Education optimize

One key to career growth is never to stop learning

Don't stop learning just because your company doesn't offer formal training. It's up to you to keep your skills sharp and increase your knowledge.

Earlier this week, Patrick Gray wrote a guest piece in this blog about turbo-charging your tech career. One point he makes is that tech pros should not just wait around for corporate-sanctioned training to learn new skills. He says, "If you rely on corporate-style training to enhance your skills, you'll likely never get anywhere."

This reminded me of a situation I was faced with a couple of years ago when my son was in elementary school. He'd been diagnosed with ADHD, which these days is about as common as a second ear. However, in our school system, children with this diagnosis were placed in some special ed classes and/or aligned with a behavior modification plan.  His troubles focusing were attributed to a willful disregard for the teacher and the class work, etc.

In one "we have a problem" meeting, I asked the teacher what she knew about ADHD. Her response? Not much because the school system did not mandate knowing about it. I was pretty shocked. I couldn't understand why someone who, if the statistics were true, would likely have a pretty healthy proportion of her class exhibiting ADHD symptoms would not do some kind of looking into it on her own accord. Knowing a few facts could help her reach these students better and generally increase her ability to do her job. Why would someone wait for an officially sanctioned okay from the department of education?

I think the same holds true for any job, but especially for IT. IT pros should not wait for the company to pay for further training in new technologies. In fact, most of the IT pros I've spoken to say that learning new technologies is something they can't really help doing, given their innate curiosity and interest in the area.

Pick up a piece of software and take it for a test drive. Poke around a new OS-maybe you'll be the one to find a compelling reason for your company to upgrade. Take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs if your company offers them. Just keep growing and don't wait around for company-sanctioned training.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

19 comments
Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

being self taught, learning is just part of what I do, to me it's as natural and as necessary as breathing. Need to make one thing clear though. I do it for me. .Net 4 parallelisation, shiny new interesting challenging and useful. VB6, dull, old, boring, irritating and as career enhancing as taking a crap in your bosses bin. So they pay for it, and I do it on their dime.

3v
3v

Seems like a lot of you have an awful attitude toward the industry. If you don't like the career jump boat and find something you are better suited for. To take home 30k-40k annual and be worthy of the price tag you HAVE to stay abreast of the latest technology; that's part of the job you signed on for. That doesn't mean spending hours upon hours a night, outside of normal working hours, reading books and manuals and listening in on recorded webinars. Make use of all the resources that are available to you: RSS feeds, audio-books, e-books, e-mail lists, local groups of professionals, GOOGLE, YOUTUBE, etc... etc... If you want to succeed with anything you have to learn to stop making excuses and do what needs to get done. Having a passion for your work definitely helps. Having a fowl attitude and outlook works against you and can be disastrous, contagious, and impose more stress upon your life and that of your family and co-workers than necessary. Bottom line: If you hate every aspect of I.T. then get out of the field. Life is too short to waste time on something you don't find worthwhile. Give some of the younger hungrier prospects a shot.

count_zero_interuptus
count_zero_interuptus

That's what the teaching "proffession" did. Now they work less, get more pay and perks, job security and tenure, and don't have to think or be any better than mediocre... hey, most have no pay-for-performance and get automatic step increases even if they suck. Disagree? Look around. Read the numbers.

Professor8
Professor8

The fact is that executives have reduced their recruiting efforts, reduced their investments in interviewing, relocating, educating and training STEM workers, especially US citizen STEM workers who have a few years of experience. They don't want to send you to classes, train you in-house, or even purchase current reference materials, but expect you to extrapolate from the reference materials from several years and several versions back. At the same time, they want you to engage in continuous learning, they also want you to focus only on the current project, and be there 16 hours a day 6 or 7 days a week, and those 16 hours better include the ones that are convenient to them, because any others don't count in their reckoning and you will not be paid for them. One of the posters incorrectly mentioned the 1990s. Actually the cut-backs and increased demands took place about the time the H-1B was hatched. I can't think of more than 1 or 2 US citizen STEM workers who was not always engaged in learning new things in their field... but not always the things their B-school bozo bosses somehow psychicly expected them to have known to learn after coming back from their latest tax deductible vacation/conference. That's ironic because there is so little and shallow in the way of learning that goes on in B-schools; the B-school profs and students both actively resist actually digging into any subject beyond surface appearances. All this creates additional problems for knowledgeable, creative, industrious but impoverished unemployed and under-employed STEM workers who don't have the cash to be buying the latest gadgets and software and books and subscriptions to developer materials or traveling to conferences anymore.

sissy sue
sissy sue

... and he doesn't like learned people. He's 70-something. He's worked for himself all his life, and he's been successful and very lucky. He knows his specialty well, and that is all that he is interested in knowing. He used to have 30 people working for him, but now he only has 6. There is not much work coming into his place anymore. He's more interested in his hobbies than in his business. He treats his people with contempt, so that even the guy with many years of service to him is hoping that he will go out of business so that he has the liberty of looking for other opportunities. He likes to be told how brilliant he is, and he loves his sycophants and satellites. I don't think that his children and grandchildren will be able to retire from his business. Always be willing to learn. Otherwise, ignorance will catch up with you. It might be today or tomorrow, but the day of reckoning will come.

Duke E Love
Duke E Love

It should be part of your regiment. I know one person, a former coworker, who never bothered to move out of his comfort zone. He learned the basics and did not keep up with changes in the field. That was all well and fine until he had to work with software packages, code libraries and methodologies that were current. He had no idea what he was doing even though the methodologies were standard practice in the field. He made a mad dash and tried to play catch up ball but he was so far behind that he was not able to bring his skill set current before it cost him his job.

Darren B - KC
Darren B - KC

I'm realizing now, 6 years after getting my IT training, that it was a waste of time and money. I've been a network admin for 5 years and I still make less than $35k, yet my employer keeps demanding more and more out of me without fair compensation. I do all the usual network admin stuff plus some .NET programming as well, and there's even some responsibilities that I take care of that have NOTHING to do with IT. Maybe a different employer would offer better pay and benefits, but I lack confidence in my IT skills and I'm afraid to even look for another job in IT. The more new stuff I try to learn, the more old stuff I forget. Seriously. To make it worse, any new tech that you spend the time and money to learn becomes obsolete before you get a chance to make any decent money utilizing it!! I've been trying to learn new topics in programming (most of which I still don't understand at all) and the other day I couldn't remember how to install a security certificate. I had to Google it! In fact, if I went to take my A+ exam in either software or hardware today, I doubt very much that I would pass it, to say nothing about any of the Microsoft certification exams. The problem worsens when you take into account that I'm going to be 44 years old in less than 6 months. I want to get into graphic design, but that's a job market that is dominated by energetic and creative people in thier 20's. What design firm would hire someone who's a rookie in the industry after they've passed middle age? Point is, I feel "stuck" in IT because I'm already here but I don't know what else to do, and yet I also feel like I'm going to be forced out of IT if I'm not constantly hitting the books and trying to stay on top of what's current in the industry. The learning part alone is almost a full-time career! On the flip side of that, however, is the fact that my employer is VERY slow to adopt new technology. (We have no plans, short or long term, to do anything with "The Cloud", for example. Management here doesn't even know what "The Cloud" is yet.) Of course, the constant struggle to learn new stuff doesn't really allow time for a personal life of any value, and like tbmay points out here, it's almost impossible to know what the hell I should even bother to learn in the first place! One day, tech pundits say the careers are all in "Tech A", or whatever, but then the following week, they're all like, "Oh no, Tech A is on the way out, now the world is moving to Tech B!" (IMO, TechRepublic is notorious for partaking in this sort of confusion, BTW.) It's enough to make me say, "F*** this industry."

hiteshrawal
hiteshrawal

Yes, I agree with it, learning is required for individuals growth even if the organization doesn't accommodate. But to keep updated our resources with the latest technology is also one of the good investment for organization, any way the knowledge of resource is help full for company growth.

tbmay
tbmay

I worked in a school district for many years, and I'm married to a teacher. You're hitting on what makes IT a questionable thing to be recommending young people to get involved with. Those of us in the district's technology department worked many more hours than the teachers did. This is a pretty consistent story with IT workers in any industry. You go home tired, and STILL have to find the energy to learn new skills your employer will use on your own time and dime. It gets old. When I was a single 20 something, and naive enough to think all that would pay off one day, I gladly did it. Now...not so gladly any more. Why didn't the teacher know more about it? She has an established job. Her job, training, and certification are set up for that established job. Somebody else is paid to know about that particular problem. We could argue about whether that's the right attitude, but typically that's what special ed teachers are trained to understand. There is a very established understanding of different disciplines in education. Unfortunately, and I tend to think somewhat intentionally, that understanding doesn't exist in technical disciplines. At least not as much as it should. Heck, it even bodes the question of exactly WHAT should people be studying to stay ahead.

tbmay
tbmay

The problem is I can remember thinking the 2 "old timers" I knew in I.T. (over 35) had bad attitudes when I was a chap. I have seen the cycle repeat itself now. I've worked in the field long enough to see others bust their humps, to find out several years later it wasn't going to get them anywhere. Check out the percentage of CS majors still working in tech by the time they're 40. Trust me when I tell you not every career is like that. I can tell you straight up, teaching is not easy. Not by a darn sight and the vast majority of us on this board, myself included, don't have what it takes to make a good one. But it is a solid career choice for the ones who have been called to it by virtue of a few facts: 1. There is career direction. You don't have to guess which of a gillion software products, hardware products, and/or languages to learn/certify in/whatever, in the hopes you guess right for tomorrow's flavor of the day. They have very specific specialties that change at an exponentially slower rate. 2. Experience is valued. 3. Perhaps an intrinsic value, but you get the opportunity to make a positive difference in a young person's life.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is crap..... Are these things unconnected, well no. Unions institutionalise mediocrity, no room for that in IT, management has that one sewn up....

rastr
rastr

Many of us get stuck in "can't", "stuck", lack of confidence, etc. I've been there. My value has everything to do with what you do for the company and can do, not my attitude/feelings/assessments/world-view, but these limit the opportunities I see and affect my emotions my your experience. This was impossible to untangle on my own, but with Landmark Ed's Forum I managed. Life is much better on the other side. To start, tell your boss you need an hour a day to keep up with technology and then stick to it. Yeah, some days I'm too busy, but usually I make the time. And ask for whatever you think you're worth. Ask nicely and say you've been doing more and more at the same wage and think you deserve it. If no raise comes, shrug it off, don't react, and quietly look for another job. Most raises happen during job changes. Courage doesn't come from confidence or lack of fear, it's the name we give for acting in the face of fear.

david.elzner
david.elzner

I couldn't agree more the whole IT system admin/ network admin / IT Manager etc "profession" is dead or a least on it's way. We will be increasingly seen as a uncessary cost on a the business as more and more companies move to the cloud. IT certifications are a waste of time, peddled by IT training companies whose very existence rely on them. I find it laughable that they are still advertising the fact that a career in IT is a worthwhile venture: "Earn 30 K a year with a bright future - become a systems engineer " they shout. If only the naive new recruits realise whats in for them.

tbmay
tbmay

One thing I have learned is pundits don't have a clue. They write articles. If I had a dime for every time I've read contradictions, vague and obvious statements presented as scoops, and flat out nonsense presented as truth, I wouldn't have to work in IT, or any other industry. I'd be set. A few things I will point out as obvious, and needs to be considered by anyone either considering the rest of their career, or advising young people on their careers. 1. The 90's and early 2000's are over. 2. Business does not view I.T. as a profession. You will not change that perception. 3. Business will probably always prefer young people to older workers for I.T. work. They can be counted on to exercise the same naivete I exercised, and spoke of in an earlier post. Does that mean the right thing to do is look for another line of work, and maybe relegate technology to part-time, or even hobby? That's up to the individual. I'm just saying I don't think the three things I mentioned are likely to change. I've also noticed you can't tell most 20 year olds anything. They already know it all, and they will repeat the same mistakes we have already made because of that.

3dBloke
3dBloke

I'm with @tbmay on this. Keeping tech skills current is obvious, but sometimes it's hard finding the time to do meaningful research and training in your own time. In my early-40s I was in a job that had a long commute (1.5 - 2 hrs each way) and too many chores and family commitments at weekends. This went on for a few years. It was a gradual thing, but I found myself losing touch with the latest tech skills, something I had always made an effort to prevent. The IT field moves so rapidly, it seems you have to be young and eager, with no family, to stay on top of the new tech. Hirers tend to favour the young, too, since pay is generally less. I'm a techie through and through, with no desire to move into people management. Now in my 50s, I have to sacrifice a lot of family time in order to build my tech skills. The size of an employer is another factor: in large corps with huge IT staff it may not be possible to influence IT policy even if you do come up with some good ideas.

info
info

Some are just better, or more suited to things, than others. For example, we've had a few 'accounting clerks/receptionists' here at work. Most are 'normal', and don't try to excel at the job and do as little as possible, since it's 'only' entry-level. But the person we've kept is someone that can't sit still for 5 seconds, and does the work of three people. No extra motivation or compensation required, it's just what she does... Same with teaching and IT. There are those that are self-compelled to do everything they can, and those that get by with the bare minimum. Frequently, home life gets in the way a LOT. I'm way laxing on my education because my wife feels every few seconds of my spare time should be spent with her. It's just too bad that the people that excel aren't recognized (and more than likely EXPLOITED, I've seen the lazy people get raises and promotions just because of their attitudes of entitlement, over the hard working drones that keep thinking their loyalty and efforts will someday be noticed and rewarded) for their works.

franceshd
franceshd

WOW ! It was encouraging to hear I am not the only one who was too busy to keep up with all the fast-paced computer technology of the last 30 years. Working 50+ hours a week, raising a child, taking care of an invalid elderly parent and being a wife, I did NOT have free time. Spent 18 years programming at a bank which used proprietary NCR software (anyone remember NEAT/3?) Then 12 of the last 14 in a school district, again, with proprietary COBOL (!) software. They did eventually go to a DB/SQL/Crystal Reports system with limited in-house training. Then 18 months ago I was RIF'ed even though my boss took early retirement at 61 with "rule of 80", hoping it would stem off the layoff of any of the 3 remaining employees (1 operator, 1 programmer/network admin, and me). Alas, my worst fear came true. Now I feel I flubbed up my career. THANKS for the encouragement and letting me vent!

sunnarin
sunnarin

I think I'm in that situation right now.

sissy sue
sissy sue

You see bored fast-food clerks and retail personnel all the time. Why do they look so disinterested? Because they are paid minimum wage, so they don't put in the effort. Here is what they forget: If you can't be bothered to demonstrate hard work, ability, and value at minimum wage, why should and why would anyone pay you anything more?