With the pace of new technology introductions in information technology accelerating, along with constant flux in existing tools and platforms, IT professionals are well-advised to develop enthusiasm for life-long learning, and constant development of new skills and knowledge.
Yesterday, I stumbled up on a very interesting blog post from Mark Thiele entitled “Get ready for the coming employment roller coaster.” Thiele is the VP of Data Center Technology at Switch, the company that operates the SwitchNAP data center in Los Angeles, and somebody who’s been riding a cresting wave of advanced and quick-changing stuff since the mid-1990s, so he has good reason to understand the why and wherefores of the modern IT employment marketplace.
In his blog he observes that the job turnover cycle – that is, the time is takes for a position to get introduced, mature, and start becoming passé or obsolete – keeps shortening in IT (and many other industries). Right now, it seems to run on about an 8-10 year cycle, and he believes that this cycle must tighten simply because the pace of new technology introductions and ongoing technology changes and enhancements is forcing this period to shrink. I concur, and I recommend reading his blog as much for the data and analysis it presents, as for the various observations and arguments it makes about the nature of IT employment.
What does this shrinking turnover cycle mean for IT workers who’d like to stay in the field for two decades or more? Several things, including:
- The necessity to track and follow interesting and important new technologies across the IT field, with the understanding that what you know now won’t remain useful forever, so that what you learn now and in the near term should always be forward-looking.
- What you’re working on now may be connected to what you’re studying to work on in the future, but it’s probably better to pick future investments in learning, skills and knowledge on their marketplace appeal and the likelihood that they will become more rather than less important in the next decade.
- IT workers need to accept the notion that they should always be learning something new, and keeping up with new developments in subjects with which they’re already familiar. Regular turnover in available work requires learning now to ensure employability and opportunities in the future.
I happen to believe that IT certification provides a dandy way to keep up with current tools, platforms and technologies that still have some future life ahead of them – such as Windows Server 2012 and the latest versions of Exchange, Lync Server, SharePoint and so forth; Oracle 11g and the various tools and platforms it supports, HTML 5 and related mobile development and content creation environments, unified communications, unified threat management, and much more besides. Certification provides a definite entry point into these subject matters, and often also offers a series of rungs for aspiring IT professionals to climb as their learning and skills aggregate and they become more senior in their overall job and maturity profiles.
That’s why you’ll find a forward-looking perspective in my many articles for Tom’s IT Pro, wherein I point to leading or “Top 5” credentials in IT subject areas that include communications, wireless networking, computing hardware, IT healthcare, IT training, cloud computing, project management, software development and computer programming, computer forensics, storage, virtualization, database, help desk, system administration, networking, information security, and more.
Here’s the bottom line.
First, you need to keep up with the areas in which you currently work to keep those skills and knowledge fresh. Second, you need to look ahead to think about what other kinds of skills and knowledge you’d like to develop, and start studying up to begin that process as your available time, funds, and energy permit. This can be difficult and occasionally even painful, but it’s a necessary part of keeping yourself fit for the IT game in the decades ahead as you continue to practice your trade.
Ed Tittel is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who’s worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written and blogged for numerous publications, including Tom's Hardware, and is the author of over 140 computing books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.
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