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DCE Magazine

Programming Your Future

Spring 2019

Looking to launch a tech career? A DCE expert offers insights on finding the right fit.

Whether the goal is landing a job in software engineering, data science or web design, a career in the tech sector can be a powerful lure for those with a flair for digital arts and sciences. The work can be exciting as well as quite lucrative. But with so many paths and possibilities, how can a tech-savvy candidate decide which one to pursue?

The best place to start is to simply follow your passion and find a career you can see yourself doing day after day and truly enjoying it, said Janet Randolph, a global human resources leader and business advisor.

“There are lots of types of careers in technology,” said Randolph, an advisor and instructor for the DCE's HR and Business Administration programs. “I think choosing the right one depends more on an individual's interests and preferences rather than personality type. What I have observed in my own experience is that people who excel generally like doing tech-related things on their own time, like solving puzzles, creating algorithms to solve problems, maybe even creating applications as a sideline — things that they may have liked doing since childhood.”

Randolph points to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as an outstanding example. Although he was a psychology major at Harvard, Zuckerberg developed a reputation as a good programmer and did programming work on the side, and probably for fun.

“We all know what happened there,” she added. “That's a good model of how a lot of people might identify that they're cut out for tech work. If you enjoy coding or creating apps for fun and solving problems, those are strong indicators.”

And the career possibilities are myriad. Beyond software development and engineering, tech companies need designers and architects, product marketers, IT systems administrators, solutions engineers, business analysts and much more.

Charting your path

It sounds simple enough, pursuing what you enjoy. But what if, for example, you are a coding whiz who hasn't had an opportunity to explore your best overall career fit? There are proven assessment tools that can help candidates identify their aptitudes and strengths. One of the best is the Strong Interest Inventory Assessment, usually administered by a career counselor or consultant.

“The Strong Inventory helps you identify general themes which would suggest potentially satisfying work environments, and also your specific interests,” Randolph said. “It basically narrows the general themes into areas related to career fields, occupations and activities an individual would probably find rewarding.”

The Strong Inventory includes themes like Investigative, which describes people who are thinkers and like to analyze and interpret data, and Conventional, those who are organizers and like to collect and manage information.

“Drilling down further, the Strong Inventory might further identify specific career-related interests like research, programming and information systems, science, mathematics, computer hardware and electronics,” Randolph said.

She recommends another valuable resource, Gallup's StrengthsFinder profile, available in the book Now, Discover Your Strengths (The Free Press) by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton of the Gallup Organization. An online version can be found at gallupstrengthscenter.com.

The StrengthsFinder, which helps individuals determine their top five most powerful career-related themes out of a possible 34, was developed from Gallup's “multi-decade, multi-million dollar effort to identify the most prevalent human strengths,” Randolph said.

“Examples of the dominant themes are Analytical, Developer, Ideation, Intellection, Learner and Restorative. What I especially like about the StrengthsFinder approach are the insights that are offered about how to develop your strengths once they've been identified.”

Perhaps the most valuable strength of all is adaptability, she said. For techies who love to learn new technology, that can lead to a wealth of job opportunities.

“I've found in my own career as an HR professional that if a tech candidate has shown that they can learn and adapt to new technologies quickly, and enjoy doing that, that's probably the most important tech skill set, and it's definitely portable.”

While there are numerous areas of the country that are tech-industry hotbeds — Silicon Valley, Seattle and Southern California among them — an adaptable tech-savvy professional can find rewarding work just about anywhere.

“Beyond the tech industry, all companies generally have some level of IT function or business analyst role, and there are lots of companies all over the country that provide IT services to companies.”

Acquiring the skills

Randolph suggests doing research to not only identify which skills are most in demand today, but more importantly those that will become the hottest in coming years. This is essential, considering that Deloitte's 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report determined the “half-life” of a current tech skill is about five years.

A key player in posting jobs and online recruiting, LinkedIn is an outstanding resource to research which skills employers consider the most valuable, Randolph said. Other online resources include Forbes, Dice, Indeed and CareerBuilder, to name a few.

According to these sources, many of the most sought-after technical skills in 2019 are experience with artificial intelligence (AI), mobile application development and user interface design, cyber security, data science and data mining.

“People with strong analytics skills and experience with digital transformation are also in high demand,” Randolph said. “But these in-demand skills change frequently, so it's essential to keep up with changing trends. The tech sector evolves very quickly, so a hot skill one day may be a commodity the next.”

Once you've identified a skill set you want to pursue, getting the highest quality education and training is essential to gaining the expertise and experience needed to succeed. Technology and computer degrees are myriad throughout academia, but certificate programs can offer outstanding training for a fraction of the money and time spent on a four-year degree.

The Division of Continuing Education has a robust technology department that offers 19 certificate and specialized study programs in Data Science, Cyber Security, Machine and Deep Learning, Full Stack Web Design, Mobile Application Development, Blockchain Technologies, Internet of Things and more, all taught by experienced professionals.

“Definitely take classes, not only for the lesson content but also to meet other students and find out what they're doing, talk with workers at other companies and find out what they're working on,” Randolph said. “If a candidate has a credential like a data science certificate, that's a validation of commitment to the field.”

Learn more at ce.uci.edu/tech