The Enduring Value of Training for IT Career Development
Think of a single ant, exploring its surroundings away from the nest, looking for food. By itself, an ant isn't much of anything. But taken together, some biologists believe that ants outnumber and outweigh any other single life form on our planet (and perhaps even entire clades, in the case of some life forms).
Where I'm going with this is the idea that individual learning and training activities may not amount to much on their own. By combining lots of them together, however — and more importantly, by keeping at them relentlessly — you can build yourself a valuable and useful body of skills and knowledge.
Working in IT also means that your skills and knowledge must keep turning over, as old and outdated information continuously gives way to new and updated replacements. The process of learning and training never stops.
Start with an Inventory
To figure out what you need, it helps to take stock of what you've got. Take 10-to-15 minutes to mentally inventory your current set of knowledge and skills. Some items — let's pick Windows Server 2008 R2 as a good but increasingly out-of-date example — are clearly ready for replacement and refurbishment.
If you're still working in the Microsoft patch, then you should be acquiring and expanding on Azure-based skills and knowledge (even for virtual Windows Servers of a more recent vintage). If you're not really working with Microsoft servers or platforms all that much anymore, it's probably time to let go.
Hopefully, you've already moved into some kind of cloud-based platform or environment to replace that aging infrastructure element — be it something under the Amazon or Google Cloud Services umbrella, or another of the many possible alternatives — if Microsoft is no longer your thing. Clearly, though, it's time to abandon old stuff and replace it with something new and current.
Set Some Goals and Objectives
You can use the coverage here at GoCertify to help you figure out what makes sense in setting goals and objectives for new skills and knowledge acquisition. You'll find plenty of coverage about what's hot, and what's not, along with pointers to good sources of training and skills development platforms.
Temper your enthusiasms with a long, hard look at your current career situation. If you're happy where you are, then think about what your employer is doing, and what new and emerging technologies they're following and adopting to help them along the road to digital transformation.
If you want to stay where you are, the real truth is you need to go where they're going — so that when they get there, that's where you'll be, too. On the other hand, if you're ready for a change in your working situation, think about lateral opportunities within your current organization as well as opportunities elsewhere.
You don't necessarily have to leave your current employer to make a change, unless you (a) really want to, or (b) other opportunities beckon with better prospects, growth potential, and/or pay. Find yourself a strong, active and growing technical area, and hitch your training and career planning actions to that star.
Good examples of such areas include cloud computing in all its forms and platforms, cybersecurity, IT governance and compliance management, data management and protection, big data (aka "data science"), artificial intelligence and machine learning (aka AI/ML), and more.
Make a Plan
Once you pick a topic or area of emphasis, it's time to start digging into related training and certification opportunities. You can then start learning what kinds of increments your chosen certification path uses, how long it takes to climb any given rung on its ladder, and assess the amount of effort and cost involved.
The next step is to figure out how to map it into the current ebb and flow of everyday life. How much time can you devote to training and learning weekly? Will your current employer pay you for some of this time? How much "free time" can you liberate from your current roles and responsibilities without shorting present requirements in favor of future possibilities?
It's a delicate balance, to be sure, and one you'll want to ponder carefully. Be sure to discuss with affected parties (employer, family, friends, and so forth) before finalizing any plans.
Once you've settled on a plan, of course, you're the one who needs to honor it. That means assessing progress on a regular basis (at least once every three months, if not monthly, is what works for me) and displaying adaptability if and when things change or get a little off track.
You should also have budgets for your time and money, so you can draw on what you make available to yourself in spending those precious assets. But if, like our little friend the ant, you keep working and working, eventually you'll make progress and find yourself with a set of skills, knowledge and abilities that help you do your best today, and offer good prospects for the future.
What more could any ant — er, IT professional — want? Good luck, and have fun along the way.