How to Make Sure You Have the Tech Skills Startups Want

Right vs Wrong

Invariably, startups rely on new tools and new technologies to build their products, which means they especially value candidates who are up-to-date on the latest languages and systems. That presents those trying to stay ahead of the curve with something of a conundrum: If you learn an emerging technology too soon, the jobs won’t be there. If you wait too long, you’ll face stiff competition.

So how can you develop impeccable timing? By actively monitoring the evolution of promising technologies that align with your skills and interests. When new tech starts to gain momentum and more people get their hands into it, it’s time to make your move.

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Here are some ways to identify, track and exploit technologies that will maximize your current skills, interests and earning potential.

Follow the Leaders

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a savant to spot a promising technology. First, gain a general understanding of technology’s lifecycle by studying Gartner’s Hype Cycle, a methodology that predicts how a technology or application will evolve over time. Also, keep an eye on the Tiobe Programming Community Index, which tracks the rising and falling of a wide range of languages. In addition, follow the news to get a sense of what different experts and tech journalists are writing about.

“Follow supporters and thought leaders on social media, blogs and interviews or reach out to them directly to see which ideas have merit,” says John Vanston, chairman of the Austin-based forecasting firm Technology Futures and co-author of Minitrends: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs Discover & Profit from Business & Technology Trends.

For instance, Forrester offers emerging tech blogs that provide actionable guidance for professionals in specific roles. And Gartner Hype Cycle reports track and evaluate the maturity of over 2,000 technologies and trends in 102 areas such as application architecture, CRM marketing and application security.

Tools and solutions that create a lot of buzz and garner early support are the ones to watch, Vanston says. For instance, conversations around self-driving cars started to take off around July 2012. Two years later, almost all the traditional automotive manufacturers are testing such technology.

Remember, your goal is not only to identify promising technology but also to get an early idea of its potential business impact and opportunities. You’re looking for tools that can lead to bottom line improvements and benefits for users. Those are the ones that could ultimately produce jobs.

Follow the Money

Since technologies that show promise usually receive some kind of funding, following the money trail can help you identify winners and losers. For example, venture capital investments in Hadoop companies have grown rapidly since 2008, spawning dozens of startups. If you were paying attention, you couldn’t miss its rise and the subsequent need for developers and architects.

Follow the money to see which ideas are viable,” advises Vanston. “Also, consider the drivers and constraints. Even the best ideas may not make it if they lack funding or leadership.”

But keep an eye out for constraints. While self-driving technology is being driven by investments, new regulations, safety fears and market readiness are possible constraints to wide-spread adoption.

Technology producers shake out or fail and investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters. Investor Doug Pepper refers to this as the “facing reality” stage.

Search for Convergences

There comes a point where the new technology breaks through into the mainstream. This is when the benefits start to crystallize, new generations of products appear and more companies begin pilot projects. For example, cell phones had been around for quite a while when Apple launched the first iPhone in 2007. Its App Store opened in 2008 and later that year Google launched Android. Together, these events spurred thousands of jobs for mobile app developers. Were you paying attention in 2007?

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