Moore's Law says that the power and efficiency of computer technology will double every 18 months. For the people in charge of mastering and harnessing that power, this means great opportunity, but also a challenge. If you stop paying attention, even for a second, you can fall irrevocably behind that 18 month power curve.
For IT professionals, failing to keep up can lead to a rapid decline in career possibilities, as younger and more prepared programmers, administrators, and engineers edge in with the latest languages, technologies, and techniques under their belt. "If there's one thing I've learned," says Bob Walsh, an IT contractor for 25 years and author of Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality, "it's if you're not keeping an eye on developing tech trends you will wake up one fine day unemployable."
For that reason, the time to start working on your next job is now, while you're still secure in your current job. With a little planning, training, and effective networking, you'll always be prepared to take on whatever challenges Moore's Law throws at you. Here's how.
Plan For Change
Walsh advises IT workers to watch for signs of maturity and obsolescence in your core skill areas because it's an indicator that commoditization is just around the corner. Commoditization means lower pay, outsourced jobs, and lower prestige as you find your hard-earned skill-set becoming irrelevant or, just as bad, common.
Beating the threat of obsolescence requires taking a hard look at your skills and your career goals. At least once a year, go through your resume and determine which skills are no longer useful, and which could use some polishing. Make a long-term plan to strengthen those core proficiencies that are in-demand by the market and replace those on the decline.
Back to The Drawing Board
One of the most important things you need to do is commit a fixed portion of your time and income for constant improvement. "Allot some percentage of your time, attention, and money to learning new languages, frameworks and tools on an ongoing basis," recommends Walsh. There are many things you can do to improve your current skills or develop new ones. Just a few of them are:
• Formal training: Take a course of instruction in a new technology at your local college or university. You might even consider earning a second degree—perhaps one of the new hybrid programs like a Techno-MBA popping up at many colleges, which combines traditional management with information science and business technology.
• Workshops and seminars: To get started with a new technology or framework, take advantage of the short, one-day to one-week training sessions offered by vendors and training companies.
• On-the-job training: Be on the lookout for new projects or ways that new technologies can contribute to your existing work. Says Walsh, "grab every chance you can in your current position to learn new things."
• Self-education: Keep up-to-date with the journals and white papers in your field, and hit the bookstore or library regularly to pick up books on the latest technologies. For example, if you're a quick study, a couple of books and a few free weekends might be all you need to get up-to-speed with a new programming language.
Pay special attention to "soft skills"—communication, leadership, administration, etc. Your ability to communicate effectively, to inspire high performance in your team, and to keep on schedule and on budget is what will set you apart from similarly-qualified competitors. Consider joining a local Toastmasters group to work on your speaking skills, or learn and implement a productivity system to make yourself hyper-efficient.
To stay on top in the fast-moving field of technology requires a certain kind of psychology about it. You need to stay focused on what's happening in your field right now, but at the same time always have an eye on the changes that lie just over the horizon. Building your telescopic camera requires solid planning, a strong network, and a commitment to constant self-improvement which will help make sure that when you reach the horizon, you're more than up to the task of tackling whatever new challenges come your way.