Note: This is the second article in a two-part series about navigating the new world of IT career development. The first part was about creating a plan for your IT career. This part delves into how to execute that plan.
So you have a career plan for the IT industry. You know where you want to go. How do you make it happen? And how do you learn new skills without breaking the bank?
Part 2: Executing Your IT Career Plan
Start with the inventory of technical skills you need, and identify free or low cost sources that will help teach those skills. Many sources are available!
Books, both in hard copy and e-books
Of course, our own predictive testing platform at Skillset provides a good marriage between specific test prep and exploratory career advancement. If you’re not sure how all the skills fit together, or which you need to focus on before seeking a new career, Skillset can be invaluable for finding your way through different assessments for IT skills and beyond.
A number of sites offer the first lesson free, but charge for the remainder of the course.One of the premier learning sites is Lynda.com. For $25 a month, you have unlimited access to their extensive library of courses.
Consider local colleges and universities. Some offer evening courses that are open to adult non-degree students. Others host free online courses, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) that are essentially free online courses open to anyone.
There are many educational companies who offer in-classroom instruction on IT technical skills. These range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on length, amount of lab practice, and the instructor.
While expensive, classroom and lab sessions usually assure the student he or she will develop the basic skills taught in the course. Some people learn better in a structured classroom environment. Consider asking your manager for reimbursement by explaining how the new skill will make you more valuable to the organization.
Virtually everyone can improve their organization skills in project management, general management, and supervisory ability. Increasing these business related skills makes them more valuable, both for current job duties and future opportunities.
In the United States, the authoritative body for project management and related skills is the Project Management Institute (PMI). They maintain the recognized body of project management knowledge and the corresponding certifications that use that knowledge.
PMI offers a series of certifications that are helpful to even the most experienced project manager. In addition to the project management professional (PMP) certification, PMI now offers:
- PMI Scheduling Professional
- PMI Risk Management Professional
- Portfolio Management Professional
- Program Management Professional (PMP)
- PMI Agile Certified Practitioner
While the IT community is fully aware of the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, the beginning “ Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)” is less well known. The CAPM is ideal for a wide range of people, from purely technical to managers who are intimately involved with IT projects.
The CAPM does not require the project management experience of the PMP. The core CAPM requirements are 1,500 hours of project “participation” experience or 23 hours of project management education. A course that prepares you for the CAPM exam counts as the 23 hours of education.
The education can be provided by educational firms who are pre-approved by PMI, and known as Registered Education Providers or REP’s. PMI chapters and distance eLearning companies also have courses that prepare the student for taking the multiple choice CAP exam. Generally, the courses are designed to help the student pass the CAPM exam, but some additional self-study or review is needed.
Basic Management Skills
The internet is filled with sites that claim to provide management training and/or general management information. As with everything on the internet, these vary in quality from the virtually useless to the excellent. These sites come and go, so a current search is always recommended.
Management training requires a different approach than technical subjects. While technical skills may be independent and more self contained, management training is best presented in a logical sequence. A comprehensive course is better than simply searching online for pieces and parts.
One interesting site is http://managementhelp.org/. It contains numerous management topics as well as an overview section.
Skillpath is an example of a for-fee training company who offers both instructor led courses and online learning, in both business and technical skills. Practical Management skills (http://www.practical-management-skills.com/) is another site offering relatively low cost management training.
The most useful and important business skills are related to your current position. If you are in the insurance business, you can seek out industry provided insurance training that covers the basics of risk management, policy management, and claims management.
The first source is your own organization. Seek out internal business training in the non-IT areas. Other departments may have internal training programs and may allow outside employees to attend their sessions.
If your organization doesn’t have business related training, you can ‘drop the hint’ that you are interested. Perhaps leaders in the business units will allow you to sit with employees in the business areas as they perform their daily functions. Listening to a claims processor as she explains the intricacies of her job gives an IT professional a new perspective on the applications that support the claims department.
Or, other areas may have training documentation that they are willing to share. Reviewing documentation is another simple but effective way to learn about the business.
Improving your personal skills is one of the most basic and potentially rewarding actions an IT professional can undertake. Unfortunately, it’s also the most difficult.
One can read self-improvements books and pick up helpful ideas, concepts, and hints, but there is no substitute for (a) an objective self-evaluation and (b) asking trusted colleagues to offer their own suggestions.
A self-evaluation is based on ten core questions:
- What do my fellow employees like about me?
- What do my fellow employees dislike about me?
- Have I earned the trust of my fellow employees? If not, why?
- Have I earned the respect of my fellow employees? If not, why?
- Have I earned the confidence of my managers? If not, why?
- Do people consider me ‘friendly’ and ‘approachable’? If not, why?
- Do I always keep a confidence?
- Do I go out of my way to make new people feel welcome?
- Do I always put forth the effort needed to do my job well?
- Do people like me as a person? If not, why?
Armed with the results of an uncomfortable but honest introspection, you next identify several close colleagues who may be willing to provide honest feedback. You can approach them with:
“I’m working on a career plan, and one big part is self-improvement. Could you help by suggesting one way I could improve myself?”
If the person is willing, this open ended question is benign enough to start a more general conversation leading to other areas of self-improvement. The correct response is to listen attentively, perhaps ask for a single example or two, but never challenge, deny, or object. Consider the feedback as objective and in your best interest. Begin using that feedback to improve your personal skills.