I remember when Java was a curiosity. Then I remember when it was going to become the universal language of everything. Then I remember when it actually got used. There was about a 15 year period these events were spread among.
Of course, a good programmer knows how to learn any language. They were ready when Java actually got used.
I remember when the cloud was a curiosity and virtualization was something people only talked about. Now everything’s cloud, and there’s at least less B.S. and more actual functionality. That took about ten years.
Good research skills would let anyone jump on top of cloud when it was ready.
I remember when web pages were written in PERL. Now I hear people joking about PERL as incoherent and inconsistent (it is, but it was useful). That . . . well it was kind of welcome.
Good knowledge of scripting languages would have helped anyone once dependent on PERL – and of course in learning new skills.
The job search today, careers today, often focus on current skill needs. This language. This software. This publishing package. This company (really, some recruiters get that specific). Of course the languages, software, packages, and backgrounds will all change in a year or a few years.
You ever see someone who was on top of the world because of some given skill then be unable to find work? Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Having spent 17 years in IT, I’ve seen it over and over.
Of course we’ve also seen people who had all this knowledge and experience who couldn’t get a job because they didn’t know a skill, or a piece of software, or something. We’ve seen that lack of specific skill kill off job opportunities for us, I’m sure.
We solve this by being aware of what I’ve nicknamed our Skills Framework – and what’s in it.
Think of your skills and abilities as being like a building. There’s a strong foundation and supports which don’t change that much, but there’s walls, windows, doors, paint, etc. that do or can change – and are easy to knock down or replace. The foundation and support give you structure, but there’s ever-changing (or changeable) elements supported by that foundation.
The ability to write is a foundational skill. Being able to write for a certain audience or in a certain style may go in and out of popularity.
The ability to learn is a foundational skill. A given programming language may be important today and not so important in a few years.
The ability to organize and manage is a foundational skill. Which of the endless Gantt chart programs you use may come and go (no personal bitterness here)
The ability to deal with people is a foundational skill. Dealing with people of a given culture, age group, or profession may be important on your job one year, and less so the next.
Identifying when a skill is foundational and when a skill “fits into” the foundation, a variable skill, is of utmost importance.
Foundational Skills . . .
. . . don’t go out of style.
. . . usually help you with, become, or can be focused into variable skills.
. . . are often hard to teach or require multifaceted effort to learn because they’re so foundational we often don’t see them.
. . . in general won’t get you the job, but the manifestations of them may.
. . . are often the start of Variable skills.
. . . are things we rarely think about acquiring, but when we do they can be very powerful.
Variable Skills . . .
. . . are often one of many you have to select from.
. . . come and go radically in popularity and usage.
. . . may or may not go in and out of style during your career.
. . . can get very close to becoming foundational skills (such as Word processing) over time.
. . . usually “hang off” of or evolve from Foundational Skills.
When you’re developing professionally (or as a person), ask yourself when you’re growing Foundational Skills and when you’re growing Variable Skills. Foundational Skills never go out of style, but need specific manifestations to get you jobs. Variable Skills can be powerful, but need for them is fickle. Development as a professional requires both to build a solid structure of a career.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.