There are two primary sets of skills individuals need to succeed in their technology careers. Obviously, they must have the technical chops in the field in which they are working. Those who possess superior tech skills will likely have successful careers even if they lack leadership or communication skills —– but they are the exception. The vast majority of tech workers will need the right mix of technology and soft skills if they want to be relevant and successful.
A recent survey of tech industry workers and managers underscores the importance of soft skills. When asked to weigh the value of soft skills, 76 percent of managers rated them either “extremely” or “very” valuable. For technical skills, on the other hand, the percentage of “extremely” or “very” valuable was 45 percent. Fifty-two percent of the managers preferred an even mix of tech and soft skills — not a heavy focus on just one.
staying current on tech skills requires commitment
Not all jobs in the technology field require technical expertise, but if yours does, staying current in your field or in other STEM-related fields is imperative. The pace of technological change can make this both arduous and stimulating. MIT researchers used U.S. patent data to develop predicted improvement rates in percent per year for almost 2,000 technology domains. The graph below depicts their findings on estimated yearly improvement rates.
All the technology domains that fall to the right of the red line are improving at a faster rate than 36 percent per year, representing the predicted rate of improvement for integrated chips based on Moore’s law. To see the annual pace of change of any specific technology, the researchers created an interactive portal based on keyword input. For example, entering the term “cloud” returns rates of annual change approaching or exceeding 200 percent. For “security,” the rates are largely between 100 and 200 percent. The term “laser” returns improvement rates ranging from 10 percent to 47 percent. The search terms are inclusive enough to make it an interesting if imperfect tool. It does, however, give an indication of the fast pace of technological advancement.
If your education and experience are in a highly-demanded technical field — and there are many — the key is to keep your skills current with what is happening in your field. Don’t allow your skillset to become stale.
tips to keep up with the rapidly changing tech world
Aside from taking courses to learn or refresh specific technical skills, how do you stay up to date with changes in your field or in technologies that might affect your field of practice? Here are tactics that might make your task easier:
monitor what is being written
Determine what you’d like to know, then set up a Google alert based on related terms. If your search is too broad, modify it to target specific insights or events. This will offer access to the latest information from periodicals, research publications, social media posts, etc. Make a commitment to spend a set time reading each week.
talk to an engineer or find a mentor
Learn from someone who is an expert in the field. Read what they are reading or recommend. Engineers have a wealth of detailed technical knowledge and can sometimes offer unique insights about where a technology is headed.
follow experts in your field of interest
Identify TED talks, podcasts, newsletters or other avenues to find out what the innovators and industry leaders are thinking and forecasting.
participate in local tech groups and/or professional organizations
Explore meetings and technical sessions put on by local universities, industry groups and, research organizations like Gartner, Forrester, etc. Build relationships with local tech thought leaders and engage with them on what is happening in their industries.
Many types of jobs challenge workers to stay up to date in their field. In tech, the changes seem to come faster and can be more disruptive. Find the methods that help you keep current and consistently apply them. This will not only help you remain more relevant and valuable to your employer, but might also increase your job satisfaction.
a combination of tech and soft skills will make you stand out
As noted, if your work requires specific STEM expertise, it’s important to keep your skills current. Luckily, there are plenty of formal and informal training options available. For example, Randstad has partnered with Udemy to help job seekers hone their technical chops to make them more attractive candidates. There are many lists of the top tech certifications that will make you a more valued employee or job candidate. Also, many firms offer technical training to their employees to build hard-to-hire skills and to help in recruiting and retaining workers.
Non-technical skills can be vital to building and nurturing a tech career. One recent survey of 525 tech workers and managers found that 52 percent of managers look for a balance of technical skills and soft skills (additionally, 72 percent thought that skills should be refreshed every three to six months). So, what are the soft skills that organizations highly value in their tech workers? Our experience indicates that these are some you should consider building:
communication and collaboration
Nothing new here (except perhaps that remote work has lowered the productivity associated with collaboration). The ability to clearly convey one’s thoughts and ideas has always been important and remains so. Technology development frequently requires teamwork, placing a premium on the ability to collaborate to generate ideas and develop solutions. The ability to write clearly and to create effective presentations are hard-to-find communication skills that will enhance your career.
Creative solutions and approaches allow organizations to leapfrog their competitors. To be creative means being mentally flexible and open to new ideas. It is widely thought that creativity can be learned through a willingness to take “smart” risks and to look for ideas when traveling, enjoying nature and exploring new subjects.
Technology changes quickly — even if your area of expertise remains in high demand, new technologies and processes might emerge that offer attractive career opportunities. The willingness to learn and grow will help you advance your career even if the winds of change shift.
A complementary skill to creativity, organizations value the ability to analyze problems, identify the information and data needed to make a decision, and conceive workable solutions to the problems.
This is just a partial list of the soft skills that can further a tech worker’s career. You can also add leadership skills, time management, networking skills, teamwork, perseverance, empathy — the list goes on. The bottom line is that in many cases career growth for a technology worker requires more than just technology expertise.
bottom line: keep up with technology and hone your soft skills
Continuing to grow, both in your knowledge of your technical field and in acquiring and fostering the soft skills that will enhance your stature and value, are vital to building and maintaining a successful technology career. Individuals who meld excellent technical and soft skills will be better positioned to realize their desired career path.
For more actionable tips and insights to help you advance your career, visit Randstad’s Career Advice page.