Surviving these uncertain times requires continual retooling of skills.

Best of Times, Worst of Times

Surviving these uncertain times requires continual retooling of skills.

In some ways, this is a challenging time to be an IT professional. Oh, sure, salaries are soaring, demand is high, Y2K was successfully negotiated by anyone's standards and--except for Nick the IT Guy on Saturday Night Live--you're finally getting the respect you deserve. But there's also a downside to being a tech guru these days. As I write this, technology stocks are taking a beating on Wall Street, many of the dot-coms are reeling, and Microsoft is feeling the pain from a federal judge's decision that the company did, indeed, compete unfairly for its gigantic market share. Smelling blood, other plaintiffs are circling, preparing for their own legal attacks. Whatever the outcome, the lawsuits will at best be a major distraction to Microsoft for years to come. 

On another front, Linux, that once-rogue operating system, is making serious inroads into corporate server rooms. Sure, server software from Microsoft gained significant market share last year (according to IDC, NT held 30 perceont of the worldwide server OS market share in 1999), but Linux jumped to a startling 25 percent. And analysts are starting to advise that, because of the legal uncertainties, management avoid locking in on Microsoft solutions alone in future buying decisions.

It all adds up to a nagging feeling of uncertainty from time to time. You have to wonder--just how long will your current sizzling skill set remain on the most-wanted list?

We see it in the email queries we get for our "Professionally Speaking" column all the time. Many of the readers who write for advice have some very marketable skills, thank you, and are using them well. What they want to know is, what's around the corner? What might blindside them suddenly? What should they add to their resumes? Do they have the tools to stay as successful and in demand as they now are, well into the next few years?

The answer reads in large letters, "Retool Continually." For some of you, that means pursuing new certifications as they come along. It's a rigorous, disciplined way to make yourself study new products and technologies. Staying current can also mean testing out new products at home or in labs, reading everything you can, attending conferences, networking with peers, and more.

However you choose to do it, the answer to today's technical uncertainty is to continually learn new stuff. You already know that if you're an MCSE or MCSD. Certifications from a variety of vendors are one excellent way to polish up your skill set, add new tools, stay light on your feet, and show employers that you're working to stay on top of the latest.

What do you do to prepare for tomorrow's market? What hot new skills are you adding to your resume? I'm at [email protected].

About the Author

Linda Briggs is the founding editor of MCP Magazine and the former senior editorial director of 101communications. In between world travels, she's a freelance technology writer based in San Diego, Calif.