You hear it every day of your life. “Experience counts.”
With experience comes valuable knowledge and, presumably, a history of what works, what has been tried, and how to navigate life and business. But, there is a growing phenomenon in the IT community, one that challenges the concept of experience and a lifelong dedication to a career or area of study. As that phenomenon gains traction, team members and employees of IT businesses find themselves scratching their heads over the realities of hiring, advancement and the idea of a thriving future in an IT career.
So, what is changing and what is driving that change? It is simple, really. If you look at the culture and fabric of information technology, it doesn’t take long to recognize that it has been changing rapidly and that change is faster and more intense than ever.
Now, consider the relevance of the knowledge gained from a degree achieved in 2000 in an IT related discipline. How much has changed since then?
What about those dedicated IT professionals who grew up on C++, SQL or Visual Basic, COBOL, Oracle D2K and other older technologies and techniques? You may be an expert in these areas, but that knowledge probably won’t be relevant in today’s new application and software product development environment. While these skills may be in some demand because of older legacy systems that are still running inside the walls of certain organizations, that demand is diminishing and will soon be irrelevant. In an era of smart phones, apps, machine learning, natural language processing, DevOPs, AI and GPS, how can one compete?
Consider how quickly the development environment has changed. Just a few short years ago, programmers were developing systems from scratch. In today’s technology environment, no one builds from scratch. Instead, they leverage open source components and other libraries for faster, more dependable design and development. Even the way we develop software and manage software projects has changed with new phenomenon such as DevOPs.
Those who have not kept pace with these rapid changes are likely to be left behind with stagnant salaries and limited or no career growth.
This trend of new technology and rapidly changing skill set requirements can be daunting and disturbing to those who have spent years building a career in IT. Even if you advance into management or sales with soft skills and a path toward leadership, the relevance of your technical skills may set you back in your career path. BUT, to remain competitive, you must constantly upgrade your skills, take training, subscribe to blogs, read trade journals and periodicals, attend conferences and perhaps even go back to school!
Businesses that focus on, or rely heavily upon IT skills must support this training with funding and recognize that the time spent out of the office in training will translate into revenue and/or productivity and dependability of products and services offered by the enterprise.
Gone are the days when an IT ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ could happily sit in a corner and crank out code without the need to upgrade skills or interact with customers or internal users. Today, IT professionals are expected to demonstrate a wide array of skills including soft skills, leadership, and cutting-edge technical abilities and the capacity and willingness to explore and integrate new technologies including open source stacks.
When a business can hire a young professional straight out of school with the most relevant, current technical knowledge and skill, and the enthusiasm and hunger that comes with youth, and pay a salary that is significantly lower than a mid-tier or high-level technical professional salary, the best option will always be the most relevant skills and value at the lowest cost.
So, how does an experienced, mature IT professional compete in this new world of disposable, rapidly aging skills and knowledge? In short, how does one avoid obsolescence?
The fact is that there is a real shortage of cutting-edge skills and, hence, a myriad of positions that go unfilled or that are filled with the next best thing. For the IT pro who wants to remain relevant and advance in their career of choice, it is important to volunteer for projects that will expose you to new concepts and technologies and to take advantage of every training opportunity provided by your enterprise. If you are working for a business that does not support continuous improvement and skills enhancement, consider moving to a forward-looking enterprise that will support your ongoing growth and help you fulfill your potential.
The future of businesses that focus on new technologies and new combinations and partnerships of technologies to create new products and services is bright. If an IT professional is complacent, if they become lazy and rely on existing skills without a clear view of the future of their chosen career, those IT pros are likely to become redundant, and risk topping out in a job that is not challenging and will not provide the financial or career nurturing they demand.
While this experience vs. salary and career growth conundrum is not yet a tsunami, the wave IS growing, and it is already at plan in mid-tier IT positions and spreading into the most experienced levels of IT. If you are a business owner, it is difficult to justify a high salary or a promotion for someone who has twenty or thirty years of experience in older, obsolete skills and is not proficient in data science, big data or other cutting-edge technology trends.
Today’s IT landscape is competitive and changes rapidly. It is not a place to hide, or bide your time. It is a place of constant growth and change that requires professionals who are willing to adapt and embrace the future.