Tech is a cruel mistress. Just when you get up to speed, she’s already run off and evolved. You’re playing constant catch-up when it comes to tech, and you’ll never be good enough or know it all. The rules, if not the entire game, are always changing. It can be disheartening.
Remember when job descriptions listed things like proficiency with productivity suites (think Microsoft Word and PowerPoint), the ability to browse online, and familiarity with email? It wasn’t all that long ago, either. Those skills were new, not everyone had them, but employers wanted their new hires to be on the cutting edge. It’s almost laughable now, and no one would ever list any of them for a job in 2015. You don’t need to include them on your CV because you’re expected to have them in your tool belt. Employers won’t bother asking if you do. Because of course you do.
Then things evolved again, as will always happen. Employers started including things like knowledge of SEO (search engine optimization), image editing, and familiarity with inbound or content marketing. Those became the skills that employees needed to showcase if they wanted to get in the door. Microsoft programs and surfing the net? That’s so two decades ago.
So people boned up on SEO and content. Without them, you were a sailboat without a sail, a train without an engine, a bike without a chain. It might look the same, but it wasn’t moving forward. You needed those things to give you any momentum.
And while knowledge of SEO and inbound marketing is still desirable, it’s not the bees knees that it once was. Tech went and advanced yet again. She’s fickle that way. The skills that are #1 today might not make the top 50 five years down the road, and the skills everyone will be expected to have probably don’t even exist yet.
It’s Fast and Furious: Tech Adrift. Terminator: Obsolete Solutions. And Planet of the Impossible to Get Ahead.
So what skills are employers keen on today? It really depends on who you ask, but these 5 seem common across most fields.
Hands down, coding, is the tech skill you hear about most frequently. There are major initiatives everywhere to get it added to school curriculums, and employees and employers alike are all singing its praises and applications. In the Matrix movies, you could reduce the world to its cascading green code. It was everywhere and everything. We’re not that far from that in the real world. Code controls your computer, smartphone, tablet, and virtually anything else that has a specific set of instructions on how and what to do. Computers can only do what they have been programmed to do, and the language spoken between human programmers and machines is code.
Stop and think about the number of ways that code is used in the world today. It’s mind-boggling. Apps, programs, software, websites, and any “smart” machine or device would be nothing without code. Your shiny new Macbook Air would be a $1500 paperweight. And as our world becomes more reliant on technology, the demand for code and coders will only increase. It’s a skill you need, regardless of your profession or industry. You might use it directly to program new software and applications, you may use it for fun in your downtime, or it may simply provide you with a better understanding of how things work (likewise, you might never take your car engine apart to fix it, but understanding how it works and goes together would still be an asset).
2. Growth Hacking
This is a relatively new one. Growth hacking is part programming (so you’ll need those coding skills; don’t worry, though, a basic understanding of HTML/CSS and SQL is usually enough as professional developers will do the heavy lifting), and part marketing. It involves analyzing and using big data to find innovative (and low cost) ways to acquire customers and leads. You’ll need to be familiar with A/B testing, landing pages, copywriting, marketing best practices, data analysis, and out-of-the-box thinking. That’s a tall order. It combines everything available to you, and it’s more than we could possibly summarize in just a paragraph.
Want to really dive deep into what it is and is not? Neil Patel wrote The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking, and you can read all 30,000 words for free. Thanks, Neil!
Admittedly, coding can be scary, so here’s a safe, gentle one to balance the boat. Typing. Good old-fashioned typing. It may not seem techy or even modern, but very few people learn to type the proper way without having to look at the keyboard. If you can do that, and you’re able to type accurately at a higher-than-average words per minute, then you’ll stand out. For most people, that would be around 40 wpm.
We think of typing as an “old” skill, but the amount of data entry and typing we do - including coding - is at an all-time high. Get proficient and accurate, and it will serve you well. Writing reports, content, memos, email letters, and countless other tasks will improve. You can find plenty of free and paid tutorials online, like TypingClub or Typing.com.
4. Big Data
Big data is becoming more and more common, and it’s being leveraged by more and more businesses. We’re accumulating data at unprecedented rates now, and it comes from everywhere. Like it or not, your behaviour and habits are being tracked nearly 24/7. What you search for and do online, where you shop, how you pay for things, what you buy, where and when you vacation, your favourite foods, music, films, and more. Retail stores collect data (that’s why they ask for your email or phone number). Loyalty cards collect data. Websites and search engines collect data. Web browsers collect data. Your smartphone collects data. GPS devices collect data. Your thermostat collects data. Hell, your toaster might know more about you right now than your best friend.
Data science is the new field of study that looks at how to collect and analyze it all. Companies can use big data to create customer profiles, identify consumer patterns and trends, and even anticipate upticks and downswings in revenue. But someone has to sort through the mountain of data being collected and suggest ways the data can be used. If you can do that, you’re going to be in demand. Pluralsight offers several courses, both introductory and intermediate, to get you going, and many colleges and universities are now offering full-time programs in data science.
You might consider this one a little out-dated, but spreadsheets have wormed their way into virtually every industry and office. Microsoft Excel is the most popular spreadsheet program, used for storing, managing, organizing, and manipulating data (including automatic mathematical calculations, called formulas). A spreadsheet is just a table or grid, made up of rows identified by numbers, and columns identified by letters (A-Z, then AA, AB, AC, and so on). The intersection of a row and column is called a cell, identified by the corresponding letter and number (A4, B8, C7, called the cell reference). Spreadsheets are useful for working with financial data (including basic math operations, finding the average, maximum, or minimum value, finding values), and charting, graphing, sorting, or filtering data. Its uses are virtually endless.
Many people have learned to keep technology at arms-length. They know just enough to get by, but they don’t take it any further because they fear that everything will be different by this time next year. While that may be true, employers are looking for employees that not only aren’t afraid of tech but embrace its volatile nature.
Individuals that go out of their way to stay current, who read about emerging tech solutions, products, and trends, and bring those ideas to the workplace. You don’t need to be an expert at everything, but you need to demonstrate an appreciation for it. Businesses need people like that. If you’re afraid and wary of tech, it’s going to pass you by. Relax...it won’t bite.
These 5 skills are and will remain in demand for the foreseeable future. How many do you have in your professional toolkit?
Care to add anything? What tech skill do you see rising to prominence in the next couple of years? Add your suggestions to the comments below...