Pandemic Or Not, You Should Learn A Lot

Emma Frame 21st May 2020

We have found ourselves in a completely new arena with a new set of rules. I really don’t want to talk here about the questionable consumption of bleach advice from a particular president in the United States, as this is way beyond my expertise, but let’s talk about something I do know – how to learn.

I used to teach a lot a few years ago, before I took a very deep dive into the tech world. I was teaching guitar and music theory for almost six years and the problem I had a lot with my students was them asking “But why? Why would I need <insert_your_skill_name> in the future?”.

Let me tell why.

You don’t know what the future brings

If someone would tell me during the back end of 2019 that I would start baking bread daily a few months later, I would probably look at them, questioning their sanity. But here we are. I didn’t know that the world would change so much and I would end up caring about my sourdough, writing apps to check if the mill I like has opened their online shop and wondering if I should lift the cap from the jar or not (if someone knows, please reach out!).

In tech, if you are not a JavaScript developer, chances are, that you are learning a new skill every two to three years (if you do JavaScript, whilst not necessary, I recommend you look outside of the bubble too!). Have you even wondered what would change if you learn something new at the same speed as you go over your new games on PlayStation 4?

One of the problems with going with the flow is that we often miss the opportunity to reflect on our potential. When was the last time you stopped to ask yourself “am I in the right role? Is my current career path the best fit for my interests and abilities?”. Not only is this an important exercise for the individual – who are often prewired for familiarity, routine, and simplicity understanding our potential can be an incredibly valuable asset to employers looking to strengthen their internal capabilities and drive real change from the inside out.

As Winston Churchill once said, “we should never waste a good crisis”, and this is as good as any time to use the great pause in business to look at your team’s skillsets, your own skillsets even and begin to prioritise the skills needed to achieve. For many, this will be about prioritising talents that enable the strategies of today and tomorrow – such as digital transformation; or gaining knowledge in tools capable of propelling you and your business into a more promising future – such as cloud infrastructure and cybersecurity.

For businesses, it is perhaps easier to determine the relevant roadmap to ensure business continuity during even the most uncertain of times. For the individual, knowing what you don’t know or what you should be growing your skillset in isn’t always so clear. But knowing the future will change should be motivation enough to keep building on the skills that you do have.

Whether a business or an individual, building continuity into your roadmap is what will enable you to navigate through uncertainty and respond, rather than react.

For me, I stopped and asked myself those two vital questions after reaching a career crossroads. I had built my foundation but I was itching for something more. I just didn’t know what that more was. Let me tell you what happened.

Darkness is just an absence of visible light

I was stuck at a job which, by many, wouldn’t be considered as bad – I have seen every single Netflix premiere and watched a ton of classics. The pay was not bad, sometimes I had to code something in VERY old tech; on the side I was teaching, which was fun as well, but whenever I had some free time, I was doing a small projects for my friends. Nothing crazy, some databases or small sites. What I needed was a push, a challenge.

So, I decided to switch countries. To have a total restart of the environment and kick-start myself to the next gear.

I left my job and made a move to learn everything that there is about Full Stack development (just have a look at my GitHub account around 17-24 months ago). I was writing React apps, Vue apps, Angular apps; C# APIs, .Net APIs, Java APIs, NodeJS APIs. Testing anything I could lay my hands on, breaking anything I could – heck, even copying Slack to a React app – that was heavy, believe me.

These few months when I was in-between jobs, in-between countries, were the hardest ever. But they led me from doing EVERYTHING and nothing, to doing something I really like.

I had found continuous learning and after hours poured into experimentation, YouTube videos and learning from my peers, I was sold. Yes, it takes time, but I am now more confident, able and happy in my job.

COBOL? Quantum Physics? What should I do?

The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You should just keep learning. I’m not saying “quit your job and do as I did” – on reflection that was not the smartest move I have done, but was a very good investment in the long run. Instead of playing Fortnite, what if you would invest those two hours to learn something about HashiCorp suite? Or maybe some Spanish? No es tan dificil!

Invest the time you have the same way as you would invest your money in the stock market. Do your research, probe, ask, be curious THEN make a move.

There is a big chance that you will fail at what you try. And that’s ok – contrary to the school grading system, failures makes us who we really are. You wouldn’t believe how many times I did. And let’s face it, many businesses can attribute their success to the ‘fail fast, fail often’ school of thought, so if it’s good enough for them…you get the point.

I do not believe that the world will be the same as it was after the pandemic blows over. I am not sure what it will look like, but the surge in innovation and reliance on technology to solve the urgent challenges or today, and tomorrow, suggests that ‘digital’ might have something to do with it. And people.

Enter Digital Transformation

Author Nicholas Negroponte recently commented on the future impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Many firms are trying to think how the world will be different afterward,” he said. “The one common belief is that it will not be the same. The pandemic has brought an appreciation for technology, in general, and the internet in specific.”

It is this appreciation which is encouraging businesses to refocus on their technological capabilities, and with that, their investment in the right IT skills.

Depending on who are you listening to, Digital Transformation will have many faces. But, at its core, digital transformation is as much about the ‘digital’ (the technology) as it is the people.

Instead of waiting for COVID-19 to blow over, businesses should begin asking yourself: “How can emerging technologies propel our business into a better future? What change do we want to achieve and what skills are we missing to help drive that change? What essential capabilities do we need to drive digital transformation today and tomorrow?”

For the individual, strive to make yourself and your skillset relevant and where possible, mission-critical. I don’t mean “take your keys to your grave” and “don’t write documentation”. I mean, push the limits of what you know. Everyday, try to learn something new – no matter how small! It will shine a new light to what you already know and, chances are, that will create a completely new future for you.

Digital transformation evolves around the concept of continuous learning, which means it isn’t just a business focus. It should become a part of your daily life too, not a buzzword that someone came up with.

Investing in mission-critical skills

If you’re looking for training to bolster your digital transformation efforts, there comes a time when you need to look beyond YouTube. If you’re serious about making change happen, you need to invest in learning the tools and ways of working that are designed to automate, simplify and improve operations. ECS can help.

ECS regularly hosts enterprise-level training in industry-leading tools, from the full HashiCorp suite and Kubernetes, to D2iQ and CloudBees Jenkins, and has over 13 years’ experience passing on this knowledge to others in the industry.

In addition to the above, we offer Amazon Connect Immersion Days which are complimentary to all who attend. Immersion Days are a two-day, in-person or virtual workshop that enables customers to walk through different areas of Amazon Web Services (AWS) leveraged by Amazon Connect. You will also discover how to create call-flow integrations, build Chatbots and discover how you can implement innovative customer experiences rapidly, starting from nothing.

All our courses are offered either on- or off-site and can be implemented as public or bespoke, on-demand sessions to suit your needs. We also run virtual sessions to allow for remote workers and the current working environment. Delivered by fully certified engineers, these courses are a mix of theory and hands-on experience, giving attendees a holistic understanding of the tools. There’s also a chance to follow up with questions once the session is over.

Find the course you’re looking for here.

Continuous learning – Easy to say, hard to do

Not really. These days you can use apps to learn, you can talk to your manager and peers to see if there’s anything you can do to improve the product or your knowledge. And if you are managing people, think about how you can invest in their training to able them to grow in their roles. You’ll be surprised by how many are keen to learn and you can begin to prioritise the digital transformation skills needed to maintain momentum of change long after COVID-19. Maybe allow them to learn Go…?  😉

In my view, learning new skills should become a familiar habit, the same way you brush your teeth every day. If you’re looking for a place to start, I would suggest reading something like Hacker News every morning and then exploring the topics that you take a shine to. And check out community-led events too. Monthly sessions such as the DevOps Playground are a great way to get free, hands-on with new technology. Alternatively, do check out the training ECS offers.

However you choose to learn, start small and build on that. Pandemic or not, you should learn a lot. That should be your new mantra.

It’s definitely mine.


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