Some folks find a profession early in their life and that’s what they do until they’re old and gray and ready to retire. Other folks find themselves switching careers mid-way. Me? I’m on the third career in my working life. I know a thing or two about learning something new. Why do I bring this up? Because if you’re in the IT industry, chances are you’ll spend a big chunk of your professional life learning something new. There’s also a good chance you’ll have to sit for an exam or two to prove you’ve learned something new. And for some, that prospect overwhelms. If that’s you, keep reading! In this two-part series, I’m going to share my thoughts, tips, and tools for picking up a new skill.
Be the Captain of Your Own Ship
Sometimes you get told you need to have XYZ certification to qualify for the next pay raise. Sometimes the idea comes from your own self-motivation. Either way, the first step to successful completion is for you to make the commitment to the journey. Even if the idea isn’t your own, your personal commitment to the journey will be critical to its success. We’ve all seen what happens when there isn’t personal commitment. Someone gets assigned something they have no interest or desire. Whatever the task, it usually gets done half-heartedly and the results are terrible. You don’t want to be terrible. You want that cert. Make the commitment. It doesn’t have to be flashy or public, but it does have to authentic to you.
Make a New Plan, Stan...
Once you’ve made the decision to go after your goal, it’s time to make your plan. After all, no captain sets sail without first plotting a course. For certification-chasers, there is usually a blueprint out there with what the certification exam will cover. That’s a good place to start.
Charting your course should include things like:
- A concrete, measurable goal.
- A realistic timeline.
- The steps to get from today to success[i].
Think about what hazards might impede your progress. After all, you don’t want to plot your course right through a reef. Things like:
- How much time you can realistically devote to studying?
- What stressors might affect your ability to stay on track?
- Will your own starting point knowledge-wise make the journey longer or shorter?
Make Like a Penguin
If you’re a Madagascar[ii] fan, you know the penguin credo is “Never swim alone.” It’s great advice for penguins and for IT knowledge-seekers. Making your journey alone is like filling your bag with rocks before you start. It just makes life harder.
There are a ton of great online and real-life IT communities out there. Find one that works for you and get engaged. If your journey is at all like mine, at first you might just be asking questions. I know I asked a zillion questions in the beginning. These days I end up answering more questions than I ask, but I find answering others’ questions helps me solidify the strength of my knowledge. Another community is a formal study group. They help by providing structure, feedback on your progress, and motivation.
Lastly, don’t forget about your friends and family. They might not know the subject matter, but they can make your road smoother by freeing up your time or giving you valuable moral support. Make sure they swim, too. This article has been a little high-level design for a successful certification journey. Stay tuned for the next installment. We’ll go low-level with some tips for getting to success one day at a time. Until then remember to keep doing it... just for fun!