Continuing education should be a top priority for anyone involved with data centers or the entire IT field for that matter. It's especially important in industries such as healthcare for example. While new technologies and approaches don't always save lives, they can certainly alter the landscape of the market. Times change, and so should you. While we may agree that continuing education is fundamental to both organizational success and the development of one's career, it's not always easy to fit it into a busy schedule.
Keep in mind, continuing education does not have to mean an additional university degree or even a new certification. Your CE approach can take a number of different forms.
Here are a few basic tips to help set aside time for continuing education, along with a number of different ways in which you can keep learning while holding a demanding IT position.
It's easy to be overwhelmed by the idea of continuing education because it can immediately seem time-consuming and stressful. Andy Maxymillian, VP of tech consulting firm Blue Wing Services, advises that it's not necessary to allocate large blocks of time. Even if you only have a few minutes each day to look over a textbook, use it. Even tiny blocks of time build momentum. That forward motion can help you create enough time to take a complete class or get a certification you want.
A goal-setting tool that is used by many businesses and individuals is SMART. The acronym is based on a protocol established by business management expert Peter Drucker. It reminds those developing objectives to ensure they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Create a plan for yourself that meets those criteria. For example, if you want to get a certification, decide when you will take the test and exactly how many hours you will commit each week to study.
When working toward goals, it's easy to get off-track. Your pace may slow down for a period of time, but don't lose hope. If a week goes by and you haven't made any progress, simply return to your study materials and continue your efforts.
Chances are that your workplace will be happy to help you succeed with your continuing education plans. Find out if your employer is willing to cover your tuition. You also may be able to get letters of recommendation.
Denise Kalm reported in Mainframe Executive that getting help from those around you can also help you to find what competencies are best to target. You may want to focus on technical knowledge, but leadership skills could benefit both you and your employer as well. Get input upfront.
Various Options for Continuing Education
Kalm also noted that there are a number of different ways to approach continuing education as described below. Knowing your options makes it easier to prioritize CE and take the necessary steps forward.
- College - You may want to get an additional degree. Clearly going to school will require extensive energy and time, but it is often the best route for those wanting to work their way up the ranks. If you sign up for classes that are taught online, you won't need to commute. You also may be able to find college-based continuing education courses that are unattached to a degree track. Kalm specifically recommends Marist College for its web-based programs.
- Vendors - If you need expertise on a particular product, you will often be able to get the best training via the vendor, whether at your location or theirs. Generally it makes sense to get this type of training if you are switching to a new position or your on-the-job tasks have changed. For those who don't want to go directly through vendors for information, there are a number of organizations and consultants that teach vendor-neutral classes on various products. Data Center World - Chicago 2017 on July 12 is a great way to meet with industry leaders face-to-face.
- Mentoring - If you want to work toward a certain position, one of the best possible ways is to go straight to the source: the person who currently holds it. If your company does not have an established mentorship system, you can still ask a person to mentor you and provide you with career guidance. Asking someone to mentor you is not just flattering for them. It also gives them a different lens into the field as they assist in your progression.
- Memberships - Getting involved with organizations, such as AFCOM, that focus on various aspects of IT provides access to a wide range of perspectives and problem-solving techniques. Many of these groups interact regularly online, including SHARE and Computer Measurement Group (CMG). Local chapters give you the ability to meet and learn from peers in your region. Find out more about AFCOM local chapters.
Continuing education is much like any other aspect of business. If you organize your approach well, you can refine your strategy to enhance your chances of success. Make sure you get support as you move forward, and find a solution that fits your schedule and personality.