Why Diversifying Your Skill Set in IT May Not Be the Best Idea

The general wisdom for job candidates states that having a diverse skill set is an advantage. The more you’re able to do, the broader your potential qualifications are for a wider range of jobs. But when it comes to the IT industry, diversification may actually work against you in your job search.

In many cases, it’s better to focus on and improve a particular set of tech skills, specializing in a certain area rather than attempting to be an IT jack-of-all-trades. Specialists can be beneficial for employers, and give you a greater boost as a job seeker. Here are some of the advantages of specialization for IT candidates.

A competitive edge

The IT job market is highly competitive. Tech candidates are competing with both seasoned professionals and newly trained college graduates, and there is increasing pressure on companies to hire the best of the best among IT talent. If you have a specialized IT skill set, you’re more desirable to employers — who prefer to choose rock stars over stage hands.

Specialists are more likely to get hired than candidates who are simply proficient in the required skill set. While specializing can limit your options, you’ll have a greater chance of landing the positions you are qualified for with comprehensive skills in a particular area.

Elevated authority and expertise

Networking is an essential part of any job search. IT specialists can enhance their profiles, and their chances at getting hired by top companies, by becoming authorities on their areas of specialization through various networks that employers and recruiters frequent.

Contributing to and leading discussions in your specialist area on social channels like LinkedIn, and IT-centric forums like Github, can help you create an online presence that will truly impress employers. Your authority and influence as a specialist will give you a significant networking advantage over other candidates.

Greater independence

Employers seek out specialists in part because they don’t require a lot of training, and need little-to-no supervision on the job. As an IT specialist, you can enjoy increased independence and autonomy in your career. Specialists are also more likely to be innovators, with the freedom and latitude to work on projects that interest them personally in addition to directly assigned projects.

Increased salary and job security

IT specialists can typically command higher salaries than their general-skills counterparts. Particularly in today’s business landscape, employers place a high value on tech specialists, who are able to deliver more value to the organization. This often extends to better perks and benefits in addition to salary.

Those who specialize in a particular skill set can also enjoy greater job security. If you’re difficult to replace, you will be more valuable to a company — and less likely to be laid off or downsized, even if the organization is forced to cut back on staff.

Having specialized IT skills as a job candidate can not only help you land a more desirable position with a great company, but can also serve as the foundation for a long and successful career in technology.

Stay Ahead of the Curve The Importance of Continuing Education in IT

Today’s IT professionals have a wide range of educational levels, from bachelor’s or master’s degrees, to two-year associate or one-year certificate programs, to self-taught pros who may have obtained various certifications. But whether education is obtained in a classroom, through experience, or with a combination of methods, one thing holds true — in the IT industry, there’s always more you can learn.

Technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. For IT managers, continuing education is the key to staying on top of the industry, maintaining personal and professional development, and remaining relevant in an ever-shifting work environment. Here’s why every IT manager should strive for ongoing learning and keep up with the latest education available for your industry.

Keep your skills fresh

Most skills continue to improve with experience, but this is not always the case in IT. While real-world practice is typically the best way to strengthen basic skills, ongoing learning is required to stay up-to-date with more specialized skills. Database software tools, network management, and even operating systems are constantly evolving, and industry best practices change as the tools and systems advance.

Unfortunately, no amount of experience will help you sharpen a skill set you don’t already have — so continuing education is a requirement to learn new systems, tools, and features that can help you advance your career.

Refresher courses are also invaluable for ensuring that your credentials and certifications remain current, and that you’re informed about the latest developments in your areas of expertise.

Increase your professional value

The IT job market is tougher than ever. Even if you’re satisfied with your current position, there are any number of reasons you may find yourself looking for a new job—from downsizing or restructuring, to your organization closing its doors, or even a personal decision to seek a better career.

Continuing education is an investment in your value as an IT professional. By expanding your skills and knowledge base, while ensuring that your existing skill set remains current and up-to-date, you’ll be able to stand out among other professionals at your level. And if you re-enter the job market, you’ll be well-positioned to get hired quickly by the company of your choice.

Further your IT career

Hard work and technical knowledge are the building blocks of a successful IT career. But in order to move up the ranks of IT management, today’s pros must have more than technical skills. IT leaders are increasingly expected to not only have strong proficiency in the tech areas they work with, but also have excellent soft skills. Often, these non-technical skills are the deciding factor for who gets promoted to the next level.

Ongoing education and personal development can help you improve your soft skills and gain a more rounded skill set that’s best suited for senior leadership positions. Some of the soft skills IT managers need for success include:

  • Communication: The ability to communicate well with team members, peers, and the C-suite, and to explain complex technical terms in language that non-tech people can understand.
  • Presentation: Successful IT leaders are able to make compelling presentations that sway decision-makers, such as executives and board members, to gain support for IT initiatives within the company.
  • Talent management: Even in organizations where HR is responsible for recruiting, strong IT managers should understand the basics of attracting and retaining talent, and participate in the process where applicable.
  • Critical thinking and decision making: A great IT leader will be able to solve problems efficiently and make the right decisions quickly.

There are many beneficial soft skills for IT managers, and many training and educational programs designed to help leaders improve these skills and advance their careers. Continuing education is a necessity for any IT professional looking to remain relevant, viable, and on top of the game in today’s fast-paced technical landscape.

Behavioral Questions to Use in Your Next Interview

Traditional and behavioral interviews are very similar to one another, with the only difference being the type of questions that are asked. But behavioral interviews can provide keen insight into the skill set and workplace behavior of your potential candidate. This set of questions is more complex, encouraging the interviewee to provide immediate, unrehearsed answers. If you ask the right questions, you can get a more complete picture of your candidate’s previous success on the job and how they could replicate those efforts at your company.

1. Tell me about a tough problem you’ve faced recently.

This question will not only illuminate the candidate’s previous work experience, but will also give you an idea of the way they think and solve problems. Interviewees may describe interpersonal dilemmas, issues with their work, or even struggles with professional skills like meeting deadlines or leading meetings. It’s a bad sign if they aren’t able to think of an answer — everyone faces problems in the workplace, regardless of the nature of the issue.

Questions that will give you similar insight include:

Describe a time you made a risky decision.

Tell me about how you’ve worked well under pressure.

2. Describe a conflict you’ve experienced with a co-worker or customer.

Behavioral interviews are as much about learning a candidate’s social skills as they are their technical skills. This question will delve into their ability to manage interpersonal conflicts. It’s a good sign if the candidate admits responsibility for the conflict or describes actively trying to resolve the issue. On the other hand, it’s a bad sign if they put all of the blame (and responsibility for resolution) on the other party. After they answer, you will have a good sense of their ability to accept responsibility and their interpersonal skills in the workplace.

Similar questions include:

Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?

Describe a time you handled a difficult situation with a supervisor.

3. Describe a time you dealt with a workplace policy or guideline you didn’t agree with.

With this question, you’ll learn how your candidate navigates the complicated world of workplace diplomacy, as well as the strength of their problem solving and interpersonal skills. Look for interviewees who were able to work creatively with restrictions or were (respectfully) open with their supervisor about this conflict. Take it as a warning sign if they chose to break policy at the cost of their job performance because they felt they were right. Even if this displays initiative, it shows a lack of respect for authority and can be a bad sign of future behavior.

These questions will provide similar background:

What do you do when you disagree with your boss?

Give an example of a time you disagreed with your supervisor’s opinion.

These (and similar) questions can provide vital behavioral information on your potential candidates. They will give you a solid idea of the interviewee’s work history and ways in which that history might inform their future with your company.

Brand Yourself as a Best Place to Work in 2015

More and more employers are beginning to see the impact of workplace happiness on the efficacy of its employees. Higher morale results in increased productivity, lower absenteeism, company loyalty, and a myriad of emotional and mental benefits for staff members. Prioritizing the well-being of your employees can earn you a reputation as a desirable place to work, attracting new, talented candidates and retaining your existing workforce. Below are four strategies that will brand your company as a best place to work in the coming year.

1. Treat your employees like adults.         

Treating your employees like grownups can manifest itself in a variety of ways. On one hand, you can give them the flexibility to determine how they work best, whether that’s their office hours or their desk configuration. Always assume that they are responsible enough to manage their individual workloads without constant supervision. You should also try to strike a work-life balance, allowing your employees to focus on their families or their health when necessary.

2. Think outside the box with benefits.

You should always provide your employees with a comprehensive benefits package, but there are other nontraditional benefits that you can offer to improve employee morale, satisfaction, and even their health. If you have the space, offer access to a gym or fitness center, and encourage employees to use these facilities whenever they need to re-energize. Provide healthy food, whether it’s from an on-site café or well-stocked vending machines. Consider offering rare, highly sought after benefits like paid parental leave for new parents.

3. Support education and professional development.

Employers can accomplish this in a variety of ways. You can host on-site professional development seminars, reimburse education expenses, or provide training programs for employees looking to further their skills. You should also use support mentoring programs to nurture underrepresented demographics, such as women and minorities. These methods will help provide employees with a sense of forward momentum and a constant challenge that improves their well-being and satisfaction within a company.

4. Give back.

Many people prefer to work for organizations that give back to the community or demonstrate environmental awareness. Your company can provide volunteer opportunities for employees, organize fundraisers for good causes, or find creative ways to reduce your carbon footprint. This will instill pride in your employees, while bringing about social and environmental benefits.

Implementing some of these tips may require more work, but you can improve your company’s work environment in dozens of small ways. Let in more sunlight, fill the office with potted plants for higher air quality, or provide ergonomic office equipment. Develop the right strategy for your business and make it a goal to improve employee satisfaction and well-being in the coming year.

Know Your Worth How to Prepare Yourself for Salary Negotiations

 

Whether you’ve been with a company for years or are just accepting a new position, negotiating salary is a tricky prospect. But with a little preparation and the right mindset, you can make the experience far less nerve-wracking — and far more lucrative. Below are a few tips to prepare you to negotiate your salary.

Do your research.

Before starting negotiations, you should know the average salary range for the position. This will give you a solid starting point and show that you have the industry knowledge to back up your income requirement. Always take into account your experience, education, and skill level. If you’re fresh out of college with no experience in the workforce, you’ll likely be on the lower end of that salary range. If you’ve held a similar position for several years or are requesting a raise in your existing job, try to aim for the higher end.

Adjust your mindset.

Many people go into salary negotiations under the mistaken impression that they’re being greedy by requesting a higher salary. While it’s true that you should always be friendly and respectful during these discussions, you should also be assertive. Hiring managers expect you to negotiate, so know your worth and ask for it. You should never be so tied to the outcome of your negotiations that you’re unwilling to take risks. Go into the interview with the knowledge that negotiating your salary is a mutually beneficial partnership with the hiring manager. You aren’t asking for something you don’t deserve.

Practice your tactics.

Always have a strategy in place before you start negotiating. Many recommend that you never give the first number. If the hiring manager pressures you to name a number, try to deflect whenever possible. You can say things like, “What do you think the position is worth?” or refer to your research into the average salary range. Try to get the interviewer to give the first number (it may even be higher than what you were inclined to offer). If they are unwilling to budge on salary, you have other tools at your disposal. You can ask for more vacation days, a flexible bonus structure, relocation fees, or other benefits to compensate for an initially lower salary.

Regardless of the amount, you shouldn’t accept the first offer, especially if it’s lower than what you need or deserve. If necessary, ask for time to think over the offer. If the number is well below your market value, don't be afraid to turn it down. But chances are, if you do your research and determine what your skills and experience are worth, you can come out of the negotiations with a comfortable salary and a strong relationship with your employer.

Bitcoin Technology Extends beyond Cryptocurrency

Bitcoin, best known for being a form of digital currency with no fees and the ability to remain anonymous in transactions, has been gaining steady ground as an accepted online payment. But now, this virtual currency may be evolving into much more than a payment method.

These developments are not a direct result of Bitcoin itself so much as the technology behind it. Bitcoin’s unique underlying code makes it possible to handle a broad range of financial tasks that are now served by middlemen like banks, exchanges, and ecommerce providers — all for a fee, of course. But by using Bitcoin’s technology to drive financial transactions, fees for both buyers and sellers in the $1.22 trillion global ecommerce market could be significantly reduced.

That’s what a new crop of entrepreneurs, backed by major investors, are banking on.

The Internet of Money

BitAngels is an innovative angel investor group with a focus on backing projects that involve Bitcoin technology. In a recent interview, BitAngels co-founder David Johnston said, “People are just starting to realize that Bitcoin isn’t a currency and a payment system, it’s the Internet of Money.” He added that the investor group is currently considering more than 30 “Internet of Money” projects for backing.

Even financial firms are now recognizing that the underlying technology of Bitcoin is extremely flexible and viable for financial purposes. Two of the most crucial functions this technology satisfies are authentication and payment verification — functions that are typically carried out by a third party. But with Bitcoin, the process is both contained and completely secure.

Blockchains: The building blocks of Bitcoin

Blockchains are the primary reason that Bitcoin shows such promise in multiple types of transactions. The building blocks of the virtual currency system are designed to validate each transaction — and they can be adapted for any type of exchange, whether or not they’re attached to a currency. Blockchains make secure, accurate authentication and verification possible.

According to investor group Andreessen Horowitz, which is now looking to fund startups based on this technology, “If you have online trust like the blockchain provides, you can reinvent field after field after field.” The group is considering funding for “a whole sequence of companies: digital title, digital media assets, digital stocks and bonds, digital crowdfunding, digital insurance” — all built around blockchain.

Theft-proof, zero-fee buyers and sellers

Some entrepreneurs and startups are already diving in to the potential of Bitcoin technology-powered business. A decentralized bank and exchange called BitShares X, developed by Invictus, is set to debut in the second quarter of 2015. This exchange lets users save, trade, borrow, and lend all types of financial securities without using a bank or brokerage as an intermediary, with transactions handled on the users’ own computers and publicly verified (just as Bitcoin transactions are) — which eliminates the possibility of theft or fraud.

CEO of Invictus Dan Larimer said of the project, “With a traditional exchange, you send your dollars, and they record an IOU for so many dollars. The exchange can default on their IOUs to you — Mt. Gox [a Bitcoin exchange that was shut down after more than $450 million in Bitcoin went missing and was presumed stolen] is an example. In our case, no one can steal the balance from your account.”

In addition to extreme security, the use of Bitcoin technology makes it possible to eliminate fees, which are typically levied to pay for banking services, accounting systems, and account holder verification. The BitShares X system eliminates most of these fees.

Potential beyond the financial category

The underlying technology of Bitcoin has potential for a wide variety of uses and service types. As a conceptual example, combining Bitcoin technology with wireless network-connected vehicles could create a self-organizing industry around courier services. Theoretically, anyone with a vehicle could become an independent courier, picking up and delivering packages on their commutes or while running errands — and use Bitcoin-powered systems to collect sender fees and get paid.

A company called MaidSafe has used the technology behind Bitcoin to develop an alternative to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other cloud providers. The service allows users to share storage, processing power, or both with other users, rather than draw from a server network. MaidSafe is currently partnering with around 20 companies to develop web applications for the service.

As another example, San Francisco-based programmer Dave Cohen is working to revolutionize voting by developing a way to let users cast votes — and have the votes tallied almost instantly — through Bitcoin-based verification. Convenience and counting have long been issues for voting systems, and the security issues have so far prevented electronic voting from being adopted widely.

Bitcoin’s future may be the Internet of Money, and the technology that powers this virtual currency could transform the ecommerce landscape.