If you are taking a break from actively managing your IT career, just remember one word: Cobol.
While this '50s-era programming language is still used today, it symbolizes the way a seemingly omnipresent technology can be in demand one moment and out of fashion the next.
Technology professionals understand that they work in an industry characterized by rapid-fire change, but techies sometimes fail to manage their careers appropriately. Too often, network administrators, programmers and others find themselves in a most uncomfortable position -- laid off from a once-secure job with skills that are no longer as attractive to employers as they once were.
What's the solution? Part of the challenge is learning to assess the risks inherent in any career. Staying with what you know may seem like the safe thing to do, but not when it comes to technology. Career-development inertia is risky, especially if what you know is a technology that's on its way out.
Actively managing your career can help you avoid a crisis involving your technical expertise. Remember, this isn't simply about learning the latest technology. Rather, it is a matter of protecting yourself from the vagaries of shifting technology by gaining industry-specific knowledge, maintaining a network of contacts and seeking out management experience.
The goal is to avoid reaching the point where you don't have anything to offer an employer other than technical skills. Of course, that's easier said than done. Careers are apt to take on a life of their own, especially when a technical specialty can earn a top-notch salary. Why learn something new when you're earning good money right now? But when your specialty loses its luster, you may find your $75-an-hour skill garnering a fraction of that -- if you're able to find work at all.
What steps should you take when your area of technological expertise is losing ground? Here are five tips for technology transitions:
Think Macro, Not Micro
Too many techies don't look outside their own turf, no matter how narrow it is. If you want to avoid being overrun by shifting technologies, you need to keep up with developments in the broader technology world. News sources abound, from eWeek to the Wall Street Journal. Keeping in touch with technology trends shaping the business community will help you better assess the danger signs, if any, pertaining to your own area of expertise.
Engineer an On-the-Job Transition
Your company knows you and your strengths. If there is any way to engineer a job transition within your organization, grab the opportunity to extend your skills into an in-demand area. Even if such a shift is lateral, it's generally easier than jumping ship entirely and seeking work elsewhere.
Seek Focused Training
Unless you're willing to risk a wholesale transition, avoid training yourself in something entirely new. Build on your existing skills with training -- as a database analyst, network engineer or whatever your specialty -- rather than attempt to establish yourself in an entirely new area of expertise.
Be Positive, Not Defensive
Take the high road in interviews when asked about your reasons for sticking with a now-defunct technology. Don't say, "I learned this in school, and the money was good, so why change?" Instead try, "I really enjoyed my work -- the challenge of it -- and I also enjoyed working for the same employer all these years. I know the technology is now viewed as out of date, but we used it in ways that really made a difference for the firm." Highlight your loyalty and value as an employee.
Overhaul Your Resume
If your skills are perceived as outdated, you will need to recast your tech resume. Focus on the value you brought to the company -- projects completed, deadlines met, budgets managed, costs saved -- rather than the particular skills you used to accomplish those goals. Include your IT skills, of course; they're part of your history in the industry. But don't present them in such a way as to indicate they're the only reason you should be hired.
Learn more about technology careers.