How to Develop Your IT Skills
Before Returning to Education
Information Technology is a wide branch of various skills and career options, and so it can be confusing trying to figure out what skills you need to develop in pursuing an IT career. Before you enroll in formal education for IT skills, you might want to have a better starting grasp of what will be covered in the courses, and be familiar with the material that you will be learning.
In this article, we are going to share some ways you can develop your IT skills before heading off to a university classroom or signing up for online courses that offer degrees.
Identify what skills are in popular demand
There are many different sectors of IT that, even with overlap, require specialized skills. Aside from the fundamental IT skills, IT as an umbrella term can cover different focuses like:
- Cloud computing
- Data analytics and data science
- Networking and wireless
- Software development
A person in an IT career might possess several of these skills, but not all. And with enough time spent in the field, it is likely you’ll expand your skill set and have a deeper knowledge of all IT branches and specialties, but first you should figure out what skills lead in which directions as far as career mobility goes.
Become familiar and comfortable with online learning
If you are a DIY, “learn from the manual” type of person, online learning may feel entirely natural to you. However, if you’re more used to classroom environments with abstract lessons and discussions, online learning might seem strange at first.
Online learning presents its own set of challenges, namely staying motivated and free of distraction. Like working from home, learning from home will have distractions and other hurdles not present during in-person classrooms.
Universities and higher education IT leaders are also aware of the challenges online learning presents, and surveys show insights into how these universities plan to support and deploy more university technologies for student retention. For example, in a survey from the link, universities said their biggest priorities were:
- Student enrollment and retention (25.64%)
- Student success and experience (28.72%)
- Getting students back on campus safely (13.33%)
- Supporting online or hybrid learning initiatives (26.67%)
- Other (5.64%)
Considering that “getting students back on campus safely” is a low priority, it could be said that online learning is here to stay as an alternative to traditional classrooms, and that higher education colleges and universities will continue to offer online courses and degrees and depend less on campus presence.
Follow IT-focused tech media and blogs
It’s likely you already follow some general tech media such as for gadgets and gaming, but also try to follow tech media that focuses on IT information. Tech sites like TomsHardware and Engadget might review the latest computer hardware and TVs, but what does that do for your IT knowledge?
Better websites to follow for specific IT news coverage includes sites like InformationWeek, InfoWorld, TechRepublic, and more. Here’s a list of the top 100 IT blogs, websites, and influencers that is worth checking out.
It’s also great to join communities and discussions where you can ask questions. Reddit’s r/InformationTechnology and r/ITProfessionals are great hangouts for following and participating in discussions, increasing your knowledge while engaging in dialogue.
Experiment and show off your projects and interests
Since social media is all about personal branding, let it be a space to curate and show off your interests and skills in IT as they grow, and share your projects. For example, offer to help friends and family with fixing up or building their e-commerce sites, and add it to your social media portfolio.
This will help you down the road in a few ways. Most notable is that potential employers will probably want to check out your social media pages, not just for professional screening, but because they’ll be able to see how active you are in your enthusiasm for the field. So, filling up your social media wall with IT-related articles and personal projects might annoy your non-tech friends (“we get it, you like tech stuff!”), but it looks good to your future employers.
Brush up your coding and math skills
Mathematics plays a significant role in computer science, and a lot of CS programs rely heavily on calculus, statistics, and physics. In the present day these might not all apply to all branches of IT, but as AI and machine learning becomes much more popular, being able to keep up with those fields will greatly benefit your career.
If you’re still in high school, it's recommended to see what college-level coursework is available and explore as many computer science specialties as possible. See if on top of computer sciences and programming, your school offers more specialized classes in IT skills like database management, cybersecurity, information assurance, and others.
Improve your teamwork and communication abilities
The old stereotype of grumpy, anti-social IT people has some roots in truth. Many years ago, there was not much formal education available for information technology and advanced programming, so a lot of the old school IT people were very much DIY types.
While many companies today will still hire exceptionally skilled self-taught developers and IT personnel, they’d really prefer if you have experience in team cooperation. As you learn more about IT and develop your skills, don’t always “go it alone” and focus on solo projects.
College recruiters and employers want to hear about times you worked in groups and solved problems with others, so being a “lone wolf” isn’t going to cut it very much these days. The whole “RTFM culture” had its time and place, but it’s time to retire that cultural aspect of programming and computer sciences.
About the Author
Cristina Par is a content specialist with a passion for writing articles that bridge the gap between brands and their audiences. She believes that high-quality content plus the right link building strategies can turn the tables for businesses small and large.