I came across this article on how older tech workers are having trouble finding work. I’m sure many others have written about whether this is true, whose fault it is, and whether H1B visas should be increased or not. I haven’t done the research so I can’t comment on such things, but I do know a solution to out-of-date skills.
The Internet makes developing new skills extremely accessible. With a PC and free software, you can teach yourself almost any “hot skill” in a week. Take this quote, for example:
“Some areas are so new, like cloud stuff, very few people have any experience in that,” Wade said. “So whether they hire me, or a new citizen grad, or bring in an H-1B visa, they will have to train them all.”
Here’s a quick way to learn “cloud stuff”. Get a free Amazon AWS account. Download their Java-based tools or boto for Python. Launch a VM, ssh in, and you’re in the cloud. Install Ubuntu, PostgreSQL, and other free and open-source software. Read the manuals and run a couple experiments, using your current background. If you were a DBA, try SimpleDB. If a sysadmin, try EC2 and monitoring.
Another quote from a different engineer:
‘If a developer has experience in Android 2.0, “the company would be hiring only someone who had at least 6 months of the 4.0 experience,” he said. “And you cannot get that experience unless you are hired. And you cannot get hired unless you provably have that experience. It is the chicken-and-the-egg situation. “‘
Android is also free, and includes a usable emulator for testing out your code. Or buy a cheap, wifi-only Android phone and start working from there. Within a week, you can have experience on the latest Android version. Again, for no cost other than your time.
I suspect that it’s not lack of time that is keeping unemployed engineers from developing skills. It’s a mindset problem.
‘He may not pick the right area to focus on, he said. “The only way to know for sure is if a company will pay you to take the training,” he said. “That means it has value to them.”‘
In startups, there’s an approach called customer development. Essentially, it involves putting together different, lightweight experiments based on theories about what a customer might buy. If more than one customer pays you, that’s confirmation. If not, you move onto the next one.
Compare this to the traditional monolithic startup, where you have an idea, spend millions building it into a product, then try to get customers to buy it. You only have a certain timeline before you run out of money, so it’s better when you can try several different ideas in the meanwhile.
There’s an obvious application to job hunting. Take a variety of hypotheses (mobile, cloud, etc.) and put together a short test. Take one week to learn the skill to the point you have a “hello world” demo. Float a custom resume to your targets, leaving out irrelevant experience that would confuse a recruiter. Measure the responses and repeat as necessary. If you get a bite, spend another week learning that skill in-depth before the interview.
There are biases against older workers, and some companies are too focused on keywords on resumes. Those are definitely problems that need changing. However, when it comes to learning new skills, there’s never been a better time for being able to hunt for a job using simple experiments based on free resources. The only barrier is the mindset that skills come through a monolithic process of degrees, certification, or training instead of a self-directed, agile process.