Ways to get ahead in face of the IT slump

Most of us are inextricably tied to our identities — as a ‘mainframes guy’ or a ‘Java developer’. It’s what we know, we’re proud of it, and we’re very, very comfortable with it. Until we are not. The technology skills gap seems to have sneaked up on the information technology (IT) industry as a whole, but it shouldn’t have been. The writing has been on the wall for a long time. Automation is the most commonly attributed cause, but it’s likely only the last straw. No doubt, IT companies’ business models are changing fundamentally — with a larger proportion of business likely to come from advanced technology solutions, rather than the bread-and-butter process outsourcing.

At the same time, the wage arbitrage opportunity has been shrinking over the last decade, and a vast majority of our ‘client countries’, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have been kicking up an anti-globalisation, protectionist storm. In light of such macroeconomic uncertainty, companies have unsurprisingly taken a ‘wait and watch’ approach. All this while, companies have maintained rather deep benches, with hiring and training contingent on the pipeline of future projects and project extensions.

And ‘bench strength’ is the first area of reduction, especially when this contingent talent isn’t trained in areas that are increasingly most pertinent — including analytics, big data, cloud computing, machine learning and the like. This seems patently unfair. You learned what you were told to learn by your firm, and then you got really good at your job. Now that’s not enough?

Fear not, though. Competing for a shrinking number of jobs in your area of expertise isn’t your destiny. Industry association Nasscom believes that about 40% of the technology and BPO workforce in India need to re-skill themselves over the next five years. In a sector that employs an estimated four million people, that’s 1.6 million who need to learn these skills.

So, what exactly should you be learning?

Apart from getting skilled in the ‘coming wave’ of technologies, what else can one do? Reinventing yourself takes a lot more time and effort than just taking a course or two. For starters, build a ‘body of work’. Employers now need to be shown, not told, what your skills are. So, set up that GitHub account, post your projects there, develop an opinion, and create a portfolio rather than a resume. Even more importantly, learn to learn — so that you’re not in this situation again.

The cycle time of technology advancement is only getting shorter, and companies face less of a hurdle in the adoption of new technology solutions. So, you need to stay on top of every ‘coming wave’. Okay, the learning part makes sense. But what do you do with all this new knowledge? How do you reinvent yourself when you’ve built a decade-long career in one area? Let’s take a look at some of our Great Lakes PGP-BABI (Post Graduate Programme in Business Analytics and Business Intelligence) alumni who have blazed a trail for us.

Move within your organisation

Kiran Jangeti (PGP-BABI 2014) spent over 15 years at Value Labs, when he felt the need to upskill himself. However, with all this experience, the logical place to transition into a career as an analytics leader was within his existing organisation — where he had a working history, track record, and trust. He didn’t need to prove his ability to deliver. Instead, he only had to augment his repertoire with a set of analytical tools and techniques. Not only is Kiran Jangeti now the AVP of Global Delivery, he also met some impressive students in his class who he ended up hiring.

Build on what you are good at

With 18 years experience as an IT manager in the financial services domain, Vilas Wakale (PGP-BABI 2015) wanted a change. Having learned analytics, visualisation, modelling and a host of new skills, Vilas Wakale seized the opportunity to set up his own consulting practice. And in this capacity, he has been able to combine his newly acquired skills with nearly two decades of experience in financial services and IT projects. This complementary combination has helped him work with the ministry of home affairs of the government of India in a multidisciplinary data management role, with an emphasis on banking.

Start up

Having worked for a decade as an engineer and manager, Gayatri Sukumar (PGP-BABI 2015) looked to start a venture of her own. While it takes some convincing for a company to trust your new-found skills, you don’t need to convince yourself! Her tenacity in applying these new skills to an area of passion — education — led to the birth of her company, Latitude Analytics. Reinvention isn’t an overnight process. Learning new skills needs to be reinforced by the humility to accept lateral or even lower-grade assignments. A beginner’s mindset certainly helps. And above all, you need to back yourself to succeed.

This article originally appeared in Financial Express dated 3 July, 2017 under the title “How can you fix your tech skills gap?”