How to Improve Your Technical Skills

brought to you in partnership with

Even now, despite the rise of mainstream tech giants like Google and Facebook, there’s something about the word “technical” that makes many of us think of men with poor bodily hygiene sitting hunched over vast computer screens in their parents’ garage.

Unless you’ve done an obviously technical degree (like Computer Science or Engineering), statistically the chances of you applying to a tech company or a role with tech requirements are slim - either because you don’t think you’re technical enough or because you’re not excited about the content of the work. This is a mistake.

Tech is one of the most progressive areas in which to work - for both career opportunities and working environment. It’s young, it’s booming and it’s the way of the future. The reasons for this are pretty obvious. Tech is infiltrating literally every area of our lives - apps for sport, apps for sleeping, online tools for scheduling meetings, content streaming, intelligent advertising that targets you. Whether you want to work for a tech company or even just in marketing, sales, product development, logistics, finance or law for any company, you need to be open to and interested in developing your own tech skills.

But before we go into the how, let’s start with the what. What does it mean to be technical? Strictly speaking, it means having a particular skill - such as being able to build a website, code software, deep-dive into data using computerised tools, design an app interface, or write a technical briefing for a team of developers. “Eek” you yelp, “I only did Maths / Geography / Chemistry / English; I want to sell things to people not manipulate spreadsheets; I could never do anything like that …” 

Wrong again. These days many of the things we used to consider well out of our technical grasp, only fit for the most brilliant of mathematical and engineering minds (think Alan Turing), are actually rather easy and there are lots of straightforward ways to pick them up. It gets better - many employers will not expect you to have fully mastered these skills before you start, only that you have a basic understanding or at least a passing interest which you’re keen to develop. Here are seven steps to help you on your way …

1. Dedicate time to reading around

As a student and when starting out in your career, it can be hard to find time to read anything beyond what’s required by your course. But if you want to get ahead professionally, you need to make the time for it. Stay in one night a week or maybe make it the thing you do on a Sunday morning before you go for a run. However you do it, scheduling a regular spot to start getting informed is going to make the process so much easier.

2. Identify your favourite tech-related media outlets

The great thing about all-things-tech is that there is simply so much great information available online for free. It’s the nature of the beast. From Wired, Business Insider, Financial Times technology section, to TechCrunch, The Verge, Engadget, there are so many easy ways to get informed. Don’t feel you have to read every last article. Surf around and see what attracts you most.

3. Curate your own public profile

Make sure you’ve got the obvious ones - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram - and then actively use them to post tech-related media, whether articles, videos or blogposts. Hunt down and follow people who are writing things you can relate to about tech. Then go beyond the standard and start making yourself stand out - create a blog and write regular posts on this about all things tech (and related) that are starting to garner your interest. You’re aiming for consistency of content and style. Remember this is something you’ll want prospective employers to look at as evidence of your growing interest.

4. Use tools to increase your own efficiency

Start using Doodle to find dates for your sports team’s training sessions instead of mailing the whole team and coordinating responses. Stop ordering taxis over the phone and use an app instead. Do your banking using an app rather than in the branch. Try linking up your social media accounts (they each have simple descriptions on how to do this online), so you only post once - not four times. This will give you a better sense of the positive power of technology and save you time.

5. Analyse what you consume

We live in the age of smartphones. Start thinking about what you use on your phone / online and why. How does it help you? What improvements were added in the recent update?  Why might these have been introduced? Is there anything you wish your favourite app could do but doesn’t? What do you think of the design? Is it clean and functional or playful and witty? How (well) does the design fit with the functionality? Keep a note of your musings in a table and refer back to it from time to time.

6. Start building your skill set

Learning at least a little bit of coding would be a fabulous thing for everyone, whether they are interested in working in tech or not. In doing this, you dispel the mystery cloaking this activity and realise it’s not too dissimilar to learning maths or another language. Unless you’re desperate to become a coder, starting with HTML and CSS would suit you fine. Java and Ruby are good too, especially the latter as it’s so easy learn and used by loads of startups. In most cities and universities, there are plenty of clubs for aspiring developers, programmers, and designers. Check out Meetup to find one near you. Or try an online course: check out MIT open courseware, Code Academy or Udemy.

7. Experiment, experiment, experiment

If you set up your own blog, watch online tutorials (YouTube and Wordpress are goldmines of information) on how to make it look spanglier. Try it out yourself. If someone in the family runs a small business, offer to build them a website. Again, online tutorials are the place to start. Then, once you’ve got the website set up, try out doing some online advertising for them using Google Adwords. Or, if you’re a member of university society, be the one to run the Facebook page, make the flyers that you post on it, create short videos on your phone to put the word out there about what you do and edit them using some free online tool  (Google really is your friend here). The more you do, the better a feel you will have for what areas of tech-related work interest and excite you.

Follow these steps and you’ll soon find that most of what’s considered “technical” is actually quite cool and opens up huge realms of possibility. Thinking about a “technical” job, won’t be nearly as daunting.

Next: A Glossary of Technology - Part One