Miles Burke

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4 Scribbles That Explain Your Professional Future

I’ve spoken at events, and written many articles, about getting a job in the tech or web industry, and how to apply a continuous learning cycle to grow your career.

See 39 Hints when looking for web industry work or 18 ways to be a better employee.

Rather than write yet another article on the topic, I decided to illustrate this, as I scribbled for a young person I recently mentored on the topic of creating a career plan.

The following four scribbled graphs demonstrate my thoughts on working within the tech industry, or just about every industry, to be honest. Picture the X axis as a timeline from now (very left hand side) to the future (on the right). The Y axis shows the knowledge and skills you have.

What we do and don't know

What we do and don’t know

This graph shows what we believe is true, with the existing skills and knowledge we have (lower) and the skills and knowledge we should possibly obtain to be even more rockstar (top half).

How (nearly every) position is changing

How (nearly every) position is changing

This scribble illustrates what is actually happening. The first graph is, in fact, wrong.

The bottom half is your existing skills. The top curve, are the new skills and knowledge you are expected to have.

Everywhere we look, new skills and knowledge are being created by the hour. We, as workers within an industry, are having trouble keeping up with it all and staying relevant.

Your existing skills over time

Your existing skills over time

This graph shows what is actually happening. In every industry, particularly fast moving ones like technology, is that existing roles are evolving, and employers are expecting new skills and knowledge from their employees.

Your existing skills and knowledge as of today, are becoming less useful as time progresses to the future. It’s called skill decay.

Value of your skills over time

Value of your skills over time

The graph above then also reflects the value of your existing skills over time. Your value as an employee, freelancer or consultant is dropping.

This means, quite bluntly, if you are not in the habit of constantly learning and up-skilling, your value as an employee, is dropping exponentially.

Sounds rough, but let me explain a very real situation I had in the past.

I once was great at doing front end development. I’d create a design, and then make it into HTML. I took a position as a sole ‘digital’ person, and I was very good at it, on day one. Thing is, I created everything in nested tables and spacer GIFs (yes, that’s dating the employment period I am talking about). I continued for a few years doing this, and growing the employees within my team, however I kept doing what I knew on day one of the job.

I eventually left that position, and you know what? I was unemployable with that skill set. Sure, I had picked up skills in a different area entirely, however my existing front end development skills were, in fact, utterly useless. Everybody else had learnt this fancy thing called CSS. They had up-skilled in Javascript, they had moved on from where I had been 3 years before.

It wasn’t my employers fault at all; it was mine. If my role hadn’t expanded over those years, I should have got an annual pay cut each year, not a pay raise.

You are in charge of your career, not your current employer. If you want to continue to be useful as an employee, and in fact, become a more valuable employee, then it’s up to you to stay current, and ahead of the curve.

Spending time outside of work, continuously learning and improving your skill set is a must. It’s an investment in your future. If your career stalls through lack of new knowledge or employ-ability, then you are to blame, nobody else. If you end up being told that you are being replaced by someone with more knowledge and skills, then you have failed.

You have two options.

Set aside time weekly to continue your professional development. Read books, blogs, articles, listen to podcasts, ask people in your industry what they value for skills. Do an online course, write your own code, design, website content, whatever it is. Constantly yearn for new knowledge and immerse yourself in your industry.

Stick to your current knowledge. Work your 9-5 or whatever hours it is. Work 1/3 or less of the 168 hours a week you have available. Do those 56 hours and keep doing it until you are a dinosaur. It sounds like a long time away, but to be honest, it won’t be. In a few years, find a new, lesser paid career.

It’s all up to you.

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1 Comment

  1. Great insights Miles. Skills Decay and subsequent Value Decay are very real. And the more specialist the skills in a rapidly changing field, then the greater the potential for rapid decay.

    But value does not just come from skills and knowledge. Remember, “It’s not what you know, but who you know…” In the digital age, knowledge is easy to find, and connections to those with knowledge are easy to make. Finding wisdom takes a little longer.

    In this highly networked digital world, the power and value from personal networks is one area that can easily grow exponentially. (It can also decay, especially if mistrust spreads through a network.)

    For those people who know how to establish and grow their personal networks, and then tap into the wisdom in the networks for the help and solutions they want and need, the opportunities for exponential value growth are huge.

    The skills and knowledge the individual has are only a small part of the person’s value, and can easily be supplemented and complemented with skills from others. The ability to think, connect and ‘join the dots’ with wisdom to create better solutions has a far greater value. This is seldom taught in the schools that simply prepare (or more often, don’t prepare) an employee for the workforce. They still tend to focus on skills. And as you rightly say, skills decay.

    Richard Keeves
    x10 PARTNERS

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