The ability to be an "expert" in a particular area is increasingly valuable. For companies, contracting out to specialists can provide a competitive advantage at a fraction of the cost of hiring full-time employees. In response to this shift, many MBA and undergraduate programs over the past 5-10 years have embraced specialization by offering degrees in a variety of specialized industries.
If you want to create value and kick start a successful career in the tech sector -specialize, specialize, specialize! When you're a generalist in something, you may have wide horizontal opportunities meaning you can bounce from company to company doing the same thing and receiving the same pay but if you want greater opportunities for advancement, specialization is key.
Below are a few examples of technology-focused industries for which job seekers can customize their expertise.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is an industry that has emerged over the past decade or so, and has now become a focus area in secondary education. The ability to positively affect search engine results is something for which many companies pay big money. If you're interested in a career as an SEO specialist, there are a couple different paths to consider.
Join an agency or firm: Many SEO specialists learn the ropes at agencies and firms, often working on multiple accounts and gaining insider knowledge from those who have worked in the industry longer. This type of experience also provides a foundation toward building your network through attendance at Meetups, conferences, trade shows and workshops often on company's dime — which may come in handy later, should you choose to pursue a position as a contractor or freelancer.
In-house roles: After learning the ropes, many SEO specialists choose to move in-house and work for a specific company or organization. In-house work certainly has its advantages in terms of project consistency and measurement; that being said, sometimes working on the same client can become monotonous.
Contract/freelance work: A contractor-role is great for those with Type-A personalities who are comfortable putting themselves out there and drumming up business. This is a situation when your rolodex and network really come in handy. You can also apply your skill set to your own brand: If you're based in Tulsa, making sure that a search for “Tulsa SEO” will be able to net you new business.
Ecommerce technology is revolutionizing how consumers access information, make decisions and purchase products. Technological advancements are increasing at unprecedented rates, and the number of software developer jobs being created within the ecommerce industry is skyrocketing. However, due to the fact that there are so many technologies behind the scenes of an ecommerce site, there is a great need for specialization. What is often most important is the area in which you choose to specialize.
Take an ecommerce developer for example: Usually, having in-depth knowledge of a particular development language is great — provided it's relevant to the type of work and kinds of companies for which you wish to work. You may be experienced in the development language of Cold Fusion or Perl (both of which are considered to be dying languages), but that experience will do little for you if your site or your customers switch to more modern languages such as PHP or Ruby. If you're a full-time employee, you may be at risk of losing your job; and if you're a contractor, you'll most likely lose that customer if you don't keep up with the times.
To prevent this from happening, do some research on the widely accepted, popular development languages, and focus in on one of them. Stay current over the years with the industry and make sure that language is not becoming obsolete. If you see it trending that way, then start learning another language immediately.
If you do have specialization in an older, dying language, you may be able to use it to your advantage — it is true that you may be able to command a high salary or wage due to the scarcity in available, fluent developers. Keep an eye out for such opportunities, but consider the risk of sticking only to what you know: The pool of potential customers will likely continue to shrink as more and more companies upgrade. Being ever-evolving is one key to success.
3. Big Data
Big data is currently an industry buzzword, thanks to companies like Omniture (now Adobe) and Google. Big data refers to sophisticated methods of collecting, analyzing and processing data, generally in bulk amounts. Think of the thousands of pieces of personal data — images, shopping habits, geographical information — collected by social media platforms like Facebook.
The more sophisticated web technologies become; the more power companies have to understand their customers and implement strategies based on data. Back in the day of print, radio and television advertising, it was extremely difficult to measure a sales strategy or advertisement’s effectiveness, as there were limited mechanisms in place to track data. Today, technology is powerful enough to track every possible movement, to the point that we can predict what a customer will do based on past behavior.
If you're interested in the field of data analytics, you'll likely start out as a full-time employee with a specific organization, focusing on one or a handful of digital properties. Specialists in these types of roles get to know the intimate details of their customers' behavior and how they interact with digital properties such as web, email and social media. They measure and track new strategies, and are able to assess which are successful. This intimate experience acts as a great foundation for a solid career in data science or analysis.
To gain even more experience, it's sometimes wise to work for an agency that specializes in collecting, assessing and implementing strategies based on data. In this case, you can work for dozens of customers and be exposed to diverse challenges that you may not experience while working on just one digital property. Regardless, the field presents great potential.