Today I participated in an internal career event where I served on a panel explaining how I got to "where I am." I was somewhat stunned to even be asked to be on such a panel. I can't say I have a career plan, and I certainly have not taken anywhere near the standard path to architect. My style is certainly winging it - maybe they wanted to show that there are many paths for many different people.... Chemistry major -> Chemistry grad school -> tech writer -> software engineer -> software architect.
I learned relatively early on that I have to follow my heart. If I don't care passionately about what I am doing, I don't invest the energy to do my best work. That may make me a spoiled brat, but it's how my mind works and I just have learned to stop trying to second guess my instincts...
I don't feel the need to climb the ladder per se, what I really want is to get better and better at engineering, and to learn more and more. And I like to have a say in the product that I am building :-) Whatever falls out from that is fine with me. The point for me is to stay happy, to always grow and learn, and to build something I really care about. That is all I need.
So my career decisions have been primarily focused on what I found interesting. My definition of my career success is that I have managed to work on many projects that I really believe in and care deeply about. ViP, Domino Designer, Workplace Designer... I still like what I'm doing now, so I'm not even thinking about "next." The experts may say I should be thinking five years down the line, but I like surprises. Maybe I will be on Workplace Designer v17 by then, maybe there will be something new. But I will make all the career decisions from now til then with my heart.