playing hopscotch
By anticipating needs and honing your skills, you can keep your skills sharp and your career one step ahead of the competition PHOTO: D. Sharon Pruitt

In the digital economy, every company is looking to adopt the latest and greatest innovations to make their products smarter, easier to use and more connected to their customers. This means companies need tech-savvy employees in their workforce to implement the innovations. 

Unfortunately the demand outpaces the supply. The number of students achieving four-year degrees in relevant technology areas hasn't kept pace with increased innovation, resulting in a major skills gap in the developer industry. 

A lot of jobs — great jobs — go unfilled every year due to a lack of skilled talent.   

The good news? It's possible to close this gap. 

Independent organizations and companies have made it easier to access learning resources, removing barriers such as expensive tuition, remote locations and rigid schedules for those seeking to gain new skills. These efforts help people, regardless of academic background, socioeconomic status or geographic location, reach the next step in their technology careers. 

Yet not all non-traditional education is created equal. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of learning.  

The following three steps can help would-be learners navigate their way to the right program, the right career and ultimately, the right salary.

Get Ahead of the Trends

Understanding trends on the horizon months, even years in advance, will catapult you ahead of the competition. When you know where companies are placing their bets for the future, you know where the job market is headed and where you need to hone your skills.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a great example of an emerging technology that’s swept up almost every industry. Every technology company is trying to convince customers that their product will make business interactions smarter and more predictive. 

The $15 billion AI industry is expected to grow to over $70 billion by 2020, meaning companies will race to be fastest to market with AI advancements. With the pressure on, they'll be looking for developers who specialize in the space to keep pace with the competition.

People looking to become proficient in the AI-development space should identify any programs available that specialize in teaching AI skills. Follow this by identifying which companies are innovating the fastest or is regarded as a thought leader in the area. Once you've narrowed these two factors down, you're well on your way.

Learn Your Options and How to Use Them

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of classes and resources available on your specialization. How do you decide which one will help you land your dream job? 

According to Course Report’s 2016 estimates, students have a choice between 91 full-time coding bootcamps. This number will only continue to rise as more and more courses open through private programs, universities and companies.

To get a handle on the landscape and to grasp what works best for you, research what the programs in your chosen speciality have to offer.  I recommend finding programs that provide hands-on experience and demonstrate clear value to potential employers. 

When doing your research, ask yourself: How many attendees graduated received jobs shortly after completing the course? Is it free or is there a charge, and if so, how much? What time commitment does this require — daily, weekly or monthly? Does the course offer flexibility about when and where I take it? Is it fun? Is there a community to support me along the way?

Depending on your personal preferences and day-to-day schedule, answering these questions will help you find the course that works best for you. With the rising number of available programs, there's no doubt you'll find something that meets your specific needs.

To give a few examples, The New York Code + Design Academy, The Iron Yard and Flatiron School encompass a variety of options, ranging from free, to full-time bootcamps, that can help jumpstart your technology career.

Market Yourself in the Right Way

You’ve found your passion and mastered your new skill. Now it’s time to put all of this to work.

But how do you land your dream job? 

Articulating your specialized skillset is challenging with a traditional resume, especially for those who lack a four-year degree in computer science or IT.

Developers should always showcase their specialized skills or “micro-credentials” up front and underline their relevance. A developer’s resume should clearly state why their specific credential matters to the role they're applying for, and how it positions them ahead of the rest. 

Additionally, no one should be afraid to explain where they’ve come from and why they’ve chosen their path. Explaining why you transitioned to a career in development and what about it excites you can make all the difference.

And remember, throughout your journey you were steadily building a community of resources and individuals. Use your network to get your resume out there and one step ahead on potential job openings. You'll land some of your best jobs by reaching out to those around you.

As we dive deeper into 2017, remember to anticipate the trends. Knowing where the demand for expertise is puts you at the top of any resume pile, and ready to negotiate for the salary you truly deserve.