Twenty years ago, a manager pulled me aside and said, “Mike, do you know the difference between a $150,000 network engineer and a $300,000 network architect?” When he told me next completely changed my world. He told me my technical skills were exceptional, and learning more tech would not help my career. That if I wanted to rise from engineer to architect, I needed a different set of skills. He told me these skills were related to leadership skills, presentation skills, business acumen, emotional intelligence, and executive presence. He asked if I wanted to go to leadership training, so I said “yes.”
After the training I was promoted almost instantly.
Today, there are so many AWS, Azure and Google certification courses for architecture training. Unfortunately, these courses focus only on the tech, the engineering skills. Workers with only engineering skills often apply for architect jobs but they don’t get hired. When they don’t get hired, they then ask their certification provider for advice, and the provider sells them more certification training. This sets in motion a vicious–and expensive!–cycle, as the worker becomes even more technology myopic and fails to learn the critical non-tech skills that he or she lacked in the first place. We have seen time and time again that when we train the engineers in architecture, leadership, emotional intelligence, presentation skills, executive writing skills, interview skills, and negotiation skills, that person is hired immediately–and often for a much higher salary then they ever dreamed.
The Great Resignation
We’ve heard a lot about the so-called Great Resignation–the four million-plus workers who have been leaving their jobs every month since April. But instead of soul-searching or panicking, let’s look at this trend objectively. When people change employers, they rarely change careers. It’s kind of like the Who Song: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” They move but go nowhere. But it doesn’t need to be this way. This trend has created enormous opportunities!
The Great Resignation has predominantly affected mid-career people in both the healthcare and the technology industries. They’ve been working really long hours for at least two years now. And they’re frustrated by the lack of advancement. Meanwhile, in the last few years tech has unleashed some of the greatest opportunities of our lifetimes. Prior to this year, for example, we’d been developing transformative technologies, like cloud computing. And prior to the Great Resignation, there were hundreds of thousands of open cloud computing jobs. Now with people quitting, there are even more jobs waiting to be filled. If you’re a professional, now is the time to get the job you really want.
The job quitters have created opportunities for career advancement. This crisis has created incredible opportunities for both employers and employees.
In many cases, the millions of workers leaving their jobs are usually not the ones getting promoted. In other words, the quitters are often not the employer’s favorites, or they would be getting promoted and not be frustrated. Many of the people quitting are good, strong, and highly capable people, that are just not the perfect fit to an organization’s culture. As people leave, the companies can now find the employees they desire most.
Now for those who desire to get promoted in their company, there are many job vacancies. So this is the optimal time to get promoted. If someone wants to start a new career, or get a new job, there are openings everywhere. Given the critical shortage for qualified tech workers, and the vast number of openings, this may be the best time to start a new tech career. Given the shortages, employers are often willing to look past things such as lack of experience, for the right candidate with the right attitude. This is the perfect time for career transitions!
Every field has some form of certification or professional licensure. In tech we have IT certifications. IT certifications can help build someone’s brand, and build the appearance of credibility. In fact certifications can really help someone get a job interview so they are part of the getting hired process. Not all certifications are equal, some can have a big impact on one’s career, others not so much.
Our favorite certifications to improve your career are as follows:
Networking – Cisco Certified Internet Expert (CCIE) and Cisco Certified Networking Professional
Cloud Computing – Azure Expert, the AWS Certified Solution Architect Professional, and the Google Professional Cloud Architect
Security – Certified Information System Security Professional, the Certified
Information Security Manager, the Certified Risk and Information Secured Control, CRISC
Cloud DevOps – AWS DevOps Engineer Professional.
Here’s the catch: collecting certifications does not mean getting hired or even promoted. Certification simply proves that someone knows the name of a vendor service and how to configure it. Having the right acronym helps get an interview with the hiring manager, which is necessary. But what’s taught in certifications may be completely different from the job itself.
For example, my company builds and trains cloud architects. Cloud architects are end-to-end system designers that transform a business through technology, which means the cloud architect needs to go to the client site, speak to the management team, the executives and the engineers. They need to be able to conduct a deep dive of the client’s business.
After they analyze the business, they must then craft the technology solution – which may also include workflow redesign, and process redesign. None of this is covered in the certification. So, the process from getting certified to getting hired could be smooth and fast, or it could be non-existent depending upon the field. In many cases, the certificated worker will need substantial training in the fundamentals, i.e. how underlying processes work.
They might also need some business acumen training, as well as some communication skills. They may need presentation skills training. They may need to learn how to negotiate. And so on. The certifications are great for getting somebody an interview. But you still need to learn the soft skills to get hired, which is rarely easy!
Emotional intelligence is by far the most important one of these. It implies an ability to manage not just your emotions but the emotions of others–i.e. the ability to walk in a room and command respect. Leadership is the ability to lead large teams and make people want to do their jobs minus a heavy hand or a heavy fist. Leadership involves a mastery of negotiation, business acumen and communication. These are the essential skills for both the architect and the executive. Learning them can take a tech career from $100,000 to $400,000 a year and even all the way to the C-suite.
Don’t Waste This Crisis!
When tech professionals, specifically engineers, desire to become architects they often become so focused on the tech part of their job, and miss the key element of architecture. Architecture is about designing a solution to improve an organization’s business performance, not building the tech. To design a solution to improve a customer’s business, you need to understand business and the tools to improve a business performance, whether that be new technology, process redesign, or even hiring new staff.
A silver lining of the Great Resignation is a disruption of this career myopia. It should not be wasted.
Indeed, every crisis is an opportunity; the bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunity. Right now is the time to volunteer for new projects or mentor someone at work. If you don’t know, ask your manager how you can help. Don’t just make a difference; make your goals known. The perception of technology people, unfortunately, is that we are all hardcore-focused engineers who know tech and nothing else.
Yet what the CEO, the ultimate hirer, cares about is increasing shareholder value. His or hers is a very different perspective than the engineer’s. Our first job as trainers is taking the engineer out of that engineering mindset, which means training them in executive communication skills, as well as more general leadership skills: emotional intelligence, of course, but also presentation skills, ROI modeling and business acumen.
Knowing the business, identifying the solutions, designing the solution, then handing it over to the builders to implement the solution is a leadership mindset (an architect mindset). But you can’t get there if you don’t know how to talk to the CEO or if you lack the knowledge base to evaluate the business to begin with.
Essentially, engineers must be taught how to be what we call CXO-relevant. They need to start thinking from the lens of a CEO, a CFO, a CIO, and a CTO. It can be done. Indeed, techies like myself have been consulting to C-suites for years. We now have the opportunity to move to C-suite positions all the time. But here’s the key: if you focus on the technology, you’ll be stuck in tech, forever. If you focus on how the technology can transform a business’ performance, however, you’ll begin moving up to the C-suite, and fast.