The tech industry offers more opportunities for learning and advancement than most others because technology is evolving so fast. Just as it is an exciting field, it is also highly competitive. Taking the extra time to sharpen your skills and improve your all-around performance is often a difference maker when it comes to getting promoted — or finding a new job altogether.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities in the IT profession are expected to grow at an above-average rate of 13 percent between 2016 and 2026. To take full advantage of that boom in opportunity, you need to continuously upgrade your skills and knowledge and expand your professional network.
While current technical expertise and analytical ability are crucially important, soft skills that enable you to collaborate with others on the team to complete a project successfully and communicate with clients effectively are also essential in many IT roles. Let’s take a look at some of the resources you can seek out to constantly make yourself a more valuable IT worker.
Generally speaking, learning on the job accounts for the highest percentage of knowledge and skill gain that an IT professional accomplishes in the course of his or her career. Learning on a day-to-day basis at work is the best way to develop the agility to respond to change and unexpected events. In a constantly evolving industry, being comfortable with unpredictability is crucial.
Experience working as part of a team on real-world projects is also a skill that future employers value. Seek out challenging projects so that you are constantly learning new things. This will also hone your problem-solving skills, as well as your ability to collaborate and see a project through to completion.
At some companies, employees can volunteer to help in areas other than their assigned department. This is another effective way to get hands-on training in a new domain and develop skills for a different role than the one you normally fill.
Mentoring programs are a very effective means of professional development. There are different types of mentoring, but the two most common are formal programs arranged by your employer; and informal, open-ended professional mentorships that you seek out on your own.
Many IT organizations arrange for newcomers and junior employees to be mentored by experienced personnel. A beginner is paired with a senior employee who functions as the newcomer’s guide on the job, answering job-specific queries as well providing tips and insights. This is also called peer mentoring and can be an invaluable aid to professional growth. Experienced workers can teach you how to achieve desired outcomes in the most efficient way.
The second form of mentoring is one you organize on your own by connecting with a senior professional outside the company who is willing to offer advice. Such mentorships can be an invaluable source of career advice and sometimes last a professional lifetime.
Unlike employer-assigned mentoring, which aims to align individual contribution with company goals, life mentoring is generally personal and informal. Such professional peers, in addition to help you sharpen your tech skills, can often provide life advice and helping individuals map out a fulfilling career path over the long term.
Side Projects and Self-Study
For developers, contributing to open source projects on GitHub and Stack Overflow, as well as other popular sites, is a great way to learn best practices, gain visibility and expand one’s network. When working on an open source project, you will get to see code written by numerous developers. Join conversations and answer questions when you can.
Most interviewers will look at an applicant’s GitHub contributions, and many companies, large and small, are known to scout for talent in open source communities. It is important to complete any projects that you take up, as well as abide by the community’s code of conduct.
Devoting some time to studying something other than what you learn on the job can also help you stay ahead of competition. Techopedia quotes Cristian Renella, CTO at oMelhorTrato, as confiding that “the best trick to get your dream job is to invest one hour every day to study something new. In this way you will always be increasing your capacity and your knowledge for tomorrow to be the MOST qualified person(.)”
Certifications and Degrees
The right certification will often catch the eye of a potential employer. It depends on the role one is applying or preparing for, area of work, professional experience and the employer’s requirements. Some employers require credentials in certain technologies, services, or products; while others might consider certification a sign of an individual’s motivation to learn and advance his or her career.
Certification is also a great way to deepen one’s understanding of a given technology, or even learn it from scratch. Some credentials require practical lab and testing work, which helps candidates gain deep knowledge and applied skills. Certification also provides Continuing Education Credits (CCC), required by many employers as evidence of ongoing professional development.
Some senior IT Pros even recommend a second degree. A Master’s degree could be valuable for certain specializations and roles. Techopedia quotes Kory Willis, Senior Director of IT at Impartner: “I didn’t just get a few certifications in IT, I earned my bachelor’s degree then reinforced it with a master’s. To receive a master’s degree requires an immense amount of work, and the degree demonstrates dedication to the field.”
Networking is particularly important in the IT industry because the rapid pace of change keeps companies on the lookout for people with relevant skills and experience. The more employers and tech professionals you know, the better.
Tech pros have a wide range of networking options to choose from. Attend conferences and seminars in your fields of specialization. Develop the ability to present at conferences. These events are an opportunity to learn about new concepts, trends and innovations as well as develop contacts in the industry.
Joining online communities such as GitHub is a great way to connect with peers and seniors, build professional relationships and develop an image.
Social media is another excellent networking tool, if used judiciously. Look for key influencers in your areas of specialization on LinkedIn. Read their posts and comment if you have something insightful to say. Keep in touch with superiors and colleagues you’ve worked with at previous companies, and connect with peers in other organizations.
Formal Workplace Training
Most tech companies organize classroom or online instructor-led training sessions for employees. Active participation in such programs can help you upgrade existing skills and learn new concepts and methods, as well as impress your superiors.
Technical expertise is not enough for many roles because professionals need to relate to colleagues and work with them, explain technical processes to employees at all levels in the company, and communicate project specifics to clients. According to research conducted by LinkedIn and Capgemini, almost 60 percent organizations surveyed reported a lack of soft skills among employees.
Today’s recruiters value emotional intelligence and adaptability as well as communication, interpersonal, planning, problem-solving, and collaborative skills.
You Need an Edge
The IT industry is full of smart and focused professionals. To build a rewarding career, it is crucial to have clear objectives, know your strengths and weaknesses, and take the right steps to get ahead.
Ongoing professional development is vital to your career. Don’t stand still while the industry (including your fellow tech professionals) passes you by. Take advantage of every opportunity you can find to make yourself a more knowledgeable, more well-rounded performer.