Technology doesn’t stand still – the pace of change is faster than ever. So what do you do when it’s left you behind? What do you need to look out for when you’ve taken a career break, or you’re gearing up for a modern working environment?
Sylvie Garvey runs Computer Fitness, an IT business geared to training and empowering people to be more confident in dealing with technology, particularly when changing their career or role, or returning to work after a break. I spoke with Sylvie to investigate how technology in the working world has evolved in recent years and hear her tips on getting up-to-speed.
You can choose to listen to an audio recording of the interview below, or scroll down past it to read a summary of the key tips that Sylvie shared with me.
Up in the cloud: Work anywhere and everywhere
The key evolution is that technology has ‘gone mobile’ in a big way. Better connectivity and cloud storage now enables us to work almost anywhere. But what is the cloud?
It is storage space in the same way as a hard drive on your computer – except that it’s on the internet. With the right permissions you can access that data or those documents in the cloud, exactly as if they were on your mobile device or computer. So you can work on them whether you’re at the office, in a coffee shop, or in your car waiting to pick the kids up from school.
Documents in the cloud can be accessed by multiple people. That means more than one person can work on a centrally stored document, adding, updating, fact-checking etc, in less time than it used to take to forward it from one person to the next.
Cloud storage can also be a life-saver! If your laptop gets broken or stolen, your data hasn’t gone with it. It will always be accessible on an alternative device.
Collaboration: We’re all in this together
A collaboration tool is a project or team focused direct messaging system. Some have a dashboard or task planning and scheduling capability, or to do list function. They’re great productivity tools, enabling both individual and group communication and task management within departments or project teams.
Collaboration tools are more informal than emails and will often contain an element of social chat alongside the business, work or project topics. They maintain a history of who has said or done what, so can be very useful in keeping up with what’s going on.
When everything changes: The challenge of software updates
Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google are continually improving their software. It can be daunting when things you have used before (e.g. Microsoft Word and Excel) look different from what you’re used to. But the basic functions remain and mostly, these tools will still work in much the same way. Just take time to familiarise yourself with an updated look, and any new features. When you see a new icon in an update, be curious. Click on it and see what happens – it’s the best way to learn and uncover great new tools and functions.
The ‘Help’ functions in every product are getting better and better and are ready to guide you through learning how to execute specific tasks. If you get stuck you can often find tips, advice and even mini training courses on the manufacturer’s website (for example, here is Microsoft’s training area), or on YouTube.
Many software tools today can be bought by on a subscription basis, rather than making a one-off payment. This means they update automatically, and you are pulled along, rather than getting left with outdated and unsupported software versions.
Data protection and privacy: The importance of compliance
In the last few years GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has come into law. Every company is obliged to comply with a stringent set of rules designed to protect personal data. This covers a wide remit – but it’s all for our protection.
If you’re involved with data at all, particularly if you’re running your own business, you must ensure you’re informed about GDPR – and are compliant. If you’d like to learn more about this, the ICO website is a good place to start.
Largely because of GDPR, most businesses will no longer allow you to download documents on to your own personal device or a USB stick, to work offline. That’s where the cloud comes in. The ability of the business to track who is doing what within their data repository is vital to GDPR compliance as well as internal security.
Training: Plugging skills gaps
There are lots of ways of updating your IT skills, depending on whether you have a lot of catching-up to do, or just need to plug the odd gap in your IT knowledge.
If your IT skills are very out-of-date, you can consider training courses such as those offered by Pitman (which are incredibly thorough). Or, there are workshops, like those run by Sylvie’s company, Computer Fitness. These offer hands-on training, where you bring your own laptop and work on the areas you need to brush-up on. There are also one-to-one training services, which deliver what you need face-to-face or online, via Skype or Zoom.
Other options include websites like Udemy or the software manufacturer sites. For Apple products, your local Apple Store has free-of-charge training sessions. And YouTube continues to be a good resource for short training and how-to videos.
Bamboozled by buzzwords: Google is your new best friend
One final piece of advice, confidence and curiosity are strengths. If you come across something you don’t understand – a technical term, buzzword, or acronym, just ask! Failing that, Google it. Things move so fast that nobody can keep up with everything. If you don’t understand, there will be someone only too willing to enlighten you, or an explanation on Google, and even a mini tutorial on YouTube.
The key takeaway is not to let a fear of advances in technology get in the way of you going for the job or career that you want. You are probably in better shape, technically speaking, than you think, and even if you aren’t, there are many ways to update your skills.