasters.

(1) You need to be aggressive about learning. IPVM is an amazing resource for junior people wanting to move up (our courses too). Beyond that, I would take any meeting or opportunity to talk with manufacturers. A lot of senior people get lazy and ignore new things. You can be the person who knows the new products / stuff.

(2) Volunteer to do harder tasks / projects. Focus on prominent things in your company. Don't worry if they are above your 'level' / 'pay grade' / 'job description'. Lots of your co-workers will be happy to let the junior guy bust his ass and waste their nights and weekends doing the hard stuff.

If you want to move up fast, you need to study more and work more than your co-workers and you need to deliver at the level you want to be.

Even if your current company may be stupid and try to keep you at the same pay and title as you started, you'll make a name for yourself quickly and have many other options, including from rivals, end users and manufacturers.

What do you all think?

Thank you VERY much sir. I will take all of your suggestions into account and work diligently on them.

I think one thing that makes a difference in tech staff is some knowledge of how the business actually works. Understand your company's margins and how you impact the numbers and you'll better understand how you fit into things. You can also better explain your positive impact ("I made 34% GP on a project estimated at 28%, while out of state with a subcontracted crew.") and look for efficiencies. Managers talk in these numbers and junior staff stands out if they get it. Just make sure you're accurate when you make these statements.

As a junior tech trying to move up, I would avoid pursuing marginal increases in efficiencies as it's tough to convincingly argue on nuanced differences.

I'd look for:

(1) Projects / systems that don't work. "That big hospital job has been having issues for months and no one can resolve it." Fix that, make a clear statement that you are better than the senior guys.

(2) New projects with new technology. "We got this new campus account and we are deploying X for the first time." Volunteer for that, do it and quickly become the company's expert in X, regardless of your age and rank.

Ethan makes an excellant point. It's not just about knowing the technicals of your immediate job description, it's about having an overall vision. Taking into account not just how this camera will impact storage, but how will this camera impact the viability of sales and long term costs.

It's also about willingness to take on risks and responsibilities. Junior level employess always whine and complain about why the bosses don't do it their way or change things when it would be so much better. What they always fail to understand is if new way or change fails, it's not just the junior level employee's butt on the line, it's their bosses, too. Did you do a good enough job of presenting the pros, and cons, of the change? Did you bother to put it in writing, or just make some passing comment that you can immediatley deny if things go south? Are you willing to take a risk in making some decisions that can adversely affect the business and have a willingness to share responsibility for those risks, and not just the credit when they work out?

What John says is also very important. But what Ethan also said and what I wrote above is often over looked, in my opinion.

I think there are two elements being discussed.

  • One is wisdom / maturity (Ethan / Luis points above)
  • The other is technical ability (my points).

A strong senior person has both, I think we would agree. However, the trait that I think gets one moved up the quickest is strong technical ability, as its both rarer and easier to see. Yes/no?

It's a matter of measures. You can have a very technically adept person, but if you can't trust them, in reliability or honesty, it counts as negative yardage. There are those who've worked for me who maybe could have been more technically adept, but they were good enough, and I could trust them, like trusting they care about a job getting done right and seeing the bigger picture.

Technical ability will weigh more on the scale obviosuly when they are not in any leadership role, up to the highest level they can attain there. But the more they start moving in leadership (team leader, senior person) on up to management (hire/fire, policy, decision maker), the more the scale weighs on maturity and wisdom.

Two things helped me:

1) (Mirroring John's comment) Don't be afraid of what you do not understand. Do not avoid something because you're not familiar with it. Show initiative, and go out and learn it. Physical security requires a diverse skillset and the more you know, the better your designs/installs can be.

2) Learn to technically communicate with non-technical people. (I still have to work on this everyday!) Just because someone doesn't understand jargon or acronyms does not mean they are dumb. Challenge yourself to explain complex concepts as simply (but accurately) as possible.

Not only will your salesmen love you, but their customers, your managers, and even other technicians and engineers will communicate with you more.

I work for a school district in NY and started as a computer tech. About 3 years ago I took on the task of our security surveillance system. With over 460 cameras and counting in our 14 buildings, I am doing everything from walkthroughs, ordering, camera installs & intial setup, to troubleshooting of all hardware. I also have the task of setting up and maintance of all severs, client stations, software, and user accounts. I have pretty much learned everything on my own the last 3 years by diving right into it and I know that I do not know what I should. I have basic knowledge of of all points in this feild but not proficient in anyone aspect.

Can you give me advice on what:

  1. Courses I can\should take?
  2. Certifications are out there that I shold look into?
  3. Books you recommend

I see that IPVM has certification course, is this a regulated certification or a private cert only recongnized by IPVM?

It has been hard to keep up with this work load as well as trying to learn everything possible that I can take in. I apprieciate any advice that will point me in the right direction

"I see that IPVM has certification course, is this a regulated certification or a private cert only recongnized by IPVM?"

What is a 'regulated' cert? In security, I am not sure what is a regulated cert?

In any event, the purpose of our courses is for people to learn modern technologies.

Sorry, regulated was not the correct term to use there. But what I was trying to get at was more on the lines of a industry recongnized cert.

Either way I do plan on taking your course but I am trying to figure out what I need to take and what I should take. I am looking to do whatever I need to to move up in this industry. I am just looking for the right path to take and get every degree and certifications that I need too.

Thanks again in advance for any advice from everyone that is willing to give.


I myself would like to take the course....But its during work hours so I cannot. Other than that , this is shaping up to be the best online group there is. I always seem to find stuff like this by mistake.

Are these statements compatible?

Most junior people cannot even attempt senior tasks because they simply do not know the concepts, technology and issues involved. And, if they do, they quickly become disasters.


Volunteer to do harder tasks / projects. Don't worry if they are above your 'level' / 'pay grade' / 'job description.

Don't they need to 'worry' that they fully understand the 'concepts, technology and issues involved', to avoid those 'disasters', especially when working off-hours without senior staff on-site?

Or are you saying 'trial by fire' is the quickest path to mastery?

And, if you continue to read / cite my recommendation, the answer is right there:

"(1) You need to be aggressive about learning. .... A lot of senior people get lazy and ignore new things. You can be the person who knows the new products / stuff."

Btw, cross referencing this relevant discussion: How Many Hours Do You Work Per Week On Average?

If you want to move up faster, you need to put in more time to learn more and do more. Putting in the same time as everyone else will make it very to move ahead of more senior people.