Businesses seem to be caught up with the ‘self-everything’ hype these days: self-driving cars, self-learning AIs and self-service chatbots, to name but a few.
But something is glaringly missing from this list – training and development the IT professionals that will be needed to install and maintain the technology required to actually turn these futuristic buzzwords into practical application.
According to the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2019, over 62% of surveyed Australian IT professionals are somewhat confident about their ability to manage future technologies, while over 29% doubt themselves.
With only 19% of IT pros receiving any form of upskilling help from their employers, how can IT pros close this ever-widening skills gap and remain relevant in an increasingly automated future?
A question of motivation
To answer that question, IT pros should remember why they entered IT in the first place. Most IT professionals can cite several reasons: they love the thrill of deducing a technical problem; they enjoy making things more efficient; or they simply enjoy the creation process. Spending hours trawling subreddits, GitHub, Stack Overflow of Slack to find a solution isn’t a chore when you’re passionate about problem-solving.
Most IT pros are self-motivated in this way – a trait necessary to learn and thrive in the highly skilled, highly technical world of IT and networking. But this obsessive commitment to their jobs can often distract IT pros from other, equally important things – sustenance, hygiene, and the need to improve their skills.
In their flurry of activity, most choose to entrust training to their organisations; as a result, only 19% of IT pros receive skills training weekly, 16% monthly and 14% quarterly, according to our IT Trends research. In many cases, their career goals may not necessarily be aligned with that of their employers. More than ever, many will have to consciously redirect a portion of their self-motivated energies towards upskilling, or risk becoming less and less relevant.
What I find useful is to view upskilling as a technical problem, not a supplementary task: you can’t solve something if you don’t know how, or why it works.
Framing upskilling this way immediately triggers the ‘self-help’ component of the IT brain. ‘Where can I go to solve this problem? Which communities do I join? What resources do I need?’ – all good questions to kickstart your journey.
Choosing the right skill build
With that motivation, IT pros can proceed to identify what new skills or areas they must learn – if they haven’t already.
There are two suggestions on how they can approach this.
The first way is to visualise, isolate and remediate: plot your current skillsets with future ones using a Venn Diagram, for example, and focus on the overlaps nearest to what you know. Those proficient in hybrid clouds, for instance, can begin their education in associated areas like automation, Internet of Things or data analytics – all future-critical areas for IT professionals, according to the SolarWinds survey. This doesn’t just allow IT pros to better visualise their entire journey; it also enables them to see new opportunities to elevate and diversify as technology and business conditions change.
The second method requires IT to align themselves to future organisational needs, and play a more active role in the business. That means taking time to interact with colleagues, departments, and business leaders to find out their needs, wants, and objectives; then obtaining technical skills to reach those outcomes. Understandably, this may cause bouts of anxiety, frustration and horror for a cohort of IT practitioners – but the assured relevance that comes with doing so is worth a bit of friction.
Make a plan, and stick to it
Once they know the skills they must obtain, IT pros have a variety of methods to obtain them.
According to the survey, face-to-face seminars are favoured by over 30% of IT professionals – but these can be infrequent and costly to boot. A more practical, if not familiar, way would be to engage more in channels that also come with community support – the GitHubs or Stack Overflows of the learning world.
Self- learning video websites like Udemy or Skillshare – popular among 19% of IT practitioners – come with an online community of peers and teachers that further facilitates self-paced learning. There’s also no shortage of interactive webinars out there that allow real-time interaction between participants.
Finally, vendor-specific portals that maintain their own lively forum communities can supply IT professionals with the necessary knowledge and feedback to get the most out of their technologies. My advice is to find a method that allows you to fully capitalise on the self-motivation and time that you’ve devoted towards this very purpose. According to the SolarWinds survey, most IT professionals understand the need to ‘tech-up’ and improve – with a majority already having an image of their roadmap for the next three to five years.
The next step: translating that vision into practical action that fills up the experience bar as quickly as possible.