Confirming your digital skills – digitally, of course

'To establish determine what is and what is not relevant to achieving business goals, the organization needs to be educated and then make educated decisions and educated plans.'

Every few years, the technology space goes through significant, and often gut-wrenching, shifts, with demand for some skills rising, and others fading. One thing is consistent, however - the need for adaptability and flexibility on the part of technology managers and professionals, along with an ability to map their skill-sets to the needs of their businesses. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Thomas Erl, a prolific top-selling author in the IT space, and founder of Arcitura Education Inc. who has seen many of these changes unfolding. Erl has a message for IT professionals: update your skills, but also update how you communicate them. 

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Photo: Arcitura

Q: What skills are most in demand by your clients these days?

It's a really interesting time to be in the field right now. We've been around now for well over a decade, and we've seen a lot of trends come and go. Our focus is on those that transition to legitimate fields of practice. We see on-going demand for courses focused on expanding services, cloud computing and big data. We are also seeing contemporary variations of machine learning and artificial intelligence now becoming part of the IT mainstream, along with more recent innovations, such as blockchain, IoT and DevOps.

Q: Arcitura recently announced it is issuing and supporting badges that can digitally validate a professional's skill level and credentials. How does this work?

Social media has become more and more central in the IT professional's life, and it has become almost the default medium of communication and self-promotion. Even now, when we as an organization are recruiting, and we are contacted by individuals who want to work with us, we look at their LinkedIn profile or what they have posted. That immediately provides a means of assessing at least a preliminary level of qualification, and their overall compatibility for a given position. More importantly, we facilitate a large number of organizations around the world with skills development and certification. That led us to want to help IT professionals better communicate and promote those achievements via social media. We felt digital badges can become an important part of enabling those individuals to achieve that effectively.

You traditionally have had a certificate, digital or printed, and even logos that you could use for business cards, Websites and so on. With digital badges, you can leverage social media as a new medium for self-promotion and you further have the ability to enable your badges to be verified online by potential employers.

It's not a traditional logo. It's not a traditional certificate. The aesthetic of the badge itself is to me representative of a more contemporary mainstream branding of your achievement. That alone empowers IT professionals to not just promote their achievements, but to also promote the fact that they are communicating their achievements within a contemporary context.

Q: How does this badge system work?

When you take Arcitura certification exams at Pearson VUE or via on-site proctoring, your exam results are registered in your AITCP account. Once you have fulfilled the exam requirements for a certification, you are formally issued the certification status at which point you receive a digital certificate and access to certification logos and the corresponding digital certification badge. While Arcitura acts as the accreditation authority, Acclaim/Credly acts as the official digital badge provider. Arcitura informs Acclaim/Credly that you have achieved a certification and they then provide you with the digital badge. When you promote yourself with that badge, you can add a link that points to a public profile used to verify your achievement.

Q: You helped lead the industry through the service-oriented architecture journey a few years back. Today's initiatives wouldn't be possible without foundational SOA thinking, correct?

I think that the formalization of services and service technology set the stage for a lot of the innovations that are now maturing into important parts of the IT industry. For example, we established formal microservice architecture and service API design certification programs because microservices and service APIs have become so central to many modern application designs, regardless of the underlying architecture model. Microservices and service APIs are commonly implemented with cloud-based resources that can carry over into large-scale data processing with big data environments practices and architectures. This can further carry over into machine learning and artificial intelligence for algorithm-driven data processing, adding a whole new dimension of intelligence and decision making.

There are concrete business requirements that organizations can fulfill by utilizing these solutions and environments once there is an understanding of how and when these different technologies can and should be used together. It's about the risk assessment versus the benefit potential of a given technology innovation and the field of practice it is encompassed by. Only a vendor-neutral understanding of a field of practice can give you the clarity needed to make fully educated decisions.

What we began with service-oriented architecture and what has continued with how courses for cloud computing, big data, machine learning, AI and other programs have been authored, is a means of breaking down the architecture, technology and practices into a set of concrete building blocks called patterns. Each pattern represents a specific feature-set or practice and different patterns are combined to achieve different solutions. We further provide well-defined mechanisms that represent the artifacts or moving parts in technology environments. Patterns are applied via the implementation of different mechanisms. We then further define associated metrics, processes and tools. We publish much of this content for open access at the Arcitura Patterns site.

Q: Did these technologies pave the way to more expansive initiatives such as the Internet of Things?

The ability to interconnect devices and networks can result in entirely new lines of business, or perhaps even ways of leveraging existing lines of business to a greater extent. We're adding layers of innovation -- layers that we can now reliably build upon in terms of service technology, cloud, big data and access to legacy resources.

The business potential is enormous. But in order to achieve it, organizations need to understand it, and then need to apply it correctly in relation to their business goals. All of these new technology-based opportunities need to be evaluated to establish determine what is and what is not relevant to achieving business goals. To do this, the organization needs to be educated and then make educated decisions and educated plans.

Q: Is it time for IT professionals sharpen DevOps skills as well?

DevOps has become a highly innovative influence in its own right. We saw the need to establish a truly vendor-neutral DevOps accreditation program that breaks DevOps down into concrete practices, tools, monitors and metrics that are mapped to each other and to project delivery stages. This allows you to combine DevOps courses with any other technology-centric courses to further associate how different DevOps practices can be mapped to and utilized in support of projects that incorporate other technologies.

For example, when microservices are independently utilized, DevOps is often applied to formalize the rapid delivery of releases that is facilitated by their isolated environments and their independence from each other. We also have a separate vendor-neutral containerization accreditation program, which can tie in with DevOps, microservices and cloud computing, as well as service APIs and SOA.

Q: Do you see management in organizations becoming more enlightened, and therefore more open to technology-driven innovation?

Absolutely, those organizations that need to remain competitive must have this mindset. But different organizations operate at different levels. There are a lot of companies that are doing innovative things that are relatively new, with fresh resources to commit and management that already has a progressive background. But we also have to acknowledge the fact that there are many, often very large organizations -- public, private sector -- predominant in their industry, important in their business communities, but also still heavily reliant on massive legacy environments. Many of those organizations need to carefully plan to what extent new technologies and practices can be adopted while factoring in the support of and integration with existing legacy assets.