IT professionals have long known that the longevity of an IT career relies on the constant development of new skills. So, from that viewpoint, the notion that continual training constitutes a significant part of your employability is will hardly be newsworthy.
BUT, the holy grail of IT career safekeeping is not whether to train or not. Rather, WHAT to learn in order to stay relevant as an employee and prospective job seeker.
It’s rather difficult for me to summarise this topic given I’ve dedicated 7 years and an entire website (it-pathways) to the theme. But lets give it a shot anyway, here are our top 4 influences affecting the quality and longevity of IT careers.
1. Understand the local market in the context of the global market
The IT industry is GLOBAL so competition for skills extends far beyond your local market. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your location. It’s best to keep track of skills demand and move toward a skillset that makes sense from a regional perspective. For example, some cities have strong software development demand and others will have very little. There would be little logic in learning mainframe development if you live in a small country town, but you may find this skill valuable in a city. You get the drift, skills that make sense in one region may not in another.
How to track local demand
Some quick and effective ways to track demand include browsing online job advertisements and discussing with IT recruitment agents and taking note of corporations that have a strong local IT presence.
2. Skills and Demand, it’s about quality - not quantity.
In 2001 I was completing my Master Novell Certified Engineer (MCNE) certification. But if you are old enough, you’ll remember that in 2001 Microsoft was crushing their old adversary Novell in the server market. A friend of mine asked me, “why are you bothering with Novell certs. You’d be lucky to see two jobs a year for Novell skills!”. I responded “I only need one job and everybody else seems to be concentrating on Microsoft.”
This approach served me well. The lesson there is not to follow the crowd without solid evidence that demand was outstripping supply.
How to track supply versus demand
a) Persistent job advertisements. If a certain skill is consistently advertised week in and week out over a 3-6 month period that’s a good indicator that there is more demand than there is supply.
b) High salaries, contracts on offer and good benefits in job advertisements. This goes hand-in-hand with point one. If popular skills dominate the job landscape and are complemented by attractive packages you can bet demand is outstripping supply.
3. If you’re not building on previous experience you’re going backwards
It’s smart to navigate towards a safer career options, but it’s counterproductive to start again. When we discuss tracking demand ensure that your potential fields share common skills relative to your current experience. This allows you to build on your experience and expand your horizons rather than starting afresh.
Metaphorically, it’s more of a gentle gradient rather than a 90 degree career turn.
Some examples of manoeuvring a career toward in-demand skills include; Introducing VOIP skills if you have a networking background; Learning Android development if you have a JAVA background; Transitioning from project manager to manager
For more information about related skills see Skills in Information Technology
For more information about related careers see IT job descriptions
4. Follow the giant marketing machines
Finally, never underestimate the marketing power of the juggernauts. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, SAP and Cisco to name a few.
When they promote a technology jobs normally follow. I’ve found that Microsoft and Cisco have a much stronger influence in my city, Brisbane, but the others may be equally as influential in other regions of the world.
Fool proofing your IT career will be most effective once you have gathered enough information to understand your local market and you understand which in-demand skills complement your current experience. From there, it’s a matter of navigating your skillset in the same direction.
Remember, the next time that you read articles such as the 10 hottest IT careers, that they are referring to demand on a macro level (industry wide). To you, they may/may not be locally insignificant depending on the makeup of employers in your region.