Click to learn more about author Leon Adato.
Tech pros are busy – whether we’re catching up with new systems, trying to stay ahead of workloads, or figuring out how the next leap in technology will affect our careers. Added to everything: roles such as SysAdmin and NetAdmin are de-siloing. Increasingly, some of us are also moving to the C-suite. In sum: Want to succeed? You need new skills.
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Most tech pros are on track. Ninety-eight percent are getting trained for emerging technologies, according to findings from this year’s IT Trends Report 2019. But here’s the tricky part: Despite all that work, 70% of all surveyed said they aren’t “completely confident” they have the necessary skills to successfully manage their IT environments over the next three to five years.
Instead of self-blame, do like the report advises, and create a blueprint for your career development. Here are some things I learned along the way:
Get Training, but No One Can Tell You Which Kind
Tech pundits love to hype the future, but the boots-on-the-ground reality is plenty of organizations are staying with traditional technologies, because they don’t have the budget. You still have time, so look before you leap.
Perhaps you love coding. Or maybe you enjoy finance, which means you can make a lucrative career helping companies optimize their cloud billing. But do you still want a few areas that seem ripe for expansion? Go with Cloud, Data Science, or Code. Learn the emerging technologies, but get a broad familiarity with each of these areas before you dive in.
According to the IT Trends Report, in the next three to five years, the top two skills tech pros plan to develop are Security Management (49%) and Hybrid IT deployment monitoring and management (48%). Use those numbers as your guide, but again: Follow your gut.
Remember Your Training May Not Be Enough
I’m a former teacher, lifelong learner, and veteran of many training workshops. I know from experience that short-form intensive training can be helpful but not a panacea. Inevitably, it takes a long-form amount of time to get the knowledge in your bones. Meanwhile, long-form training – it could be two hours a night, one night a week for six months – may be what you need. Or not, because you learn better from books. Or you already have the necessary skills you need, but you lack the confidence.
It’s up to you to make an honest self-assessment.
Find Yourself a Mentor
If you need that new skill acquisition pronto, or if you don’t feel supported by your company, get a mentor. You might end up moonlighting in another department or switching out with someone so you can learn. And let’s be honest, to get around unhelpful workplace rules, you may have to be sneaky about it. But who’s to object if you’re still doing your job?
It comes down to this: A mentor can tell you which facts you’re learning are vital, and which are pro forma. They’ll let you know that learning something like subnetting will require you to take the class three times before you get it. Knowing that makes you feel much less stupid the first two times out.
Learn the Language of Business
I know, “learning the language of business” sounds like something for Mahogany Row, not you. You may also think because you’re learning a new language, your tech language will somehow atrophy. It won’t: You’re just becoming bilingual and increasing your skillset.
Know that businesses usually target one of three factors, depending on where they are in the business cycle: growing revenue, reducing cost, or removing risk. Try to figure out which of these three pillars your company is focused on right now – and then speak to it. If your company is concerned with revenue this quarter, instead of making a pitch on a monitoring system and its incredible features, show them how it can increase revenue by reducing downtime.
Or if the business is risk-averse, rather than stressing the impressive features of some new technology, show the C-Suite the potential impact of a poor or postponed technology decision.
Learn their language, but also their culture. When they say “No,” it may just mean, “Not now.” Or that your argument wasn’t expressed correctly. For more information on this, see my in-depth video conversation on these “Buy Me a Pony” conversations.
Discover a New Culture – and Share What You’ve Learned
Every language comes with culture. That means, you’re not just increasing your vocabulary; you’re also learning a new way to communicate. To get there, find a fluent speaker – but not just someone who is fluent in business. You must make sure they speak your own language, too. In other words, if I wanted to learn Spanish, I couldn’t just find a Spanish speaker and say: OK, teach me. I need a fluent speaker in English to act as my Rosetta Stone. After that, consume blogs and podcasts and read books that focus on the culture and language of the business you work in.
This holds true when it comes to knowledge sharing, as well. Once you’ve learned something, share it. A number of tech pros around the world prefer to receive training primarily from colleagues, and so it’s important to remember that knowledge gained could and should be shared amongst peers for the greater good – and your career. Change is coming: Learn and share as much as possible and you should rise.