To be born into the generation of digital natives is not enough to a credible expert for the digital environment.

What it takes to transform enthusiasm for ‘digital’ into a profession.

Two weeks ago, I had the chance to hold my first alumni talk at the university where I graduated with my Master’s degree. I’ve been invited to speak about the rising opportunities in digital marketing but more importantly to share my recent way of transforming an early enthusiasm into a fulfilling job that I can do for living…

Digital natives, what?

No matter if social media manager, content or community manager, when I talked to my fellow students about career plans, at least in the marketing space, these job profiles were by far the most popular ones. And rationally thought, it’s totally comprehensible because this market has seen a lot of growth in the past few years. Nevertheless, in my opinion, there is often a general misconceptions when it comes to differentiate between the enthusiasm and the required knowledge to actually perform in a day-to-day job. A lot of people my age, as part of the so-called “generation of digital natives”, get trapped in consuming digital media without really contributing to it.

So, to make my point clear: only because you’ve grown up with Instagram & co. doesn’t mean you’re going to be an excellent social media manager some time.

Therefore, it was my honest concern to clearly transport this message at my alumni talk. The main reason is that in my case, I had to fight my way through the jungle of digital marketing and pulling out the essence of the most critical knowledge. My studies have been applied to media and marketing in general but as usual in German universities, a lot of the actual course material was totally outdated. Obviously, a lot of work experience in this space could help but to keep up with all upcoming changes, I needed to self-educated myself to transform a simple enthusiasm for digital marketing into a profession. But before I share my recommendations that all students could get at my talk, let’s take a step back and think about the requirements behind such a job role.

Digital marketing requires a “t-shaped” skill set

From jQuery to data science, today’s marketers need to have a very broad knowledge with a deep dive into certain specific fields. This so-called “t-shaped skill set” is nothing fairly new but in digital marketing it experiences a complete revival. Without having a fundamental knowledge about the basics of the web, you will never cross a certain point of dependency from external service suppliers. In my view, a credible digital marketer should be able to set up data-driven strategies as well as implementing a simple Javascript snippet that optimizes the page tracking. This doesn’t mean you don’t delegate topics to specialized team members or development partners but you should be able to see the whole picture and in case of digital marketing this includes highly technical aspects. Otherwise, how you want to rate a quote from a developer without knowing anything about the architecture of a website, a server or a DNS network?

How to source all that knowledge

Now, as previously mentioned, for students stuck in regular courses like business administration, economics or marketing, it’s not that easy to gather this particular knowledge from university. In my case, it took me a lot of time finding other resources that could help me without investing even more money than the student fees already took. For this reason, I was pleased to share my best cases for sourcing that required knowledge. Please note that these organizations are not affiliated with me in any kind and I didn’t receive any benefit for mentioning them. It just follows my true belief to recommend them to other students:

Udacity

They offer a tremendous amount of highly professional online courses, the so-called “Nanodegrees”, which mostly take about 6 months to pass if you do it besides your job or regular studies. They cover everything from machine learning, coding to digital marketing and often collaborate with big players like Facebook, Google or Amazon. Regular fees are between 499€ — 800€ per term.

Udemy

This is a solid but cheaper alternative to Udacity. Since this platform works with user-generated content, the courses are a lot cheaper but also composed in a more basic way. Nevertheless, they offer great opportunities to learn coding and other important topics. Regular fees are between 10€ — 200€ per term.

Squared online

This is Google’s official leadership course for digital marketing. It takes about 5 months in total and includes not only courses but also real projects with team members. Regular fee is about 2,500€ per term.

HubSpot Academy

The free academy from HubSpot includes tons of useful input all round inbound-orientated digital marketing. If you’re searching for topics like e-mail marketing, web design & UX or social media, this portal is the right knowledge hub for you. You can also take the exams for free and get officially certified by HubSpot!

Facebook BluePrint

Even though Facebook claims that its BluePrint program is an ad certification which helps you to better understand the ad manager, it also shows a lot of social media best practices in general. The courses and certification is completely free, so you probably should take a look!

Google Digital Garage

If you’re a business owner who would like to expand the reach through online or you’re just very new to digital marketing, Google and its Digital Garage initiative can help you to boost your knowledge. Honestly, for people who are already into the basics, this free course probably won’t unveil anything new but for beginners, it’s a great way to start.

Google Analytics Academy

While some of the mentioned courses seem to be a nice plus, this course and the related certificate is a mandatory step for everyone who would like to work in digital marketing. It’s not only about the fundamental basics of data analytics but more importantly it unveils the full potential of Google Analytics. Trust me, even if you worked with GA before, this course will be mind-blowing.

Educate yourself because nobody else will do it for you!

As I’ve mentioned in the beginning, the reason why I originally collected all these information was my almuni talk in front of Bachelor and Master students. In the end, I can say that both, me and my audience, have been surprised about the lively discussion and the output that this talk had. From my perspective, a lot of students already acknowledged that it takes more than several social media accounts to get familiar with digital marketing in general. Nevertheless, no one of them literally heard or used any of the previously listed solutions to educate themselves.

But this is exactly the most critical problem. The reason for this lack of knowledge isn’t only the students’ fault rather than a totally outdated syllabus of the universities. They simply have to change faster and more radically to realize which skill set is required today.


Hi, I’m Nicolas, based in Düsseldorf, Germany! My whole day is around digital marketing and since I’m fully enthusiastic for this topic, my ambition is to be always at the pulse of change. I’m working for Silicon-Valley funded EDA startup OneSpin Solutions and help them to keep their digital marketing on track. Outside of LinkedIn you can find me on LinkedIn & Twitter!