I think this question is probably asked by everyone in the software development field at some point, and the answer is never simple. Let's take a look at what is important and make a game plan that will get you where you want to go.
When looking at moving to the next level, the first question that you have to answer is "What is the next level for me?" Until you answer this, it is going to be pretty hard to make any goals or measure your progress. Do you want to move from a junior developer to a senior role, or move into more leadership type roles, or become a famous speaker? Knowing what you want is critical to making you game plan. So stop dreaming about some grand amorphous future and start writing down specifics about where you want to be, what you want to be doing, and how you want your career to progress.
After you have identified where you want to go, it is time to make a plan on how to get there. Your plan should consist of attainable goals that you can checked off as you make progress towards your desired career path.
Here are a couple of example scenarios to help you get started:
Who: A junior developer who wants to increase his skill levels, responsibilities, and compensation
Goal #1: Become more proficient at X technology that we use at work.
- Find a mentor at work and build a relationship with them
- Watch online training courses on the subject
- Find an open source project that uses X and get involved
- Find a user group for X and start attending the meetings
Goal #2: Increase my visibility to my bosses at work
- Speak up more in meetings
- Volunteer for tasks when the opportunities arises
- Start inviting people to lunch
- Look for extra curricular work activities that I can attend (i.e. hang out with the boss)
Goal #3: Get paid more
- Track accomplishments at work (for negotiating leverage and resume building)
- Polish up my resume
- Find out what others in my position are making
- Create a compelling argument that I deserve a raise
- Ask for and get a raise, or find a new job
Who: A senior developer who wants to improve her marketability and personal brand
Goal #1: Pick a subject and become an expert on the topic
- Make a list of topics that are in demand and are interesting to me
- Dive deep into the topic by
- Reading books/blogs
- Watching training videos
- Going to user group meetings
- Following the social media of the experts on the subject
Goal #2: Increase public awareness about my expertise
- Volunteer to talk at the local user group on the subject
- Get a certification
- Submit to talk at a regional conference
- Use social media
- Start tweeting about the subject
- Converse through social media with experts
- Write blog posts
- Answer questions on StackOverflow
These are just some ideas to get you thinking. I hope that you can use this to get the creative juices flowing and evaluate where you want your career to go.