Time to Start Certification and Career Planning for 2021

It's going to be a different Halloween this year.

For the first time in my life, I find myself wondering whether I should bother taking up my usual camp stool outside the garage on Saturday night, with a big bowl of candy next to me. That's because Saturday is Halloween — and I simply have no idea whether the trick-or-treaters will be coming around or not. (Just to be safe, we bought a big bag of candy when we shopped at Costco last weekend.)


I've got to admit that this level of uncertainty really brings home the powerful and sweeping effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, like almost nothing else has so far over the past 7-to-8 months. That level of uncertainty about things previously taken entirely for granted is also why I think it's a good idea to get started, sooner rather than later, on planning career development and certification activities for 2021.


Sooner Started with Planning, Sooner Started with Action


This is a time when IT pros really, really need to set themselves some stretch targets for career growth, and for acquisition (or expansion) of knowledge and skillsets. Why do I say this? Whereas training and certification have long been instrumental to helping IT pros get promotions and pay increases, and start growing into more senior job roles and responsibilities, this is a time when everything is potentially at risk — including the job you currently occupy.


The best way to get ready to deal with change and crisis is to have some fresh, new, and relevant knowledge and skills to bring to a job interview. You also need a solid track record, complete with an interesting and informative story to tell about your career track and on-the-job experience so far.


We simply cannot tell what's going to happen to the economy and the job market in the months and years upcoming. So it's best to polish your resume, bring your skills and knowledge inventory current, and look to where the action in IT is strongest — and where opportunities are most likely to be found.


Where the Opportunities Abound


Which of the currently hot IT skills should you pursue?

Because of current changes to workplace surrounds and the fact that IT pros already have a tendency to do the work-from-home thing, it's actually straightforward to understand where opportunities are most abundant. Here's a short laundry list that should surprise no one, but should present fertile ground for digging into specific, focused specialties and related training and certification:


? Cloud

? Virtualization

? Remote access

? Security

? Data management and protection

? Backup and recovery (which leads further to disaster recovery and business continuity)

? AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning)


These are all incredibly intertwined and absolutely unavoidable nowadays. I'd recommend beefing up what you already know in these areas, and perhaps jumping into one or two more so as to increase the breadth of your knowledge and skill sets.


The Planning Drill Looks Back, Then Looks Forward


The certification and training process begins with an inventory and a check-up on your current certification inventory. That means checking renewal status on existing certs you've already earned (if any). If one or more is coming up for renewal in 2021, then you'll need to decide whether or not renewal is worthwhile — that is, worth the time, effort, and expense it will take to renew or recertify.


Next you'll want to check other more current certs and see whether you need to document some continuing education or related activities to keep them current (or possibly qualify for renewal without retesting, as is sometimes the case). With more people working at home and more free time around the holidays, this is something you can knock out before the end of the year if you're willing to tackle the job.


Don't just decided to get a new cert. Set a date!

Then, you'll want to schedule the time and set a date for those existing certs where you do have to retest, so you can work around this for the next step that follows.


Now it's time to look forward. Ask yourself: Am I ready to climb another rung on any of the certification ladders I'm on? If so, then that means identifying the specific next rung, looking at preparation and exam costs and requirements, and getting that on your 2021 schedule.


After that, it's time to turn to your stretch/growth targets and ask yourself: What is something new and interesting, certification- and career-wise, that I can add to my skills and knowledge portfolio for 2021? Find yourself three or four potential targets, then zero in on one or two. The numbers you decide on are those that you can comfortably commit to before 2021 comes and goes.


I've seen too many IT friends, colleagues, and co-workers stumble because they set the bar too high, and then simply gave up when they failed to check the first box on what most people would find a daunting "Certification To-Do List" for the upcoming planning period (2021). Better to undershoot early, then add something later, than to overshoot immediately and give up at the first sign of trouble.


Set yourself some realistic targets, then go over them with your friends, family, and any IT mentors you might have or know. Ask them what they think of your plans? Ask them if they can handle your level of focus and activity, which probably means you'll have less time and energy to devote to family and friends. Ask them if they have any suggestions for things that you might have overlooked.


With that input in mind, you can then make some plans for 2021. And with the holidays coming up, you can even get a jump start on 2021 in what remains of 2020, if you're so inclined. Good luck, and have fun. Happy Halloween, too!


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.