More than ever, we realize how quickly things change: the economy, the job market, and the skills we use.  In the IT industry, speed of change seems even faster, sometimes overwhelming us with what we need to know and keep on learning. Indeed, it’s crucial to know (as it is in any field) how to stay on top of the skills in our industry without making our job our life.

Skills Inventory & Perusing the Want Ads

The first thing to realize as someone within the IT culture is that you likely have a lot of competence.  But in this still recovering market, it’s easy to feel like what you know isn’t all that important. That’s where a skills inventory can help. Jot down what you know and what you’re good at, and then make another list of what you can improve upon or learn.  More specifically, what would make you more valuable to an employer in a current or future position?

After you’ve written down a list of skills and another list of the things you want to better, check that latter portion against some want ads—which by the way—it would be good to browse through every month or two. It’s vital to see what employers in the IT field are looking for in their employees. And if you stay on top of it, you won’t be overwhelmed when two, three, even five years down the road you want to switch jobs.

Continuing Education & Trade Journals

Once you’ve started looking at want ads and have a pretty good feel for some of the skill requirements, attend  continuing ed classes at a college or university, attend webinars, seminars, conferences, and teleconferences on things that aren’t solely relevant to IT, but topics that encompass ideas about business management, business solutions, communications, etc.

The reason for this, as you likely know if you’ve been reading industry blogs and trend predictions about IT in 2011, is that many employers are looking not just for IT techies, but for people who, on top of their technical expertise, can knowledgeably handle other aspects of a business, people who are broad in their competence and can take on other critical roles. An example of this is a project manager, someone who knows their technology, but can also deliver applicable business solutions.

But even just browsing industry blogs and trade journals related to the IT industry is a big step.  Let’s face it, the software engineer who subscribes to and reads from such literature has quite a lead on the one who goes home and doesn’t do any sort of homework. It’s just common sense for any professional: read up on what’s going on in your trade. Know it and keep up on it.

The Basics

The main thing is that you radiate a sense of interest, even passion, about your job and industry. If you’re seeking out learning opportunities, taking a course from time to time, and occasionally reading up on your field, it will be apparent to your employer and your co-workers. If you can be the sort of person who shows a desire to learn and actually acts upon that interest by taking the time to become more knowledgeable, you are already ahead of the game.