What are your career goals for 2020? Will it be the year you go after a big promotion? Explore a few new certifications? Change careers altogether? If you are in IT, it’s wise to check in regularly on career progress – because staying still for too long could quickly lead to falling behind.
“You should be constantly evaluating whether you have the necessary skills to remain relevant and get ahead, and whether your career progression is aligning with your own goals and aspirations,” says Jim Johnson, senior vice president of Robert Half Technology. “The tech industry is continually evolving as new tools emerge and reshape the workplace. You can play a key role in your organization’s digital transformation strategies by taking the initiative to learn not only how these programs and machines work, but how to work with them. Don’t wait for technology to pass you by – put yourself on the road you want to be on and lead the pack.”
Identify areas of growth: Hot jobs, verticals
One nice thing about being an IT professional right now: You’ve got options. Glassdoor’s annual report of the 50 Best Jobs in America features 20 from the tech sector this year; the top seven on the list are IT roles. If you are unhappy in your current job or just ready for a change, there’s no reason to feel stuck, says Jim Halpin, unit manager, technology recruiting at LaSalle Network, a staffing, recruiting and culture firm.
“Because the technology space is so large with so many different verticals you can steer your career in, the first step is to reflect and think about what you like and/or dislike about what you’re currently doing, as well as what you want your next step to be, whether that’s building your career in the lane you’re in, or choosing a new path,” he says.
From there, Halpin proposes a few next steps that can get you closer to where you want to be in your career.
“Once you identify the direction you want to pursue, write down the steps it would take to move forward. Do your research and go as far as meeting with professionals in the space to ask for their advice. As you reflect, take note of any weaknesses you need to work on that would prevent you from achieving this next step. Think about any shortcomings that would make you less marketable as a candidate, and work on those, whether it’s getting a certification, attending a bootcamp, or attending meetups that cater to that particular skill set,” says Halpin.
“It’s also important to talk to your manager about the next step you want to take,” he advises. “There may an opportunity or project within your current company that can help align you with that path. They can also provide feedback on the areas you need to develop.”
Top tech skills to focus on in 2020
With so many potential areas of growth in IT, how do you narrow your focus? We asked tech recruiters and pros to share some key tech areas where you can consider building skills this year.
- Agile: “Over the past year and into 2020, I have been investing heavily in my agile skills,” says Alan Zucker, founder of Project Management Essentials. “Agile has crossed the tipping point, and as it continues to expand and mature, there is increasing demand for intermediate and advanced training. The leading institutions are now offering additional courses to help people continue to grow. Scrum Alliance now offers Advanced Scrum Master and Scrum Professional certifications beyond the foundational Scrum Master training. Scaled Agile offers over a dozen role-based certifications. In the past year, the Project Management Institute acquired the Disciplined Agile framework and is rolling out a comprehensive training program.”
- Data analytics: “Pretty much all customer-oriented companies possess valuable data, but not many of them truly know how to process it and make use of the business intelligence capabilities,” says Michal Abram, head of IT at Zety. “Knowing your data inspires smarter and quicker business solutions. It allows you to recognize trends and customer paths. So, my advice for professionals that wish to stay relevant in the IT work-force: dig into business data analytics. You can start by trying out or getting trained in using Data Studio, Microsoft Power BI, or Mixpanel for product and user behavioral analytics.”
- Open source tools: “Elasticsearch and ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana) is another thing worth looking into if you want to get upskilled,” says Abram. “ELK is a smart tool to manage your logs. The system helps to collect logs from various systems, locations, and applications and put them in one place. The system allows you to analyze the logs, create visualizations for application and infrastructure monitoring and security analytics.”
- AI, machine learning, and security skills: These areas of expertise will continue to be in demand, CIOs say. Read our related article, 6 critical IT skills for the next decade: Bay Area CIO of the Year winners share.
Top core skills: Showcase your EQ
Hard tech skills can only take you so far in your career, recruiters say. To play a more integral role in your organization, you’ll also have to develop core skills – also known as soft skills – like communication, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.
“Honing hard skills, like experience with an in-demand programming language, will help tech professionals advance their careers, but having a certain technical skill is no longer enough to see your tech career flourish. Corporate leaders are giving more weight to soft skills in 2020 than they ever have before,” says Doughty.
“Savvy tech professionals should put equal focus on fine-tuning on soft skills related to leadership, cognitive flexibility, emotional intelligence, and collaboration if they truly want to advance their careers in 2020.”
“Don’t dismiss soft skills,” Halpin also advises. “There are several that are paramount for tech professionals to have. For instance, being receptive to feedback and being coachable are two important ones that are highly valued.”
[ How does your talent strategy measure up in 2020? Download the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report: “IT Talent Strategy: New Tactics for a New Era.” ]