Training for IT Careers

 In TCM Post

Let’s start the dive into more specific topics about how to improve your IT career. I have talked at length about motivational topics, but what about some specific questions that people ask a mentor?

What type of training should I take?

First, Define Your Goals
Before you decide what training you want, or what subject area to focus on, you have to determine your goal of training. Let’s explore a few top reasons:

  • Training for Certifications
  • Training as Compensation for Work
  • Training for a Skill

Training for Certifications
Honestly, I think paid training classes for certification test preparation is a massive waste of money. You can accomplish the same thing on your own, for free, in a library or from home on the internet, or for pennies on the dollar versus class fees. Read on to the ROI section below if you are stuck on the idea that you have to pay for training to pass a test.

Training as Compensation for Work
Companies don’t always send folks to formal training and may only do so when it benefits strategic business purposes, rather than building an employee’s skill set. Mainly it’s not what you WANT but what the company NEEDS.  As an IT Director at an IT company, I believed that formal IT training classes were at best overpriced, and at worst almost useless marketing information. Of the many courses that my employees and I attended, we considered only a handful to be valuable. Self-training, team building, and hands-on experience have significantly more value than paying hefty fees for formal classes.

Training for a Skill
If learning is your goal of training, you need to do some extra research to ensure your investment (the cost of the class) will result in an advancement of skill or the addition of value to your career. There are too many costly courses out there that don’t help much when you could learn from YouTube for free. Let’s look deeper into the analysis of training to increase your skillset.

Return On Investment
After you have defined the reason why you want training you then have to do some Return on Investment (ROI) analysis. Is your purpose a good one? Does it return some value to you in the form of financial gain or the ability to land your next job? In software development, we create a Traceability Matrix to trace customer requirements back to the features that you are building into the application. Use the same methodology to define your requirements (your Career Plan) and make sure that you can trace the feature (training) back to your specifications and that it satisfies that requirement well, especially if you are paying lots of money for the training.

More Self Evaluation
I cannot stress enough the importance of evaluating the reasons why you think you need to pay for training. Primarily this is my cautionary statement against expensive, formal training (including college). But in today’s online market there are so many ways to get free or VERY cheap training classes that are AT LEAST as good as a lousy college course, and arguably much better. Don’t ask yourself or friends, “should I take this training?” Ask yourself and others (including your boss), “If I get this training, will I be more valuable?” Furthermore, I hear, “I can’t afford the training” as an excuse why people won’t or can’t make changes in their careers. I urge you not to get stuck on the idea of training as a barrier to advancement.

If You Must Pay for Training
I’ll contradict myself and say that formal training classes for certification testing CAN be valuable. First, work out the math and all of the variables (including failing the test.) After that, you conclude that if you pay $2500 for training and $250 (or $750 to take it three times) for a test that you’ll land a job that puts that cash back in your bank account. In that case, training for a test can be valuable. Usually, this is something particular. Maybe you have ten years experience and want to do more networking. You already have your CCNA, and you need your CCIE to take the next big step. In this particular case, extra paid training to help pass the test will most likely be worth the financial gain, in today’s (2018) market.

Instead of Training
In my experience, many of the smartest, hardest working engineers did not have any certifications or formal training. They were so involved in their work and so busy that they didn’t have time. More than that, they didn’t need to get formal training. Instead, they got on-the-job training by doing the work, or sitting with someone that was doing the work, and learning. I mention this to you so that you remember the ROI lesson above. You can be VALUABLE by learning on the job instead of formal training.

Means to an End
In a previous article, I briefly discussed one of the most common questions that I am asked, “I want a job in X, but I have no experience in X. How am I supposed to get that job?” While there is never one option, one of the best ways that I know to do this is to find a different job that you do qualify for in an organization where you can work your way into the role that you want. Create the option for yourself. At the same time, that next job may require a certification or some specific training. As part of your plan, define these and schedule them, and check them off your list! Training can be a gateway into a job that you otherwise would not meet the requirements.

The Bottom Line
You derive value from training that gives you a skill, not training that allows you to pass a test. Training can be either formal or informal or on-the-job.

Curator of the Certification Museum
We used a term in recruiting: “The Cert Jockey.” It seemed that this person’s sole mission in life was to collect as much training and certification as possible. Rather than providing any value back to the team or company this person was building, or padding (or possibly over-doing) their resume. Unless your company reimburses your training or you are bored, be wary of becoming The Cert Jockey. At some point, you reach diminishing returns, and all of those certs can’t provide you any ROI.

Notebook Time
Yep. Grab your notebook. Take notes on this article and research the certifications and training classes. We mapped out a plan in previous blog articles. Where does training fit into that plan? Is it part of the plan? No…? Well, now’s the time to make it part of your plan!

How do you Learn?
Finally, you also need to determine HOW you learn. If you did not do well in school because lectures did not work for you and you did better reading and doing it yourself, then how useful and valuable will an expensive, formal training class be for YOU? I have discovered that IT professionals learn in three distinct ways. I call this the Learning Pyramid. You should use all three, but find your preference among 1) Reading 2) Listening 3) Doing. Stay tuned for the next article.

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