Why Learning New Technical Skills is a Smart Career Move

July 22, 2019

You don’t need me to tell you that the world we live in is driven by technology. Every single change that we are experiencing today, and will in the foreseeable future, is brought on by advancements in technology.

Intuitively, we all know that in order to remain marketable in this work environment, we must — at some level — become technology savvy.
No matter what industry you work in — from finance to transportation to arts — and no matter what function you perform — from teaching to office work to retail – you’ve no doubt felt the need to upskill or at the very least, get comfortable with the new ‘tech’.
There’s an element of this that is a pure survival strategy.
In order to remain marketable (and employable), we have to keep up to speed with the changes. Otherwise, the world of work will move on while we become stale and irrelevant.
But there’s also an opportunity here for new possibilities and new career paths. And it’s an opportunity that’s available to all us, no matter our current level (or lack) of technical skills.
My conversation with Skillcrush founder, Adda Birnir, drove this home for me.
Skillcrush is an online education company that’s focused on helping its students improve their quality of life through digital empowerment and new skills to enter high-earning and flexible careers.
The typical Skillcrush student is a college-educated woman who’s been in the workforce for 5 to 10 years. She’s likely not seeing a lot of opportunities despite ‘doing everything right and checking all the boxes’ and working hard. Career prospects are limited and she’s feeling underutilized.
“What we try to do is help them to identify an area of technology that they’re interested and excited about,” Adda Birnir told me. “We then provide them with the necessary training to build new skills, as well as the encouragement and coaching to make the transition into something that’s a little bit more exciting.”
What’s interesting about Skillcrush is that 97% of their students do not have computer science-related degrees. This is by design.
Skillcrush, from the beginning, was designed to help people with minimal to no technical background. In large part, this mission was driven by Adda’s own experience.
When she decided to get into the tech space, Adda had no prior computer training or experience. Her education was in art and photography.
“I largely taught myself,” Adda said. “I had friends who took pity on me and helped me out. It was really hard and it took a long time. I learned a lot of bad practices because I was teaching myself. But that experience inspired me to create Skillcrush. After fumbling my way through it for years, I thought there had to be a better way than what I went through.”

I really believe the only qualification you need is a real interest in it. Don’t let the fact that you don’t have prior experience be any sort of deterrent.

Here are some highlights from my chat with Adda Birnir. You can listen to the entire conversation here.

Why start an online education company that teaches technical skills?

Adda Birnir: It was largely driven by my own experience working around the technology industry — not being a technical worker myself and then seeing how much more opportunity I had when I actually transitioned into the technical work.
I also had this sense that technology was the growth industry.
Back in 2008, I thought if I wanted to set myself up for career success for the next 10 or 20 years, technology was the area where growth was happening. I told myself I should get in as early as possible.
That decision was validated by my experiences. My job prospect completely changed. It felt like I had opportunities I could never have dreamed of, almost immediately.
What’s especially amazing about technology is that it’s not an industry onto itself. It cuts across all industries.

Your typical students don’t have prior technology background when they join Skillcrush. What has been their experience transitioning into a “techie” job or work?

Adda Birnir: I hosted a webinar earlier today with some alumni. They were sharing that for a lot of prospective students, their biggest concern was, “But how will I get that first job if I have no experience,” — which is very understandable. It’s hard for everyone, but it’s particularly hard when you’re older and looking to make a career transition because you don’t want to be back at the starting point again.
They found — which very much mirrors my own experience — that the qualification to get their first gig was not how good they were at the skill. Rather it was their interest in showing up for the job.
This has been my experience as well. And I think that is what it’s like in tech right now. It is wide open. There are so many opportunities that just being someone who’s responsible and excited to be there, will get you far.
In that same webinar, the women shared their first “tech” client project. One of them had been a waitress. The first thing she did was to build a restaurant website.
Another one had worked in marketing. The first thing she did was approach the woman she had worked for and asked, “Hey. I see that you’re now running a marketing agency. I bet you need someone to build websites for your clients.”
Don’t underestimate the need for technical skills in all industries. The fact is it’s very likely that you will initially build directly upon what you’ve been doing in the past.

Why did you choose to focus on helping women?

Adda Birnir: I think a lot of entrepreneurs sort of scratch their own itch, right? It was partially my own experience. It felt like, here I was interested in learning about technology and interested in making this transition. But nothing out there spoke to me.
Nothing I saw or read talked about technology in a way that was actually commensurate with my experience of it — which is that the tech space is incredibly creative and fun and interesting.

As Adda Birnir said, technology is not an industry in itself but cuts across all industries. Today, we’re definitely seeing the impact of accelerated technology advancement in all industries and across all fields of work.
To remain marketable, we must become tech-savvy. Beyond that, we can also view this as an opportunity to expand our skills and create new career paths.


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