If you work in tech, it’s likely someone has told you that you should always be upskilling: earning a new certificate, learning a new language, or checking out new programs. But why is that the case? Mattias Andersson breaks down the logic behind the saying “You should always be upskilling in tech.”
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said “The only constant is change.” Nothing stands still. That’s what technology is all about: it’s about a constant advancement on what we have before.
Imagine you were able to learn all about the most advanced technology in the world, learning all you possibly could about it… then just stopped. You’d become increasingly ineffective in a world where tech keeps moving. But to illustrate that point, let’s run a thought experiment!
Being cutting edge only lasts so long
Picture yourself as the world’s best programmer for the IBM PC Junior. You weren’t just good with it, you could make that thing sing. You could get it to do everything it could possibly do, and you could write any code for it in mere minutes.
Unfortunately, you’re still fundamentally constrained by the hardware you have access to. In 2023, nobody’s going to hire you, because the IBM PCjr is less powerful than any calculator you could get in a store, any mini game device — even the cheapest phones are going to be orders of magnitude more powerful.
If your maximum possible achievement is based on technology from the past, you cannot even compete with someone who can simply turn on a modern device from today. This might seem like an extreme example, but the landscape changes fast: take the landscape and importance of cloud computing over the last decade, and the decline of the traditional IT professional whose role involved maintaining server racks. In 2023, developers are using serverless tech while generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and DALL-E are reshaping communication in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.
Obsolescence can be pushed down the road, but not forever
The problem is when you don’t upskill, becoming obsolete isn’t an instant process. It’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back, or the last grain of sand that turns a hill into a mountain. Upskilling always matters, but it can be deferred for a time.
Upskilling is a cost of being in tech that doesn’t need to be paid every second, every hour, or even every day. However, the longer you delay your upskilling, the more that cost accumulates, until you can get overwhelmed by it. It’s similar to taking care of your house: it’s far easier to do a bit of upkeep here and there, rather than leaving it for five years and then being faced with an overwhelming amount of disrepair!
This exact thing happens to people when they get laid off by their company, they have a family emergency, or the company goes bankrupt. At this point, people often realize that the only job they are fundamentally qualified for is the one they no longer have.
I don’t mean to be harsh, but this is actually a critical failure of managing your own career and life over time. It’s not the responsibility of any employer or someone else: upskilling is fundamentally our own responsibility as individuals to make sure this is part of our lives.
But how do I find the time to upskill?
“That’s great, Mattias. I totally agree with the value of upskilling, but how do I find the time to do it?”
It’s certainly not uncommon to hear people say this. After all, according to Pluralsight’s State of Upskilling 2023, lack of time has been the biggest barrier to upskilling for technologists for the last three years.
There are really only two options to avoid getting stuck without having done upskilling: do it on the clock or off the clock. Unfortunately, there’s really no other option! Few people prefer the latter, since it’s uncompensated, and it’s hard to spend the whole day working then having to study in your downtime. Ideally, you want to find a job where the company supports upskilling during work hours.
Canny people look at job postings and recognise the value proposition of a role is larger than the salary figure. In the United States, healthcare coverage is always a big thing in people’s minds, and around the world it can be pensions and holiday leave. However in tech, it’s also important to look for the ability to advance your knowledge of technology, instead of being stuck in a position that is static. That might take the form of dedicated learning time, but it’s also very important for the day-to-day role to include building your experience with relevant technology.
If you are not able to use new technology, or learn about technology outside your job, you are going to be paying that cost further down the line—normally when you’ve left that job and you are trying to get a new one. It is one of the sad paradoxes of technology that someone who has decades of experience in technology can actually be worse off in applying for a job than someone who has spent months of concerted effort to upskill in tech.
Conclusion: Upskill now to avoid paying later
To avoid the deferred cost, pick something — anything — to start learning! Going through a list of tech courses is a good way to start, and we’ll explore other techniques you can use in my next article. Here are some other blog articles that also might help:
Keep learning, and as always, keep being awesome, gurus!
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