It is very easy to get into patters of life that just happen and people, like energy, tend to follow the past of least resistance. This is especially apparent in corporate America, where people get hired as employees, suffer through yearly reviews, get raises every now and then, but (often) fail to build a comprehensive goal list. In corporate speak, this is called a "career path". I prefer the term "Career plan", because the employee is the responsible party for developing and executing his/her own career plan. Especially in the era of corporate downsizing, one should not and cannot let their career path be dictated by a single company.
A career plan can be simple or detailed. It must be actionable. One plan might state "Advance to become Software Architect". This seems slightly lofty and possibly unreasonable, but with the right planning becomes a distinct possibility. Compare with the goal of "Advance to become Software Architect by presenting at a major conference, spending 5 hours a week networking with fellow architects, and publishing an article in a journal during the current year". The best case in this scenario is that you now have a plan and become a software architect and the worst case is that if you achieve all the goals you've set yourself up in a strong position to move into the role down the road.
I would imagine that if you are reading this blog you've probably been doing some networking or attended a tech event. These two facts alone will put you in the "creme de la creme" as they both show initiative in expanding your boundaries. But never rest on your laurels, continue moving forward and setting new goals as you retire achieved ones.
The best goals are SMART:
S - Specific (Get a MBA, Publish an article)
M - Measurable (Degree is conferred, article was published)
A - Actionable (Something that can actually be done)
R - Realistic (Something that you really can achieve in the time allotted)
T - Time driven (There is a time limitation in which to achieve the goal)
The fact is that the software development lifecycle is alive and well, and this relates to techies as well. It's a "grow, learn, and achieve" industry versus a "stagnate and die" one. In which group do you consider yourself? What is your SMART career plan for this year?