As the Internet has grown from 70 million users in 1997 to 2.2 billion, entrepreneurial companies with technology at their core have disrupted entire industries and threatened or eliminated incumbents. For example, Square, the new electronic payment service, has already upended a long-established financial ecosystem, with some arguing that it may even replace cash.
In recent years, incumbents have fought back. A 2011 IBM study of over 3,000 CIOs revealed that CIO-CEO alignment is stronger than ever, with traditional companies aggressively investing in technology innovation. Big-box retailers, like Best Buy, now have large, fast growing e-commerce businesses. The New York Times and other traditional publishers are launching digital products tailored to the mobile web. Even the big banks are getting social.
Yes, this is creating unprecedented demand for employees with serious technical chops. But as more traditional businesses are being run on software and a larger component of a company's customer experience is being delivered online, everyone from marketing to general management needs to take notice. Studies confirm that technology skills will be crucial for future employment prospects. Engineer or not, the managers and employees who understand new consumer technologies and can create value by deploying software as a solution will be those most valued by organizations young and old.
Firstly, entirely new categories of technology jobs are forming, creating exciting opportunities for today's job seeker. A few years ago, community managers did not exist. Yet with 67% of surveyed brand managers planning to launch social media campaigns in the next 12 months, community managers are now amongst the most sought after marketing professionals. With the rise in new web-based applications, advertising products, and client-side software, user experience (UX) design is suddenly one of the nation's fastest growing employment areas. Because these categories are so new, a drastic shortage of formally trained professionals exist to fill the roles available. This creates opportunities for the savvy job seeker in an adjacent field looking to switch into an in-demand technology role.
Secondly, traditional roles are likely to have a larger technology component that will only increase over time. Marketers no longer live in an above-the-line world; instead, direct-response and pay-per-click advertising have entered the mix. Similarly, HR professionals who fail to harness the power of LinkedIn, Identified, and BranchOut may miss out on attracting star candidates. Nonmanagerial, nonconsumer-facing employees, such as data entry specialists, need to be well-versed in specific new technologies that relate to them. Even the most traditional of employees, the factory worker, must transform into a technologist or face extinction. As Adam Davidson recently argued, "Today, the computer moves the cutting tool and the operator needs to know how to talk to the computer."
In a world where everyone must become a technologist, how can we land an exciting technology job in an entirely new category -- or simply become more technologically sophisticated in the way we approach our current, traditional roles? Here's a five-step checklist to ensure you stay relevant:
1. Be an end user: The best way to understand new technologies is to use them. It would be difficult to truly grasp the power of Facebook fan page marketing without being both a Facebook user and a fan of brands yourself. Dedicate time on the job to tinkering with platforms that are highly relevant to your role.
2. Know the ROI: As the pace of technology innovation increases, the savvy professional will curate and invest in the platforms that matter. Different consumer technologies, like Twitter and Pinterest, have different use cases and entirely different customer acquisition economics. Therefore, a well-understood financial model is crucial if you're arguing for a reallocation of company resources to support investments in new consumer technology platforms. Even internal collaboration tools, such as Basecamp, salesforce, and Sharepoint, should be subject to detailed business case and ROI analyses.
3. Demonstrate your knowledge: Do you know your SEO from your SEM? New technologies are creating new vocabularies. This isn't irrelevant jargon, but rather essential concepts you'll need to successfully weave into your verbal and written arguments to land that new role or perform at a higher level in your existing role.
4. Learn technical skills: New companies and older institutions alike have recognized the structural mismatch between available technology jobs and worker skillsets. That's why you can log onto Codecademy and learn programming for free, instantly. Universities are rapidly growing their engineering courses. Venture capitalists are creating software engineering academies in their own cities. There are now countless opportunities to learn what you don't currently know and use these skills to your advantage in your new or current role.
5. Anticipate trends: With the age of device fragmentation, increasing smartphone and tablet penetration will usher in a post-PC era. Translating mega-trends like these to potential impacts your current professions, and then to the implications for your skillsets, is a powerful way to get ahead. Trends need not be domestic. As the cost of computing falls, overseas markets and entirely new customer sets are suddenly being propelled into relevancy. Anticipate international trends, too.
What else can we do to position ourselves? Is your job or industry becoming more technologically focused?
This post was originally published on HBR.org.