Tech Workers’ Top Worry: Keeping Skills Current


Matching their skill set to a new job is the biggest concern technology workers have when it comes to their careers. Indeed, the idea of closely fitting skills to an employer’s needs is something of a theme, according to a survey by Dice. Being valuable and keeping skills up to date were the next most-cited concerns.

Given that layoffs are still touching the tech community, such worries are understandable. Despite the fact that Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the number of IT jobs continues to grow and the tech unemployment rate is well below that of the national average, the overall economy remain lackluster, and federal budget cuts due to sequestration aren’t going to make things any better.

31 Responses to “Tech Workers’ Top Worry: Keeping Skills Current”

  1. thomas loy

    Yeah, keeping current is a concern. The problem is companies won’t accept classes taken at a community college, ditto for new skills learned and home. Plus they won’t hire engineers that don’t have the skill set they are looking for, so companies are setting themselves up to have no one who is qualified for positions. Add to that outsourcing, and the bad economy, and its not a good market for engineers.

  2. Scott M

    Keeping current is a much bigger concern now than it was a decade or so ago.

    The problem now is that you are not only expected to know a language but a whole ecosystem (frameworks, specific business knowledge). This means that what was once a five hour a week routine has now become ten to fifteen hours a week at times. If you have a family or work a lot of short term projects like I do, this is very difficult to do.

    This is made worse when you consider how schizophrenic hiring in the industry is. The common wisdom is that companies want “Subject Matter Experts”. Yet, the only people who can meet their list of must-haves are probably generalists. There is a market for people like that, but generalists rarely have mastery over any specific topic.

    So when you decide to do a self-study, you have to not only learn the language, but you have to learn the most common frameworks that are used with the language. Also, you have to find a way to make it clear to any company that you have learned these skills(such as a web site or a demo). Obviously, this takes a lot of time as well.

    I think this is one of the main reasons so many older engineers leave the field. They hate to do it, but there is a lot more to life than living for work.

    I am quickly headed in that direction myself….

  3. Chiming in on the frameworks issue. It is definitely out of control from the website building angle. On my resume I read 13 computer languages, 3 databases, 2 servers, and 6 frameworks. I would consider myself a user of frameworks only when I have to. Don’t get me started on all the reasons. The main points are time, I have to read about security, tech news, gadget news, review specifications and know when things release, update all my browsers and keep up with their changes along with keeping in memory things to do with my everyday tasks.

    I have 5 remote servers that I have distinct passwords on and the brain power to just stay current is probably enough to use up 6 sodas a day. Now that I’m job hunting, there are all my login accounts everywhere and remarks about the companies I applied at and response levels. Then I have my emails to check all the time. There are 5 of those too.

    I always tell people that this field is never going to let you be bored. Where you spend your time improving your skills doesn’t always pay off though. I’ve been hand-coding SVG for years and never once have I seen a request for a job to do it. Depending on the trends or tech you follow, you may overlook the thing that takes off because there are so many things pulling at the peripheral of your vision. I don’t doubt that SVG will get its day in the sun but right now there are 0 job listings for it but look at all the UI/UX openings that never existed when I got out of school. Why aren’t the two connected? SVG is the code version of graphics.

    Designers keep trying to dominate web development by creating more hours for themselves to research and plan. From the development side they are trying to remove time by calling on “rapid application development tools” AKA frameworks and templates. The problem is that each company is using their own flavor. Graphic designers have a foothold in Adobe products, development doesn’t have an Adobe. The closest we have is W3C but people don’t even use their standards. I’ve been told by other developers validating code is worthless, they would rather write invalid code if it performs as expected. What example is that setting for browsers – it’s anyone’s game, release another proprietary tag, we will use it.

    When hours are transferred from one piece of the pie to the other (dev to design). They are expecting the dev to pick up the slack and learn many more flavors than the design has – handy, dandy, Photoshop. That portion of it I think is starting to make that rip in timespace when there will be a point that people just can’t keep up.

  4. A little cross talk here. I worked in IT as a computer operator for years. When I left that field IT was hot in the MCSE stuff. Now I didn’t do any of that and I have no degree in IT per se. I am curious what your folks background there a better forum with more freedom to engage this topic? I am seriously considering a whole different line of work. I went to school for medical equipment repair but I am afraid at 5 years graduated I am already irrelevant with little employer training and barely any trigger time on relevant networking skills needed…anyone?

    • Al,
      My brother was in your position, he started off with a Degree in Electronics Engineering and worked in the lighting industry for about ten years. He went back to school to get a certification in Bio Med Technology which took him roughly 7-8 months. He is now gainfully employed in a hospital setting. Being out of your element for a few years can be fixed with a refresher, especially if you know what you’re talking about. The reason I see people in your situation passed over is despite the education, there is doubt. You have to show passion and knowledge. (No disrespect intended) Good luck, and I hope your situation improves

  5. John Doe

    I find the whole thing about trying to stay current on this framework and that framework to be totally ludicrous. I mean folk why do you think they call it a purple squirrel? It is unbelievable how many people subscribe to the idiotic thinking of a person who barely made it through high school math. These morons in management don’t have the first clue about how to do anything other than decide on ho best to mess with on any given day. Listen folks. If you continue to chase these morons down the rabbit hole you will eventually get lost and the bread crumbs you laid will have been eaten by a land shark….;)

  6. Hey, I learned a term – purple squirrel, thanks.

    Here are some more thoughts to add to the mix. These are “Related software and capabilities” that are related to my daily work that I mention. I wonder how many other people use daily too that they don’t consider relevant. All those things take our time to learn too.

    Adobe Photoshop CS5, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Putty, Microsoft Windows 95 to Windows 7, Red Hat Linux, Textpad, Notepad++, Thunderbird, Outlook, Filezilla, WinSCP, Basecamp, Cisco VPN Client, Visual Studio, Document Object Model, Search Engine Optimization, Liquid Layouts, Cross-Browser Compatibility, Web Services using SOAP, cURL RSS parsing, Google Analytics Management and Installations, Google Adwords Management and Campaigns, Google Webmaster Tools Installations and Management, Hand coding in compliance with W3C standards to produce validated code in adherence with accessibility and usability specifications.

  7. John P Higgins

    Looks like us people that spent all this money at University of Phoenix have been ripped off. They screwed me and didn’t pay for two of my classes which I still owe for even though I had a grant and they spent it.

  8. Tech skills have become quite divergent … you can’t keep up on them all. There was a point a while back where having the core set of skills were enough. Employers would then be specific about finding people with those skills with some minimal learning as you go. Unfortunately, today, there are way too many applicable skills sets, trying ti find people matching skill set required is no longer a valid approach … need to allow for much more learning on the job. What’s happening us core skills sets / capability is being devalued over experience with the latest tool sets. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, because it’s the core skills that matter … although it is true a lot of tool sets / tech doesn’t really require much in the way of core skills. … … … …. That may sound good for those without the core skills but they are out of a job when that particular tech loses favor. … … … Given the amount of effort required, time/money, to stay reasonably current and employable in tech, salaries in the field should be considered low.

  9. murph59

    Once upon a time companies realized that an experienced developer could learn new tools very quickly, often with no formal training required. Now most companies seem to think that if you don’t know how to use a simple etl tool already (with a visual front end) then they don’t want to talk to you even though you have every other (more important) skill. This is very frustrating. Put me in front of the tool and I will learn it.

  10. manager coder

    People have to stop being coders as those are low level jobs that are getting offshored. Us onshore people have hated that job anyway. We need go stop complaining and adapt as system analysts and coordinators. Anyone can talk to a machine. But only english speakers can talk to business users, hopefully. We need to retool our mindset to he new reality.

    • murph59

      Coders are low level? Are you kidding? A good developer is both analyst and coder (2 jobs for 1 salary). Have you seen the “code” produced by a lot of offshore “developers”? They take something that worked once and try to modify it to work for something else. No thought as to efficiency or good design or maintainability. At least that is what I have seen. I”m sure there are exceptions.

    • Scott M

      I do agree with you in part, although there is one big problem with this argument.

      How many system analysts, project managers, and architects do you really need? In most organizations, less than ten percent of their IT department have these titles.

      This means that only a select few coders can enter these fields, simply because the number of coders far outstrips the number of architects and system analysts that are actually needed.

      Besides, how many senior developers are only coders? In fact, coding is one of the smallest part of the job.

      Also, the trend I have been seeing lately is that whole IT departments are being off-shored. This is including system analysts and architects.

  11. It is going to take a traumatic event for companies to take notice when actually the solution is right in front of them. No one is going to know everything their is only one Perfect Entity, Which is The Lord Jesus Christ. If our Fist Lady is not safe from her information being compromised and many other important individuals of society and the only thing we can do is argue about not having enough qualified personnel. Then I am truly ashamed at the way the United States carries themselves other Countries sit back and laugh at us really they do. I will explain why any time you sabotage a Countries Infrastructure by hacking into their Banks, Manufacturing, Government, and then CEO’s e-mail accounts. This is called a “Process Of Elimination”, which means someone is developing new software to combat against said intrusions and this might make them very rich because if we sit back and argue about who is qualified and who is not qualified. Then we will let this issue spin out of control and more attacks will be happening on an everyday basis. Mrs. E. Roosevelt said it beautifully what are we doing if we do not let individuals who are qualified to do a task by letting them sit on the sidelines and watching our demise. If all we want to do is make our, Politicians rich which they clearly do not care about the working class getting people back to work is the most important aspect. We do have qualified Information Technology Specialist out here just society is very twisted until the business regime which does not care about no ones privacy is replaced then the Technology Sector will flourish because jealousy is something.

  12. Orthoducks

    If a company hires a person who doesn’t have all the skills they need, but can learn them, they’ll have an employee who becomes productive in a few weeks or months and stays so by learning new skills as the company’s needs change.

    If a company hires a person who has all of the skills they need, but can’t learn new ones, they’ll have an employee who is productive on the first day of work but becomes less so as their needs change. Eventually they’ll have an employee who is completely unproductive and remains so forever.

  13. I do not know how much training does one need after a Ph.D and two master’s degrees. I have tried and I have been trying even now to get hired after my retirement. I do want to get back to active work environment and I haven’t received any favorable response from hiring organizations for a whole many years. I am still technically sharp, even though I am not familiar with the latest advances in software and hardware improvements. Most of the job requirements post a whole laundry list of technical (though really not technical) requirements. I don’t believe a good engineer/scientist will be able to work in each area of the laundry list with thoroughness. Very frustrating indeed.

  14. I graduated from college with a Bachelor degree in Computer Information Technology 2-1/2 years ago, yetI can’t obtain a job in IT because I have no corporate experience inWeb Design or Graphic design. I have worked on a site for someone since 2006, but I only use HTML snd Adobe Photoshop. Thus, I am having to make a living doing Data Entry or factory work.

  15. I’ve worked in web development since 1994 and I have had a great deal of success and lots of job offers. The longest time it took for me to find a job in the last 12 years has been 2 weeks. I’ve worked for exclusively big name companies, and that has made a huge difference in my marketability.

    Here are a few things I’ve learned:

    – Do everything you can to get into a big name company – offer to intern, do temp work, 2 week contract, what ever you can

    – Work with a temp agency

    – Do your own side projects – work on craigslist

    – Come in prepared to impress with your tech skills – show portfolio work, explain how you solved a problem with work you’ve done on your own

    – Offer to do free websites or cheap websites or programming for small businesses (again through craigslist) – specify you are trying to get experience – then use those as companies/projects as references

    – Put that experience at the top of your resume – listed under “various companies and projects”

    – Always put your skill list at the VERY top of your resume, followed by your experience with your own projects/experience if any, then education last. Employers/recruiters always first scan your resume to see if you have a high level of the skills they are looking for.. list even stuff you know a little about.

    – When you get a job interview be prepared to talk about their top skills – research top interview questions for that specific skillset. Bring in a laptop and show them something you built

    – Especially use platforms like bootstrap or other hot rapid development tools.. few appreciate hand-coding and such anymore.

    – Do everything you can to show confidence in your interview.. don’t brag, just sit tall, look directly in the interviewers eyes .. research the body language of confidence

    – DRESS FOR SUCCESS.. research shows that interviewers are hugely influenced by your appearance. Get opinions from others. Your shoes are the most important.. splurge on them!

    – Smile, be laid back.. you want to be approachable and comfortable and confident with those who interview.. you have to be LIKEABLE.. learn how. A huge part of the interview process is your ability to connect with the people who interview you.

    – I recommended several times people with little experience or no experience because they were enthusiastic, easy going, and showed that they can learn and land on their feet. There are still people that appreciate that in the industry.

    Hope these tips help someone!

  16. Please advise how to be likeable when they tell you the interview is on A that they know is not a recent skill for you, which they confirm, and the interview turns out to be on B. This happened to me, and for a non-developer position. If felt like an ambush but maybe I am naiive.

    • Orthoducks

      Don’t expect fairness. Don’t even expect rationality. There was the time when a recruiter prepped me for a big interview, and I was rejected because I answered a question the way he advised me to. Or the time when I was interviewed serially by about six different people, each of whom had a different conception of what the job was.

    • Just remember that often they are throwing a curve ball at you to see how well you respond to difficult situations. That’s why a huge portion of it is just to take a deep breath, smile, and simply say, I’m sorry I thought we were going to talk about A. Let me think a bit about B if you don’t mind.

      I usually have a few “appropriate” jokes I make to lighten the mood. For example I mention that I have worked in tech for 18 years, which hints at my age. Then I jokingly say “I started when I was 2” and then laugh.

      Go in there like you are a “catch” and have confidence. Think about the movie “Office Space”.

  17. Charlie Wayne

    In addition to job security for the American worker here, I am also concerned about security and safety of this country. In light of Boston terrorism, we need to be careful to let too many people come here, we need to make sure checking their security background ensure that we will prevent it from happen again.