Guy sitting in front of laptop

There are many talented people in the technology industry, but few outright geniuses. Most of us, however gifted, need to work hard on developing and maintaining our skills if we want to reach the summit of our chosen field.

However, it’s not always easy to determine what skills have the most value in today’s market. And then there’s the million-dollar question: Should you focus more intensely on developing your hard skills or soft skills?

To some extent, this depends on your career path. “In all aspects of technology, across both functional and technical, candidates need to develop soft skills so they can communicate and collaborate effectively,” says Daniel Rogers, Regional Director at Michael Page Australia for technology recruitment.

“Even in highlight technical roles like, DevOp’s, in-demand candidates need to understand their actions are not independent and they need to collaborate with Operations and other developers to deliver consistent code and align to business outcomes.”

That’s not to say that engineers won’t benefit from improving their listening skills, or that project managers will be wasting their time learning the finer points of cloud architecture.

If you want to catch a recruiter's eye or negotiate a salary bump with your current employer, it helps enormously if you can demonstrate that you’ve acquired skills outside your comfort zone.

To that end, here are five simple steps you can take to build new skills and advance your tech career.

Define what success looks like for you and set some goals

Before signing up for tech meetups and coding boot camps, take some time to consider where you want to be — and how much you want to earn — in three years.

Without clear goals, you’ll find it difficult to draw up a career roadmap and may end up wasting time acquiring skills and qualifications that don’t add value to your CV or professional development.

Discuss with your manager, colleagues and other tech contacts for advice on the kind of IT roles that suit your skill set. Sometimes, they can help identify certain factors that may be blind spots for you. Then, research the experience and educational requirements for those roles.

You can also look at job descriptions to match your skills and find out what sorts of skills employers require in tech jobs that interest you. If you’re going in a position like a data scientist, for example, you may need to spend several years obtaining a graduate degree.

When defining goals, focus on things you can measure (salary, for example, or the number of open positions in any given field) and don’t plan too far ahead.

Break down your long-term goal into realistic, short-term milestones. This will keep you motivated, and make it easier to pivot to a different set of goals if things don’t go to plan.

four people discussing over laptop

Ask for feedback — and act on it

One of the hallmarks of successful people is that they learn from their mistakes. They also learn from their successes, analysing their performance, so they can do even better in the future.

This kind of mindset is particularly important in tech — a fast-paced, competitive industry where simple errors can have business-critical consequences.

Even the best software engineers in top tech companies benefit from peer code review, in which one or more teammates check your work. This makes your code better and more stable and helps you with collaboration and relationship building — vital soft skills for advancing your tech career.

If you work in a non-technical role, any feedback you receive will be more subjective — there’s no right or wrong way to deal with a user enquiry, for example, or lead a team meeting.

But by asking managers and peers to assess your communication, leadership and other soft skills, you will gain valuable insights into the areas you need to improve upon to up your career prospects.

RELATED: People skills: What are they, and why are they important?

Never stop developing your professional skills

To succeed as a tech professional, you need to be prepared to learn something new daily. The moment you stop learning is the moment you start to lose your value.

For a recruiter’s perspective on the kind of tech skills employers are looking for in 2023, Rogers adds, “While Python, SQL, Ruby, Java and JavaScript continue to the be the most in-demand Software Development skills, being able to problem solve, manage your time and also have a strong attention to detail are also equally as important.”

“As tech skills progress, some skills, unfortunately, do become less in demand; we are seeing this happen across Linus being a ‘must have’ skill set.”

That’s a snapshot — things are bound to look different in 2023. Here are three ways job seekers can update their tech skills and stay on top of emerging trends.

  • Attend a boot camp. Lasting three to six months and offered both in-person and online, these intensive courses aren’t just for beginners. A focused bootcamp can provide you with job-ready skills to help you transition to your next career move in the tech industry. Most camps specialise in popular coding languages such as Python and Java, but if you’re looking to enter a highly specialised field, you’ll also find ones devoted to more niche technologies. Some boot camps even offer career advice services and coaching to help you set clear career goals. 
  • Take an advanced degree. Maths and statistics-heavy fields like data science have high barriers to entry, usually in the form of a postgraduate degree (either a master’s or a PhD.). It typically takes two years to complete a master’s, though some programs offer a one-year fast track for the most talented applicants. If you’re unsure how your tech career will develop, consider a degree like MBA in IT, which will enable you to strengthen your IT skills and business knowledge for career advancement.
  • Learn by doing. Not everyone has the time and resources to pursue an advanced degree or even attend boot camp. A good alternative is asking your manager to assign you challenging or experimental assignments in your current role.code on screen

Sharpen your soft skills

It’s a myth that people are “born communicators” or “born leaders.” Those described in such terms have usually spent years honing their skills, learning from their mistakes and listening carefully to feedback from their managers and peers.

One tried-and-trusted way to improve soft skills is to ask your manager for stretch assignments that take you outside your regular routine and job description.

If you’re a software engineer, you might ask for assignments that place a premium on communication skills and empathy, such as delivering a presentation to a client or joining a cross-functional team created to solve a difficult problem.

Build up your personal brand

Networking is another must-have skill for tech professionals, but it’s not simply about making contacts in the tech industry or increasing your follower count on social media platforms. You can have thousands of connections on LinkedIn, but if you never update your CV or engage in discussions, you’re unlikely to catch the eye of a recruiter or potential employer. 

How you can leverage your digital channels to advance your tech career

  • Refresh your social media profiles as often as possible, adding skills and qualifications that add value to your brand and removing ones that don’t. 
     
  • Seek out and follow industry influencers and experts in the areas that interest you. Share or re-post their content to build your professional network and ask for tips on how to emulate their success. 
     
  • Engage in discussions on niche forums. There’s no programming language so obscure that it doesn’t have its own subreddit or Facebook group. These forums attract passionate, highly engaged experts who can pass on valuable insights and insider tips in the tech field. 

  • Finally, don’t be afraid to take a risk. Tech talent is scarce right now, which means employers may take a chance on candidates who lack certain skills and qualifications but have determination and passion to spare.

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