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How to Actually Start Acquiring the IT Skills You’ve Avoided Learning

Some of the best jobs available today are in IT. Surveys reliably rank systems analysts, DBAs, and software and web developers among the most in-demand positions. If you’re already in the field, then you’re just a certification away from a lateral move (if you want).

While it’s true that the best jobs go to those with the most current skills training, the path to a great job in IT isn’t shrouded in mystery. Most companies have explicit expectations for advancement, promotion, or placement. Usually, those expectations are linked to industry standards and certifications.

So what does it all mean? It means there are clear steps you can take to make yourself competitive. But, taking those steps also requires a specific mindset and attitude.

Embrace the change

“Change is the only constant.” A Greek guy named Heraclitus said this 2,500 years ago. The idiom’s relevancy also holds true in IT today. The IT field is changing fast and that should be your primary motivator for learning new skills.

Embracing the change isn’t necessarily easy, particularly today. IT pros are now specializing at an alarming rate, which isn’t a bad thing. But, specializing often means a sharp, deep turn into the robust certification pathways for cloud infrastructure. More nebulous are the DevOps skill sets, which aren’t necessarily attached to certification paths. They’re a mishmash of coding, virtualization, and infrastructure. Even IT generalists are expected to pile on these skills and certifications.

With the comfort in knowing that change is inevitable, there’s a logical second conclusion: inaction quickly leads to obsolescence. Leaning into the moment of change can turn the discomfort of inaction into understanding. When you’re taking on a new skill set, you’re taking charge. Luckily, many of the biggest changes are clear and obvious. It’s a no-brainer to sign up for a free AWS account and start playing around. Similarly, security is booming and there are plenty of opportunities to get experience — probably even in your current role.

There’s a big difference between seeing the industry change and changing with the industry. Sometimes it takes an outside force to help you make that leap, like implementing new technology at work or a supervisor creating a training plan with you. Otherwise, it’ll be up to you. Which leads us to our next point.

It’s a matter of hacking willpower with a habit

For many people, learning new skills is tough. Study skills fade with time. New technologies often require building a test environment from scratch. But mostly it’s a matter of getting back into the habit of studying — and habits are like a hack for willpower.

Luckily, it’s relatively easy to get back into a study routine, if you understand the basics. More than 30 years ago, MIT researchers identified three elements that comprise every habit — good or bad — and they’re still relevant today. Habits are formed with a cue, routine, and reward.

First, pick a time to study. Even better, pick a consistent time and place to study each day. It doesn’t matter what time. Just be consistent and find a place where you won’t be bothered. Shut off your phone. Download your training for offline use, and shut off your wifi. By using multiple cues (time and place), you will increase the motivators that will move you to train.

Second, identify the exact things you want to learn. By breaking your training down into small, achievable goals, you’re setting a routine of achievement every single day (or however you train). Most study plans start with an end goal, like an exam date, and then work backward allotting a certain amount of time every day to train. With a study plan, you’re building your routine.

Third, reward yourself. The connection between reward and your training habits is very real. Rather than rewarding yourself only when you pass your certification exam, reward yourself every time you train. It doesn’t have to be big. Just consistent.

With cue, routine, and reward, you’re telling your brain that the routine is worth repeating — and building strong study habits. By building strong study habits, you’re circumventing willpower.

Use the right tools to help you learn

The technology at your disposal is varied, complex, and powerful. The training tools at your disposal are no different. Similarly, using the right tool for the job produces predictable results. Same thing with training.

Some skills are best suited for hands-on practice, like white hat hacking. Other topics, like ports, lend themselves to flashcards. Tinkering around with a home lab has launched — and progressed — many an IT pro’s career. Messing around with code is exactly how nearly every developer got started. Whether you’re watching CBT Nuggets training or studying from a book, the best way to start acquiring the IT skills you’ve avoided learning is to find the method you like (or at least tolerate).

 

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