Any sort of tech job can feel like it has an expiration date. Tech changes so quickly that new techniques and advancements may be here by the time you land your next job, seemingly replacing everything you’ve learned.
The truth is that tech is an ever-evolving field, and what you bring to the table now will serve you well in the future, even if a lot changes between now and then.
Build on your current knowledge, stay up-to-date with the industry, and continually advance your career in order to stay relevant.
1) Understand Your Company and the Industry
Read everything you can get your hands on so that you’re always updated on what’s going on at your company and in the industry as a whole. Read the reports that your company puts out every quarter or year, paying attention to anything newsworthy that happens to the company.
Additionally, subscribe to industry news outlets like Gizmodo, Hacker Noon and ZDNet so that you always know what’s happening in the field, and set up Google Alerts so you hear about the biggest news first.
You should also follow IT influencers and leaders on social media to see what they’re talking about and begin connecting with them. Start with Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn; Christopher Mims, a tech columnist for the Wall Street Journal; and Siraj Raval, YouTube’s data analyst.
Regardless of what job you hope to land in the future, having well-rounded knowledge of where you’ll be working will showcase your interest and dedication.
2) Hone Your Soft Skills
While your technical know-how is of course important, so are your soft skills. Your hard skills are the skills and knowledge you have to do your job, like your experience with a specific coding language or your ability to rebuild a computer.
Interpersonal skills are much harder to teach and learn. Examples of soft skills are creative thinking, time management and conflict resolution. It’s those soft skills that could help you advance in your career, especially if you’re after a leadership role.
For example, if your job is primarily solo, you may assume that communication skills won’t make a difference. If you’re a good communicator, though, you can explain complex ideas in layman terms, which puts you in the perfect position to work with non-technical consumers and investors. Other important soft skills in the tech field are being able to work as a team and being comfortable speaking in public. You should also be easy to work with and accept criticism without it ruining your mood.
Learning soft skills is difficult, so it’s easiest to pick one or two traits you currently have and make a point to showcase them more. For example, if you’re a pretty good team player but you think you could become even better at collaboration, you could listen to The Collaboration Superpowers Podcast
. If you’re decent at time management but feel like you could get even more done, you could read “Eat That Frog!” by Brian Tracy to learn about prioritizing projects.
3) Do a Little More on Each Project
One of the best ways to impress your supervisor, as well as customers or clients, is to always deliver a little bit extra than was asked for.
For example, if you’re a website developer and you’re working on a site for a new client, you probably have a checklist of the features the client wants included. As you build the website, you’ll have more ideas that the client didn’t think of. By adding these functions to improve the website visitor’s experience, you’ll impress the client and show that you went above and beyond what was required.
The point isn’t to give away your work for free; you don’t want to sell yourself short. Instead, your goal should be to do the best job possible within the confines of the project you were hired for — if there’s a way to make it great instead of good without overworking, you’ll show your value to the client.
4) Volunteer for the Projects People Don’t Want
Taking on projects that other people don’t want to touch will benefit you in a couple of ways. First, your supervisor will see that you’re not afraid of challenges or hard work, and that you’re an integral part of the team. Second, you’ll likely learn something new in the process.
There’s a reason why those projects are going untouched: There’s probably some type of challenge that needs to be faced. According to Fast Company, “Opportunities are hidden everywhere, and people who see them are the ones who prosper.”
You may not like the project you’re working on, but you’ll definitely get something out of the experience. It’s also possible you’ll find that you have a skill or interest in something completely new.
5) Consider Freelancing on the Side
If you don’t get to work on certain types of projects at your job, consider freelancing on the side to get more practice. For example, you might be employed as a website designer, but you only get to work on professional-looking finance and legal websites.
If you want to show off your creativity, start a side gig where you take on more creative website design projects, like creating sites for musicians, artists, or toy stores. You’ll build your portfolio and expand your skill set while getting paid for it.
Before you move forward with your freelance plans, make sure you haven’t signed or agreed to a non-compete clause. Some companies will say that you can’t work for anyone else while you’re employed. Others will be more lenient and say that you can’t work for a competitor, which still leaves the door open for other clients. Be clear about what you agreed to so that you protect your current job.
6) Join Work Activities to Network
You may roll your eyes at work activities and team-building exercises, but if you go in with an open mind, you can turn the experience into a networking session. Getting together with people you work with, especially if you don’t generally see them on a daily basis, means making new points of contact at your company, which can lead to referrals.
Additionally, team-building exercises are a way for supervisors to assess who has great teamwork skills and who will make a good leader. This can be important when it’s time for your annual review or if there’s an available promotion. Plus, these activities aren’t always boring – some managers bring the team to an escape room to see how everyone collaborates and problem-solves together.
7) Go Back to School
If you graduated years ago and feel that what you learned is now antiquated, you may want to go back to school for a more current tech education. The area you study should directly relate to the tech role you want to have.
For example, analytics is a huge field right now — one that’s constantly growing. Getting a master’s in business analytics could help you land a job at a prominent company.
You can get a broad education in the analytics field or a more focused education, like learning about reasoning and troubleshooting with the help of data. Some courses will also help you expand your soft skills. For example, the Master of Business Analytics program at MIT has a seminar about ethics and leadership.
8) Sign Up for Training Sessions
If you don’t have the time or money to dedicate to heading back to school, you can still continue your education and training with individual courses. You may even get certificates when you complete some of the courses, which will look great on your resume and give you a competitive edge.
You can check out local colleges to see if they’re offering any continuing ed courses, or you can head online to sites like LinkedIn and Udemy, which offer courses on a wide range of topics.
When choosing the course and certifications that are best, think about the tech industry’s greatest needs right now and how they line up with your current skills.
For example, cybersecurity, drone technology and cloud computing are three popular tech topics right now, and getting a certification in any of those fields could advance your career. Your goal should be to choose training that will help you specialize in your current niche. Being an expert in one area of tech is more useful to an employer than knowing a little bit about a lot of tech fields.
The tech world is booming, and there are a lot of resources out there to help you succeed in your field. Since some companies are less nurturing than others, you may have to take this into your own hands. You may have to reach out to people at your company to find a mentor, seek out continuing education courses or even apply for a student loan so that you can go back to school.
However you choose to advance your career, it will be worth it. Surround yourself with the people and information that will buoy your career, and stay dedicated to always learning more and expanding your breadth of expertise.