So big question is this: how do technical professionals like us protect our future career and build our professional practice?
You spend your early years being told it’s important to get a good education. As an aspiring professional, you study hard and get a qualification. You do well at college or university, which leads you to find a decent job. You feel like you are living the good life and now you can relax, and you’re ready to progress your career.
However, the employment situation is different now. Using the above formula is likely to lead people astray.
Tertiary qualified professionals are no longer assured of getting a decent, secure job -- the job market is very competitive. Employers are now eager to lay off people when times get tough and are moving to increase use of contingent or contract workers. If you stick with the traditional approach, you run the risk of becoming obsolete.
You need to keep on top of the key skill sets to protect your future.
For the longest time, we have been conditioned to believe that we don’t need to learn after graduating. That is a huge mistake and you need to refocus your mindset to a model of lifelong learning.
Another problem is being away from learning for too long. If you commit to learning, this won’t happen. If you haven’t been keeping up with your learning efforts, know that it doesn’t take too long to get back into the swing of things once you get started. You may even find it’s fun.
You could go back to school and study for a graduate qualification such as a MBA, but that costs a lot of money and requires you to invest a lot of your precious time. Many of the traditional graduate programs are not practical real-world ready, and many compulsory courses are not relevant to your career interests.
Learn the key skills you need to protect your future career.
There are three basic skill sets for technical professionals to secure their future.
First, there are technical skill sets providing the depth of expertise in your field and these require ongoing learning, particularly as the half-life of knowledge being as little as five years today (that is as much as half of your technical knowledge will become obsolete in the next five years). Attend seminars or workshops and engage in specific courses related to your expertise.
Secondly, the business skill set, covering topics such as management, economics, finance, marketing and project management. This doesn’t mean you should do an MBA – there are plenty of good alternatives available – Seth Godin’s altMBA is one example.
Thirdly, there is the professional skill set, topics such as time management, critical thinking, focus, decision making, problem-solving, negotiation, and networking.
The internet has levelled the playing field for professional development training. You do not need to commit to undertaking a formal degree, you still can learn via online resources—just focus on the key skills and knowledge you need. There are lots of books and audiobooks available and there are also plenty of good, practical online training courses outside of traditional university programs.
So, to be a successful technical professional you should commit to lifelong learning, think about the skill sets you need to develop to protect your future and choose the best way for you to develop those skillsets.
Plan Your Professional Development
The first step you should take is writing out a professional development plan. Start with considering where you would like to be in say five years’ time. Then identify the key skills and knowledge that will help you get there.
Start with building and strengthening your professional skill set as a foundation for your successful future.
The basic key skills you want to master should include:
Goal Setting – without goals you won’t know where you are heading and what you need to do to get there. Setting goals for your work projects is also an important key skill
Time Management – which is really about prioritising what you should be working on right now
Effective Communication – being able to share information in a clear and professional manner is a very important skill
Networking – being able to network well helps you get in touch with the right people quickly.
Focus – the ability to concentrate on one task at a time, cutting out all distractions and allow you to see it through to its completion and to make some real progress.
Problem Solving – understand what the problem is and then identify potential solutions
Creativity – a skill you certainly can develop, and is really addition to thinking skills and enables you to be able to readily develop innovative ideas and solutions
Critical Thinking – be able to think clearly to solve a problem, analyse arguments and clarify confusing situations
Persuasion – being able to convince someone to agree to your recommendation is critical to your success as a technical professional.
If your head is spinning about where to start, the answer is simple, focus on one skill at a time and by making progress before moving onto the next. Each skill complements and work with each other, so no matter where you choose to start, you will make progress.
My best advice is to simply pick on a new skill, work on it, and make it a new and productive habit that becomes part of who you are, how you work, and how you live your life. Then pick another one and work on it and so forth until you’ve made it through each skill on the list. Each skill complements and works with each other, so no matter where you choose to start, you will make progress.
So, to be a successful technical professional you should commit to lifelong learning, think about the skill sets you need to develop to protect your future and find the best way to develop those skillsets.