Holiday Break an Ideal Time to Plan the Next Phase of Your IT Career
As 2023 draws to a close and the holidays roll around, it's a good time to think and plan for your training and certification needs for the coming year. With 2024 just a month or so away, it's not too soon to think about what topics interest you, and what certifications you hold that might be up for renewal or replacement as well.
With a little time away from the regular grind on your hands, why not put some of it to good use deciding what the next year should bring for your knowledge, skills, and certification portfolio?
Step 1: Take Stock
Think about the topics and technologies that might be of use in your current job, or in some job that you aspire to fill. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its many hot subtopics (machine learning, chatbots, large language models, and more) should certainly be on your radar.
Better still, why not put some AI training and learning in your 2024 plans? The Nov. 15 entry of Certification Watch starts off with a great piece on Microsoft AI training, just as Open AI and Microsoft are all over the news.
If your employer (or a possible future employer) has invested in specific AI tools and platforms, then you can easily extend your purview beyond ChatGPT to the many other options out there.
As you review your current certification portfolio, check those expiration dates. You may want to start planning for submission of continuing education credits, if those are accepted in lieu of retesting.
Otherwise, you may want to consider if what's coming up for renewal is worth renewing. It's possible that some of your older certs may need to slip into oblivion, while you set your training and certification sights on fresher and more appealing topics and coverage.
Step 2: Get Your Priorities Straight
Once you have short list of items that a) you'd like to pursue to add to your skills and knowledge, and b) you need to pursue to keep your cert portfolio current, then you can weigh your alternatives.
Some IT jobs come with certification requirements, or they tie compensation and opportunities to keeping certs current. Sometimes you can even get partial (or even full) reimbursement from your employer for certification-related expenses such as training, materials, and exams. Be sure to check.
Those elements are probably worth maintaining, because they are already helping you in your current situation.
On the other hand, new technology areas — AI is a great example — may also increase your workplace value (and productivity, too, if my recent experiences with Copilot for programming and research are at all valid). If you look for low-cost or no-cost options, then you may be surprised by what's out there to help you start climbing this particular learning curve.
The same is true for the many aspects of cloud computing, software-defined networking, and basic automation skills from which anybody and everybody in IT can benefit nowadays. Pick one or two of these things for 2024, even if only as a "stretch target" that you'll start chasing later, rather than sooner.
Step 3: Build Yourself a Budget and Schedule
Each certification that's up for renewal, and each new focus area for training and skills development (whether or not it's tied to a credential) comes with certain expenses and commitments. As far as money goes, you can always get more from your money if you take the do-it-yourself route: Buy published study guides, sign up for an affordable learning subscription, look for discounted exam and training vouchers and bundles, and so forth.
Don't forget that you need to budget your time as well, especially when you have to work to beat expiration dates. It's usually cheaper to renew than it is to start over, so plan accordingly.
It might also be a good idea to let your friends and family know you've got a learning plan with timed objectives in place. If you're going to make yourself unavailable to those folks from time to time for training, exam prep, labs, and so forth, then it's a good idea to let them know what to expect.
As you lay things out on a timeline, you'll soon understand how much of your precious free time you can devote to traincert stuff: build best-case and minimum effort scenarios so you'll understand how things might go.
Step 4: Relax, and Enjoy the Holidays!
Once you're got that effort behind you, then you'll know what you need to be doing, when you need to do it, and how much time, effort and money it will cost you. With those plans in place, you can then let go of them for a while, and use the rest of your free time (as your plans allow) to enjoy the friends, fun and festivities that are typical at year's end.
Happy holidays are easier to achieve when you know you're ready to handle what lies ahead in the next year. Enjoy!