I read the “Which path should I take” post and it got me to wondering – what do you recommend for those of us who have already reached a level our younger selves would have considered success, but now want to plan for the next 20 years? With the changes to administration (Azure/Office 365 replacing local for example) what knowledge investments do you think are worth making to ensure the 30 & 40 year old crowd doesn’t become unemployable by the time they’re in their 50s?
I hope you’ll submit a question, too!
Wow, good question. I’ve been spending some time on that exact question myself, so it’s timely. I’ve been more or less starting by following my own advice from Be the Master, specifically thinking a lot about what “success” means to me, and about who I want to be, as a person, over the next decade or so. Am I a leader in a company, for example? Because if so, I might need to de-emphasize specific technologies and products and start thinking more about my business education. Am I a designer and architect? If so, I need my technical knowledge to become broader and perhaps less deep, so that I can better select tools and solutions to fit whatever business need I’m addressing.
From there, I think the question of “what should I focus on?” is actually pretty easy. Technologies are going to change, business needs are going to shift, and specific products are going to come and go. There are, however, a few truths that will never change. A few things that will always be valuable.
- Become an excellent learner. This isn’t the same as “keeping up with the industry,” although being a good learner helps with that, too. Be someone who can quickly learn a little bit about something, and who wants to learn a little bit about everything. Know that you don’t need to be an expert on anything specific until an actual need arises.
- Cultivate aptitudes and competencies. I’m less interested, as an employer, in your ability to manage O365, and more interested in how well you troubleshoot. How well you diagnose. How you think about security design, problem responses, and so on. These are skills that will never go out of style.
- Build your soft skills. The employers I talk to are a lot less concerned about Active Directory administration than they are about people’s ability to work on a team, be a positive lead, communicate professionally, and fit into a team’s culture. These are all harder to hire for, and harder to teach; find a person with great soft skills and you can afford the time for them to learn whatever technology you need.
Gravity is inevitable, right? So when an engineer designs a bridge, gravity is part of that design. They recognize that gravity is both a challenge and, in many ways, a partner. By engineering for gravity, they’re not caught off-guard when gravity “happens.”
Change and your career is the same thing. Change is inevitable. You can’t try to “look ahead” to “get ahead” of change; that kind of crystal-balling is too imprecise. Instead, build change into your career. Engineer yourself so that change is a partner, not an enemy. Be the person whose biggest and best career skill is, “I love change, and I’m ready for whatever it brings me.” That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in All The Things. It means you need a solid base of competencies, a can-do attitude, and a passion for lifelong learning. Not change should be as boring as building a bridge in zero gravity would be for an engineer.
One of the biggest things that people usually fear about change is not knowing what to do. Some new tech comes along, and you kind of get apprehensive because you don’t know that new tech. People try to “look ahead” so they can get a head start on learning, so that when change comes along they won’t feel like a deer in headlights. Well, forget all that. Get better at learning. Learn to love to learn. Learn something new every single day, whether it has to do with your job or career or not. Heck, just read a random Wikipedia article or two every day. Get your brain in prime condition for learning. Learn something new, and then explain it to someone else – that’ll reinforce the learning for you, and get your brain more accustomed to the idea of learning continuously.
You’ll never have to worry about what’s coming down the road, because you’ll be confident that you can handle it, whatever it is.