4 reasons IT pros need to train (even when they think they don't)

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Too often, people in IT get hung up on which technologies they should and shouldn't learn based on their current role. I’m thinking about learning such-and-such, the conversation starts, but it seems like it’s for organizations that aren’t like mine. The problem here is that these folks are thinking about their job and not their career -- an important distinction that must be made in order to succeed.

1. Technology is constantly evolving

Back in 2000, I had similar conversations with classroom students about a new technology that had just come on the scene. They would complain that they didn't know why they needed to learn it, using the excuse that it was intended for huge companies, and not smaller ones like theirs. That technology was called Active Directory, and it’s pretty widespread these days. Many technologies start out for a certain type of organization -- small, large, specific industries, whatever -- but they rarely stay there.

Technology evolves. It changes. It seeks out new purposes. It spreads.

Getting in on the ground floor of a technology –- whether its applicable to your job or not –- is almost always a good idea. At the beginning, most technologies are at the simplest state they’ll ever be; as they grow to take on new roles and purposes, they usually get more complex. Starting simple, and then keeping up over time, is a lot easier for most people than tackling a fully mature technology from scratch. Talk to the people who are just now, in 2015, starting to learn Windows PowerShell. Most of them fervently wish they’d started back in 2006 when there were only a few hundred commands.

2. Your career is greater than your job

If you're making all of your learning decisions based on what your current organization might need or use, then you’re focusing on your job. And let's be honest, you're probably not going to have that job forever. And if your current employer ever lets you go, you’d better have modern skills that are applicable to the marketplace.

Your career is what provides you with employment when your current job no longer will, or when you’re simply ready to move on. So yes, you should learn that new technology you’ve been considering, whether your current job will make use of it or not. For that matter, maybe you should be the one to clue in your current employer about that technology, once you’ve gotten your hands around it.

3. Excuses will only hold you back

Your career is your career, and it’s up to you, not your current employer, to nurture it and to grow it. Don’t moan that your company doesn’t provide you the training you want. Instead, go get it yourself. Don’t complain that you never have time to play around with new stuff –- make the time, and build an inexpensive home lab. Yes, that means you (and your family) may have to sacrifice a little time, and perhaps a little money, to keep your career skills up to date. But that sacrifice is a worthy investment, because very little should matter more than your ability to get and keep a good job, especially in the event the current one goes away. Keeping your career up to date is like buying an insurance policy that will always pay off –- it’s not even a gamble, it’s a sure thing.

4. Training is an investment

Now, this is going to sound like a massive corporate plug, but it isn’t: The main reason Pluralsight subscriptions start so low (at $30 a month) is because the company’s leaders feel really strongly about providing solid professional education to everyone, not just to giant companies with deep pockets. If you won’t spend $300 a year investing in your own career, why should anyone else invest in it?

And that’s another point: Most employers do have a sense for their employees’ interest in career investment. As an employer, when I see an employee investing in themselves, it makes me want to match that investment. First, I want to encourage and support go-getters, because they’re the ones I really want on the team. Second, I worry that someone spending a lot of time self-learning is looking to leave, and maybe I want to try a little harder to keep them. But even if your employer completely ignores your efforts at self-improvement, you’ve already improved yourselfThe next employer will appreciate your efforts.

I’m starting to hear stories all the time from IT professionals who’ve knuckled down, picked up a new technology, and reaped the rewards. People tell me of promotions, of higher-paying new jobs, of a better work/life balance, and more. Investing in your career will always pay off, often in many different ways. So yes, you should learn the things that interest you and that are relevant to your career, whether those things apply to your current job or not. Take control of your career, because nobody else will, and don’t ever forget that your job belongs to your employer. Your career is all you.

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Don Jones

Don Jones' broad IT experience comes from 20 years in the business, with a strong focus on Microsoft server technologies. He's the author of more than 45 technology books, including titles on administration and software development, and writes monthly columns for the industry's leading periodicals. He's an in-demand speaker at technical conferences and symposia worldwide, and is widely recognized as one of the top trainers in the Microsoft sector.