Ready or Not, Here Comes 2016!
There's something about bidding farewell to the old year and welcoming in the new one that gives one pause for planning and reflection. This is as true for career and certification planning as it is for football, big meals, and quality time with friends and family. If you can steal a few minutes from the latter to invest in the former, you may come out ahead.
It all depends on how well you execute on your plans, and how well your current beliefs in what's worth investing in right now correspond to the moving target that is future demand on the job and skills market. Just remember that the training and certification plans you make right now to usher in 2016 can have a big impact on your future career possibilities and earnings.
See What the Survey Says
This time of year, it's also common to see projections for what's hot and what's not for the year ahead. The latest GoCertify Certification Watch (Vol 18, No. 51) includes a shout-out to Cisco blogger Gary Pfitzer, who offers his Top 5 Job Roles for 2016, and I followed suit earlier today on the Pearson IT Certification website with an end-of-year blog post entitled Top Skills for 2016.
If you poke around further online you can find oodles and scads of this kind of stuff, and enrich your understanding with what pundits and prognosticators look good for 2016. Hint: Cyber Security, Big Data, the Cloud, and Virtualization all remain at or near the top of everybody's lists, so perhaps you might consider them yourself!
Listen to Your Interests to Figure Out What's Right for YOU
As you ponder the hot topics that employers lust after, and employees seek with fervor and abandon, don't let the herd drive you someplace you don't want to go. Remember this: you still have to keep showing up at your workplace, day in and day out, long after the thrill of landing a new job, earning a big promotion, or getting a big raise has fled the scene.
Ultimately, what interests you is also what gets you going, and provides the motivation and energy necessary to give up on evenings, weekends, and vacation time which you may very well have to sacrifice to learning and up-skilling, so that the rewards can follow later when the hard work is done.
Realistic Budgets for Time and Money Make Chasing Certs Worthwhile
Sure, some people can drop everything else and go get an MCSE or a CCNP in a couple of months. But is that really workable or realistic for you? You may need to plan realistically to spend 12 to 18 months chasing a mid-level, multi-exam certification like the ones just mentioned, and it may take two years or longer to get sufficiently in the groove to pass, for example, the rightfully dreaded CCIE lab exam so that you can finally take that coveted credential home.
For what it's worth, I know plenty of really smart and knowledgeable people who've had to take that particular lab exam two or even three times before they finally passed it. At $1,500 a pop for the exam, and more for travel and lodging to get to California (San Jose) or North Carolina (RTP area) to take it, not to mention losing 3 or 4 days out of your life to get there, take the exam, and get back home, this is not an insubstantial investment in any dimension.
Keep your plans modest and real, and let your friends and family know why you're going to be less available than usual, and you'll find it a lot easier to grab the brass ring when the time comes to reach out for it.
A Little Planning and Forethought Go a Long Way
Pick some certs, then do your homework on how much they cost, how much effort they require to earn, and how much time you'll need to get through the process. Make some plans to help you knock off objectives in small increments, and pretty soon your collection of small accomplishments will grow to the point where you'll be heading for the exam center.
With earnest preparation, lots of practice, and a little luck, you'll be adding measurably to your skills and knowledge collection. The next thing you know, 2017 will be knocking at the door, and you'll be back into the planning cycle, preparing for another year.
In the meantime, have a safe and prosperous New Year, with a great and interesting 2016 to look forward to. My best wishes to all!