Assess Your Needs & Find New Ways to Knowledge
Fall is not only the time of year when many learners, young and old, return to school and take up new learning adventures. It also is a time of transition—when it’s good to pause and reflect on where life’s adventures may be leading. IT and other career professionals usually can benefit from such pondering as a way to measure progress and accomplishments, but also as a way to set new goals, establish new learning or career development objectives and to consider “where next?” for matters related to work and life.
Taking Stock of Learning Needs
Outright on-the-job requirements (such as those posed by looming platform adoptions and migrations) are the most urgent causes for learning needs. But there are plenty of other reasons why motivated professionals might add to their learning agendas. These range from simple curiosity or personal interest to the belief that emerging or high-demand knowledge and skill sets will pay a handsome return on learning investments. As great examples of the latter, consider subject matter related to wireless networking technologies or information security. Both are experiencing strong upsurges in interest, implementation and investment, which inevitably trickle down to the professionals who work with such technologies.
The first step in assessing learning needs must involve making an inventory of your current skills and knowledge, plus any training or certification you’ve acquired in the same subject or technology areas. It’s a truism in IT that knowledge bases tend to turn over completely in anywhere from five to 10 years. As you inventory your knowledge, skill and learning bases, it’s probably smart to discount the value of listed items by anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent for each year that has passed since you acquired them.
Make a list of what you’ve learned and what you know, as well as the year in which that work was completed. Then, assign a percentage value to each entry based on the time that’s elapsed. Fast-changing areas like wireless technologies or programming should use the higher 20 percent rate. Slower-moving areas like NetWare, Networking or Storage technologies should use the lower 10 percent rate. You can use a similar approach for certifications.
Anything on your list that’s valued at 50 percent or less should be subjected to a “new, renew or dump” analysis. Basically, this consists of deciding if the underlying subject matter and technologies remain relevant and valuable enough to justify continued investment or renewal of related certifications, or if relevancy or value has declined sufficiently to make further investment a case of throwing good money, time and effort into a potentially lost cause. Contextual factors also must weigh heavily on such decisions, so that for someone who works for a company planning to migrate from Windows to Linux, further investment in Windows training and certification would warrant a dump decision, whereas for a company migrating in the other direction, the same training and certification would warrant a new/renew decision. But to some extent, market trends like those so clearly manifested for wireless technologies and information security can offset such considerations, especially for individuals thinking about changing employers or job roles in IT.
Deciding what should go from your list can be easy for those prepared to move out of their comfort zones, but gut-wrenching for those who loathe to surrender hard-won expertise, seniority and professional or workplace recognition. Deciding what to move onto your list also can be vexing, in that many more options or avenues may present themselves than any single individual can fit into a busy life. That said, careful consideration of certification learning and personal development priorities can help set future learning agendas.
Learning and Personal Development
Though it may seem that IT certifications (and even some IT managers and professionals) are discovering the importance of soft skills for the very first time in the past couple of years, in truth, these things have never been far from the forefront of personal and professional development for IT professionals of all stripes. When you consider how important key soft skills are for successful living, as well as successful working, it’s hard to imagine that such things actually need outright mention or emphasis to factor into learning and training plans. But for many IT professionals, who tend to concentrate on matters technical first and foremost, if not exclusively, that’s all too often the case.
There is a myriad of soft skills where professionals of all stripes (including those in IT) can benefit from learning, whether in the context of classroom or online training or from reading and self-study, that it’s almost overwhelming to recount key items worthy of consideration and possible investment. Among a host of others, they certainly include the following at or near the top of anybody’s list:
- Writing: Though both oral and written communications are important to personal and professional success, writing is an incredibly important skill, especially for those interested in management or top technical positions. Possible options here include online and classroom writing courses across a broad range of offerings from business communications and technical writing to more apparently frivolous topics like creative writing. This is an area where practice is key and exposure to outside input and feedback essential, so classes are of real potential benefit here.
- Project management: Even managing oneself can benefit from exposure to modern project planning, budgeting, operation, monitoring and management techniques. This is an area where reading and self-study can be incredibly helpful, as can cultivation of mentor or peer-counseling relationships with other practicing professionals.
- People management: Working in modern legal, ethical and regulatory environments requires working knowledge of employment law and practices on the one hand and of well-accepted people management and motivation techniques on the other. Everything from company- or organization-specific management and awareness training to outright pursuit of business and management topics at the graduate (or even undergraduate) level is grist for this mill.
- People skills: Improving one’s ability to work with others often comes from (or along with) improving one’s knowledge of oneself. Learning how to work and communicate better with others also can result from sensitivity training or workshops, interpersonal communications reading and development and even from self-help or personal development books and classes.
The short version is that anything that helps to make you a better person usually helps to make you a better employee or manager, so seek out opportunities to better yourself and in turn, you’ll better your working life and prospects.
Learning and Certification
It’s interesting that certification appears to thrive in both good economic times and in bad ones. In good times, candidates tend to see certification as a ticket to a better-paying job or as a more convincing way to make the right impression when seeking a first or new IT job. In bad times, candidates tend to see certification as a way to improve the odds of surviving downsizing and layoffs and as an outstanding foot in the door or value-added extra for those entering the workforce or seeking job changes.
It’s also quite interesting to realize that access to peers, colleagues and mentors—the kind of virtual group that helps make virtual communities so successful when they gel nicely—is an increasingly important ingredient for individuals seeking certification. That is, there’s more to surviving the certifica