Main image of article Your Next Big Tech Skill: How to Spot It
Keeping your career on track is challenging enough without having to worry about timing, but timing is nonetheless key... especially when it comes to mastering certain critical skills. If you learn an emerging technology too soon, the jobs won’t be there. If you wait too long, you’ll face stiff competition. For example, should you jump into learning everything you can about artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning right now... or should you wait, considering there aren't a lot of A.I. and ML jobs out there at this exact moment? So how can you develop impeccable timing when it comes to those new skills? By actively monitoring the evolution of promising technologies that align with your skills and interests. When new tech starts to gain momentum, and more and more people get their hands into it, it’s time to make your move. Here are some ways to identify, track and exploit technologies that will maximize your current skills, interests and earning potential.

Tech Skills: Follow the Leaders

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a savant to spot a promising technology. First, gain a general understanding of technology’s lifecycle by studying Gartner’s Hype Cycle, a methodology that predicts how a technology or application will evolve over time. Also, keep an eye on the TIOBE Index, which tracks the rising and falling of a wide range of languages, along with (just for fun) the programming-language rankings produced by analyst firm RedMonk. (Lots of technologists like to argue about the validity of these rankings, but they can nonetheless show you what languages are clearly on the rise... or fall.) In addition, follow the news to get a sense of what different experts and tech journalists are writing about. “Follow supporters and thought leaders on social media, blogs and interviews or reach out to them directly to see which ideas have merit,” says John Vanston, chairman of the Austin-based forecasting firm Technology Futures and co-author of Minitrends: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs Discover & Profit from Business & Technology Trends. For instance, Forrester offers emerging tech blogs that provide actionable guidance for professionals in specific roles. And Gartner Hype Cycle reports track and evaluate the maturity of over 2,000 technologies and trends in 102 areas such as application architecture, CRM marketing and application security. Tools and solutions that create a lot of buzz and garner early support are the ones to watch, Vanston added. For instance, conversations around self-driving cars started to take off around July 2012, and have only gained momentum over the past seven years. Today, those with the right mix of skills (such as computer vision and certain types of programming) can land a job at not only automobile startups such as Tesla, but also well-established automakers that want to create self-driving cars. Remember, your goal is not only to identify promising technology but also to get an early idea of its potential business impact and opportunities. You’re looking for tools that can lead to bottom line improvements and benefits for users. Those are the ones that could ultimately produce jobs.

Tech Skills: Follow the Money

Since technologies that show promise usually receive some kind of funding, following the money trail can help you identify winners and losers. For example, venture capital investments in Hadoop companies have grown rapidly, spawning dozens of startups. If you were paying attention, you couldn’t miss its rise and the subsequent need for Big Data developers and architects. “Follow the money to see which ideas are viable,” Vanston suggested. “Also, consider the drivers and constraints. Even the best ideas may not make it if they lack funding or leadership.” But keep an eye out for constraints. While self-driving technology is being driven by investments, new regulations, safety fears and market readiness are possible constraints to widespread adoption (just as one example). Technology producers shake out or fail and investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters. You can keep an eye on this evolution by regularly visiting tech-centric forums such as Hacker News, where the "buzz" around certain topics can give you a good idea of how a market is faring.

Search for Skill 'Breakouts'

There comes a point where the new technology breaks into the mainstream. This is when the benefits start to crystallize, new generations of products appear and more companies begin pilot projects. The iPhone is an older example of this; tech companies hope that augmented reality (AR) will finally have its day, as well. In any case, these sorts of "breakouts" can quickly translate into thousands of jobs... one of which could be yours.