Surprise! Your Skillset is Losing Value: How to Make Your Skills Invaluable in the Tech World
As an engineer, I think it is important to realize that over time a static set of skills loses value. New technologies enter the market and displace what existed in the past.
A prime example is the Voice over IP revolution in collaboration. In the late 1990s, I worked with Nortel PBXs and Symposium Call Center Servers, at contact centers for very large corporations. At the time, this skillset was in high demand. Things were good.
On October 14, 1998, Cisco purchased Selsius. This was the beginning of Cisco’s rise to prominence in the telecommunications market and the beginning of the decline of the traditional PBX.
None of this happened overnight; in fact, there are still many PBX systems in place today. But they are now just a small segment of the market that diminishes every year. My once valuable Nortel skills aren’t very valuable anymore.
We are going through what could potentially be just as significant a disruption now with cloud. Some skills just won’t be significant anymore while new skills will be necessary. As engineers and – more broadly – technology industry workers, we’ve got to figure out how to navigate the changing waters and use our limited free time to effectively enhance our skillsets.
But there’s some good news! All those old skills you have attained don’t just lose value. The basics tend to remain relevant.
I doubt that I could still program a Nortel PBX phone. Skills that don’t get used tend to fade, that’s perfectly natural. But what I have kept with me from those days is an understanding of the nuts and bolts of telephone. In the end, we are still connecting calls. Analog devices work the same way they used to. PRI trunking is in decline, but SIP is doing very similar things with new signaling.
I acquired my Cisco CCNA in 2000, and my CCNP Route Switch in 2001. As a collaboration engineer, I don’t use the skills I had to in order to obtain those certificates on a day-to-day basis now. In fact, I had to learn frame relay, Apple Talk, IPX/SPX, and other things that are gone and buried.
I was lucky enough to have some instructors that really drilled home the basics. How does a packet traverse the network? That sounds simple, but I meet people today who don’t really understand how MAC addresses and IP addresses interact. How do you read a routing table? How test connectivity? Ping, traceroute, nslookup, etc.
Routing protocols have changed some and so have the ways we handle VPN connectivity. Having solid foundational skills allows me to wade into something new with a reference point. I avoid a lot of wasted time trying to conceptualize what is being done. Routers still route, Firewalls still fire – filter traffic. (Just making sure you are still paying attention).
My first suggestion for anyone working on increasing their skillset is to reinforce the basics. If there is something you don’t quite understand, make sure you get that nailed down.
Once you have a rock solid understanding of the basics, things can get a little trickier. You’re going to have to decide how you want to focus your study. There is no right or wrong answer here but I would recommend you start by analyzing your current skills and role. Read about what is changing in technology and develop an understanding of how that might impact what you do. That can guide you in further focusing your study.
As an engineer, you may be very solid in one area and want to diversify your knowledge, which is great for both you and your company. Here are my thoughts on that: Don’t skip anything foundational. Try to find something that ties into what you already know and work with. Try to work with your team to ensure you’ll get some exposure to this new area going forward. It is very frustrating to learn something new and wait so long to use it that you’ve forgotten a great deal of it.
The technology train is always moving forward. Skills and needs come, go, and change. So far, and when looking forward too, there has been and will be a need for those that can develop the skillsets to handle new technologies. This focus on evolving your skillset should be part of your career growth plan, as well as your companies plan for you.
Curtis Stabler, a veteran of the IT industry was first exposed to Cisco in 2000 and then went on to earn his Cisco IP Telephony certification as well as the CCNA Route/Switch. He continued to gain experience and certifications over the years at a variety of different companies before finally landing at ABS in 2011. After just a year and a half, Curtis moved into the Collaboration Engineer Manager role.