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This article was contributed by Carolyn Duby, field CTO and cybersecurity lead at Cloudera.

Digital transformation, big data analytics, the rise of AI, and a desperate demand for cybersecurity expertise make this a great time to be in tech. In a way, the opportunity for anyone looking to grow into a tech career or data career this year feels a lot like it did more than 30 years ago.

In those early days, the potential for a computer revolution was obvious, and while no one had any idea just how quickly computers would become dominant, there were tremendous career opportunities.

Today, we are living in a time of tremendous change. The pandemic’s impact on digital transformation has been well documented. Overwhelmingly, both businesses and consumers have embraced technology as the infrastructure for every interaction in our lives.

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From a data career perspective, 2022 looks similar to the mid-1980s. With all of the technological advances and social disruption comes tremendous opportunity. Cloud, big data, and AI technologies are already reshaping businesses, and with ever-rising cybersecurity threats, no one can quite say exactly what the future holds. But I promise you this: big data will be in big demand, and data career opportunities abound.

How can you take advantage of these opportunities?

Be open to change, be adaptable

I started college with the goal of becoming a doctor and was studying medicine at Brown University. Computing was new at the time. There was no internet, and people were just beginning to rely on email for business and academic communication. No one ever talked about cybersecurity.

Programming was frustrating in those days. You had to do most of your programming on paper because you had to wait for a limited time on slow computers. But something so new was exhilarating. I left the more traditional route to a medical career and would intern at a startup working on the hypertext system that became a foundation of the internet.

The most important takeaway from those early years is that technology is changing so fast that you can’t know where you’ll end up when you start your career. To be successful, you need to build base skills that can be applied to diverse areas throughout your career. Fundamental skill sets like problem-solving, logical thinking, troubleshooting, investigation, and design are broadly relevant to many different job roles and industries.

You need to be flexible and adaptable, open to new possibilities, and constantly learn new things.

Be a problem solver, be persistent, and succeed in a data career

Being open to change is just as important once you establish a career in a particular field, especially in technology. If you don’t love change, don’t go into tech. However, it’s important not to confuse being open to change with looking to avoid a challenge.

You need to learn from challenges, no matter what position you’re in. From the pressure of responding to frantic calls in tech support, to suddenly managing a large team at a big company, to doing everything yourself at a startup you launch – taking out the trash, dealing with angry customers, developing a business plan, etc. – the key to successfully confronting a new challenge is to be persistent. Every problem you solve, and every hurdle you leap over, becomes an unforgettable lesson.

Learn to be a leader

While advancing at Hortonworks, and eventually at Cloudera following the merger of the companies, I have been challenged once again to learn and adapt. Leadership must always be a learning process – when you make that shift to senior leadership, you become responsible for new people with different mindsets and backgrounds, new processes, and new strategic goals.

With more experience comes more responsibility to learn. You have to move beyond what you’ve already achieved to build skills that might be atypical for your education, background, or even personality.

The three biggest things that have helped me to succeed so far are:

  • Support tech experience with great communication and presentation skills. It is not enough to master the technical aspects of your job. As a leader, you must be able to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, with your peers and with your teams. You must be able to present your ideas clearly and argue for them logically. You must be able to explain to your staff what you want done and, if necessary, how to do it. Most importantly, you must be able to listen. Effective communication is always two-way.
  • Learn about business issues. As a business leader, your decisions are no longer purely technical. They must take into account the business issues your organization faces, from finance to human resources to sales and support issues. Whether it’s through courses or certificate programs or interaction with your peers, absorb everything you can about how the business works and what the business needs.
  • Understand how to use all the organizational levers to get things done. Similar to learning about business issues, it’s important to learn how a large organization works. If you want to achieve something (say, create a new product), or if you want to change something (how your organization approaches diversity for example), you need to understand all the mechanisms that enable change to happen. Who makes the decisions? Who controls the money? Who controls the data? What are the legal, compliance, and governance issues?

No matter what stage you are at in your data career, and no matter your background and level of hands-on experience with tech, a big data career offers many opportunities over both the short and long term. The important thing is not to be intimidated by the challenges ahead. Broaden your skillset, embrace new experiences, and be ready to go.

Carolyn Duby is the field CTO and cybersecurity lead at Cloudera.

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