11 Skills in 2017 to Command Your Dream Paycheck – And How to Acquire Them Today

Are you looking for a career switch but feel like you’re tied to your past experience? Fresh graduate disillusioned with your choice of major?

In this skills-based economy, people with successful careers in a field they enjoy have one thing in common: they have skills that are in high demand. Such skills are garnered from attending basic excel course to majoring in data science for exmaple.

You could easily negotiate a substantial amount, say a $10,000 increase in salary by just possessing an additional sought-for skill.

Sounds simple?

To help you along, we’ve not only identified common skills that employers are looking for, based on market data from LinkedIn, ComputerWorld, Forbes, UpWork, Digg and Opportunity – but also provided some short, actionable tips from experts on acquiring each skill today.

Let’s dive in.

1. Help Businesses to Quickly Scale Computing Needs with Cloud Computing

As with any buzzword, people are scrambling to ‘get into’ cloud and distributed computing, but not everyone understands its meaning fully.

A distributed system is where a large problem is split among different computers which communicate through a computer network.

Cloud computing is a subset of that – a company provides the computers and the network over the internet, and all you have to do is pay them to rent this computing storage and power.

Cloud computing is becoming a hot choice for companies because they don’t have to deal with the high costs of setting up and maintaining a physical server.

This allows even small companies to get access to processing power at an average of 20% cost savings due to the high economies of scale that cloud providers like Amazon Web Services.

The beauty of it is that you can access this computing infrastructure anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection. For a great macro overview of how cloud computing has evolved, check out Stephen Fry’s video explanation of cloud computing.

You don’t need a Computer Science or Computer Engineering degree to learn cloud computing on your own. We’ve collated a resource list which helps you get started:

a. Cloud Computing for Beginners (Guru99)

This simple guide is a great tutorial if you know nothing at all (like Jon Snow). My favourite sections are the ‘Virtualization and Cloud Computing’, ‘Why use of cloud computing and benefits?’ and the ‘Case-Study of Cloud Computing- Royal Mail’.

It gives a quick and broad overview of the concepts required in cloud computing, and its importance and relevance in today’s world. Read this first!

b. The Cloud Computing Job Market (CloudAcademy)

This ebook is a good primer on what kind of jobs are available in cloud computing, and concrete skills you need to start a career in cloud computing. Great way to stay updated on the landscape of the job market.

c. How I used the cloud to understand the cloud (IBM)

Even though it’s a couple of years old, this IBM article by Gary Zeien, principal cloud solutioning architect in the IBM GTS Global Cloud team, is still highly relevant.

It touches on his thought processes of figuring out the cloud, step by step, such as learning what the cloud landscape looks like first, then practicing and learning from different MOOCs. This is a quick, first principles guide that should get you thinking about your steps to success.

d. Cloud Computing Concepts, Part 1 (Coursera)

Speaking of MOOCs, this Coursera course, created by the University of Illinois, provides videos that teaches fundamental concepts for cloud computing such as MapReduce, key-value stores and classical algorithms.

Assignments in C++ programming language are involved, so this is for the intermediate learner who already knows how to code. Interviews with real life managers and researchers are also included.

The course is part 1 of 6 of a full Cloud Computing Specialization with Coursera, which provides a structured, disciplined way to keep yourself on track.

Tip: Select the ‘Audit Only’ option to access the course videos and certain assignments for free. You can purchase a course certification and take the graded assignments if you feel that it’s worth the money.

e. AWS Certified Solutions Architect Official Study Guide: Associate Exam (AWS)

If you’re already proficient with cloud languages and Amazon Web Services, take the certification to improve your credentials. This official study guide by AWS preps you for the AWS Associate Exam.

2. Build Our Robot Overlords with Machine Learning

You’ve definitely seen a rise of so-called ‘artificial intelligence’ in the past year:

AI is once again coming to the forefront of the minds of the masses after a long-drawn AI winter.

Source: Dilbert

The underlying technology under these advances is machine learning, which, as you may have guessed, are machines and computer systems that learn intelligently and make decisions on their own.

These systems execute commands from algorithms that train and learn from large datasets to adjust the importance of different factors in their computational methods, based on provided answers.

There are many different approaches such as deep neural networks and Bayesian models, but the goal is the same: to have a form of intelligence making decisions.

There’s a whole gamut of machine learning fields and applications, and it’s an area of high demand.

For example, natural language processing detects meaning and intention in human language so that assistants like Alexa can understand and execute your whims.

Computer vision allows computers to ‘see’ things and interprete what they are so that you have things like Tesla’s self-driving cars.

As a hot topic that everyone wants to get into, there are a ton of excellent resources out there. We’ve picked some of the best:

a. Machine Learning Link Collection (Reddit)

Reddit has a smart, proficient community in r/MachineLearning and they’ve compiled a huge list of MOOCs, books, deep learning and math resources, and other great links to help any beginner get started. This mass of links is probably enough to get you a good grasp of ML.

A highly recommended place they recommend to start is Andrew Ng’s ML class at Coursera, which is easy to understand and good for beginners.

b. The Machine Learning Mastery Method (Machine Learning Mastery)

Jason Browniee writes on a ‘top-down’ mindset in getting started with applied ML, focusing on getting results instead of learning and amassing programming languages and math skills first.

A highlight is the first part, ‘Mindset’. ML isn’t easy to pick up, and it’s a good place to start from to motivate yourself.

c. Machine Learning in a Week (Per Harald Borgen)

Per Borgen writes about his journey in a week to understand the fundamentals of ML, and being able to solve problems in a single week.

d. MNIST For ML Beginners (Google TensorFlow)

Google Tensorflow is an open source software library for machine learning, and is used in many products including Google’s own Gmail.
This tutorial helps you get started with TensorFlow to learn about MNIST Data, the equivalent of printing “Hello World” when you get started with programming.

3. Provide Key Insights and Amaze Your Boss with Data Science

As W. Edwards Deming says,

“In God we trust. All others must bring data.”

Big data is very much related to machine learning, and uses machine learning techniques, math algorithms and logic to mash up data into a condensed pulp of insight.

With the huge amount of information that we’re generating everyday (2.5 quintillion bytes of data), it’s not only important to be able to derive insights from it, but to do it timely.

That’s where data scientists come in. Data scientists are the evolution of traditional statisticians, computer scientists and data analysts.

Source: KDnuggets

It’s a powerful skill to have. Data scientists are probably one of the most highly sought after right now, but there is a dearth of them. We’ve taken a look at some resources out there on how you can get companies begging to hire you:

a. How to actually learn data science (Dataquest)

Vik Paruchuri, founder of dataquest.io and self-taught data scientist, details how you should get started on learning data science. I especially like that he focuses on the communication aspect of data science.

A lot of work is done to communicate findings to people. This can make or break a data scientist and distinguish the normal from the best ones.

Practice is key; Paruchuri mentions starting a blog to post the results of data analysis, or trying to teach others about data science concepts.

b. How can I become a data scientist? (Quora)

Enough said. This is definitely the most comprehensive list of links you can find to start learning about data science. Thank you Quora, for never failing us.

It goes without saying: read this.

c. CS109 Data Science (Harvard University)

In this data science course by Harvard, they introduce methods for five key facets of an investigation. You should already know Python before starting.

The videos to the lectures are available publicly.

4. Become A Web Development Ninja and Become Indispensable

Do you hear the word ‘coding’ and automatically tune out?

That’s fine. We won’t type a lot of jargon here, but instead, take a look at this infographic:

Developers who have knowledge of MySQL, Swift, AngularJS, R development, Node.js, .NET, along with languages like Java, Python and elastiC are being fought tooth and nail for.

Although it looks like the app is declining in popularity (when was the last time you downloaded a new app?), mobile developers are still highly sought after as well.

Again, here’s some stuff you can use to get started:

a. Don’t Believe Anyone Who Tells You Learning To Code Is Easy (Kate Ray)

Does this article sound antithetical to what you want to do? Give it a read. It’s true that learning to code isn’t easy, despite the multitude of resources out there. Like she says,

“They don’t tell you that a lot of programming skill is about developing a knack for asking the right questions on Google and knowing which code is best to copy-paste. And they don’t let you in on a big secret: that there is no mastery, there is no final level. The anxiety of feeling lost and stupid is not something you learn to conquer, but something you learn to live with.

It helps to be mentally prepared for feeling stupid.”

b. CodeAcademy

Nuff said, edtech startup CodeAcademy is probably the de facto place for newbies to start at this point of time. With interactive practices and projects to help you practice and practice and… practice.

c. Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years (Peter Norvig)

Again, don’t be frightened off by the title. Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google Inc. writes about how to get really, really good at programming.

d. 50 Free eBooks for Web Designers & Developers (Specky Boy)

Specky Boy provides a comprehensive list of free ebooks for every topic under the sun, whether you want to pick up Java, learn how to build a WordPress site, or design a mobile game.

5. Make Applications a Delight to Use with User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX)

UI/UX lies in the realm of designers – their aim is to design a product that users intuitively know how to use and want to use.

Generally, UI focuses on how the product looks and where things are located, while UX focuses on the process users go through when using the product, such as an intuitive user flow or the wireframe of a site.

Fast Code Design has a detailed guide to design roles in the tech industry.

Source: Dilbert

UI/UX designers are now in high demand because companies that focus on design functionality tend to be more successful. According to information from dmi,

“utilizing top design talent in hardware, software and service interactions helps companies grow faster through differentiation and better customer experiences”

This helped companies that use great design to outperform the S&P 500 by 228%.

How you can get started:

a. UX Design: The Definitive Beginner’s Guide (UXPin)

UXPin is a product design platform that allows teams to collaborate on UX designs, wireframes and prototpes. Topics include: thinking like a designer, different design stages, useful activities, finding mentors, launching your career, and more.

UXPin also has a number of other great (and well-designed!) ebooks you should definitely check out.

b. GoodUI.org

A project started by Linowski Interaction Design, GoodUI gives you 77 actionable ideas that you can do to improve your UI. Excellent tips that are easy on the eyes.

User Interface Design and UX Design: 80+ Important Research Papers Covering Peer-Reviewed and

c. Informal Studies (Mauro New Media)

UI/UX is not just based on your gut feel on how things should look and what you think is pretty. Data is king here. Maruo New Media presents a comprehensive list of research papers on UI/UX topics and statistics.

6. Protect Customers through Network and Information Security

With the onslaught of cybersecurity breaches in recent years, humanity is doing a collective face palm.

With companies previously not employing enough security IT staff, not knowing the details of the computers on their network, relying on outdated software and outsourcing key security functions, they’re now doing a full turnaround to beef up security.

Source: xkcd

Cybersecurity chops are poised to be an extremely valuable skill in this age of hyperawareness of security.

Take note, you should first know some programming languages like C. This is where our previous tip, number 4, comes in handy.

Here are some things that’ll give you a good start:

a. Capture The Flag Field Guide (Trail of Bits)

Trail of Bits is a cybersecurity consulting firm co-founded by Dan Guido, who’s been involved in infosec for the last 15 years. A detailed guide with chapters like Vulnerability Discovery, Exploit Creation, Forensics, Toolkit Creation, Operational Tradecraft and the importance of getting into Capture The Flag (CTF) competitions to hone your superhero powers.

b. 50+ Useful Cyber Security Online Courses You Should Explore (Hemidal Security)

7. Bring in Customers in a Quick, Scalable Way with Digital Marketing

Digital marketing can seem like a flurry of acronyms: SEO, SEM, GDN, CTR, CTA, CPC, CPM… it can be a bit overwhelming, but broadly, popular channels for digital marketing are email marketing, search engine marketing (SEM), display marketing, social media marketing, influencer marketing, affiliate marketing, referral marketing, and native and content marketing.

Source: Hubspot

Email Marketing

You know this from the barrage of emails that you receive once you’ve signed up for an email list, or purchased something from a site.

According to Campaign Monitor, email marketing is still the most effective channel, with a 3,800% ROI.

With new forms of email such as interactive emails to enable in-email purchases, email marketing is still very much a relied-upon channel. 

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM is about driving traffic, and hopefully conversions to your site through search engines (namely, Google). You can choose to pay to have a text ad displayed through Google Adwords, which appear as the first few search results with that tiny ‘Ad’ button beside it.

Organic search marketing, which is known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), aims to push up your site’s search ranking through the use of content and links from authority sites.

Display Marketing

By now, you’ve perhaps developed some kind of ‘banner blindness’ against the multitude of banner ads you see everywhere you go on the internet.

But marketers are upping their game with technology like cross-device ad targeting. It was previously difficult because of the disparate data between different devices that make it hard to pin down devices belonging to a single user.

This allows marketers to serve ads sequentially in a storytelling format, just like those TV teaser ads that lead up to the main ad.

Adtech is a rapidly growing sector.

Social Media Marketing

The addictive factor of social media that keeps you glued to your screens? Marketers would like a serving of that. Again, there’s both paid and free routes.

Marketers pay for sponsored ads on your Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn feeds, or create compelling content that has a high share value, in the form of native and content marketing).

They pay influencers to shout about new products and services they might have, or build in an incentive for people to share by giving them affiliate payments or referral credits.

Digital marketing works.

Admit it, you’ve probably clicked on that dress that was following you around on Facebook after you added it to your cart but didn’t buy it, or guiltily read that clickbait article.

Companies are on the lookout for people who can create this value, scale it digitally and help to grow their businesses.

If you want to jump into the world of digital marketing, here’s a few things you can start with:

a. For an overview: Newsletters from MarketingLand (MarketingLand)

MarketingLand provides a plethora of newsletters, ranging from content to analytics to video. Depending on what you’re interested in, pick and choose to your heart’s content.

b. Email: MailChimp Guides (MailChimp)

MailChimp, the go-to email campaign platform used by 15m customers worldwide with a hilariously cute mascot, provides comprehensive guides on all you need to get started on your first email campaign.

c. Search (PPC): Google AdWords Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide (Neil Patel)

Neil Patel, recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama, gives you a detailed, step by step guide on getting started with Adwords.

d. Search (SEO): Link Building Case Study: How I Increased My Search Traffic by 110% in 14 Days (Backlinko)

Brian Dean of Backlino success teaches you the SkyScraper technique on building link juice to your site.

e. Display: 7 Tips to Master the Google Display Network (WordStream)

The Google Display Network (GDN), is where most of businesses place their banner ads as they probably have the largest network of sites on the internet. WordStream gives a short introduction and guide on how to execute GDN campaigns.

f. Social: The Science of Social Media (Buffer)

They call it ‘a podcast to inspire marketers everywhere’, and that’s pretty much true. Solid compilation of interviews, case studies and tips to own your social media campaigns.

8. Delight Customers with Customer Engagement

Customer engagement is no longer just about customer service.

With technology in the mix, customer engagement is becoming more seamless, automated and data driven.

There are tools like Zendesk and Intercom for live chat and message consolidation, messenger apps and chatbots for Facebook Messenger, Telegram and WeChat, and customer self-support knowledge bases like Salesforce Desk, Kayako, Helpjuice and Inbenta.

Analytics also form an important segment of customer engagement and retention, with Google Analytics and heatmaps as part of the equation.

Source: Ted Geoff

The surge in supporting technology signals that companies are placing increasing emphasis on keeping customers engaged, increasing conversion rates and customer retention.
There are a ton of resources for learning more about customer engagement, but we recommend first digging deep into understanding the value of superb customer engagement, then taking a look at the tools available. Here are a few that we’ve collated:

a. Calculating the ROI of Customer Engagement (Rachel Happe on HBR)

Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable explains a framework on calculating engagement behaviours.

b. The Significance of Customer Engagement (Avaya)

This 2015 white paper, written by Frost & Sullivan, provides a good basis on why Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is a key metric you should be tracking, and key savings and adoption figures.

c. Intercom on Customer Engagement (Intercom)

Intercom is a suite of customer engagement tools (with a beautiful interface and branding!) that offers strong, actionable advice on customer engagement. Definitely worth your time to read. I love the end-of-chapter checklists that they provide for you to take action and improve.

d. Analytics Can Strengthen Engagement (KISSmetrics)

KISSmetrics is a ecommerce focused analytics tools that includes the ability to segment users and engage them at the correct touchpoints. This article argues that you can lean heavily on analytics to improve your customer engagement.

9. Hone Your Art of Selling and Become a Sales Superstar

Ah, sales. A word that makes people cringe? Perhaps the immediate term brings to mind door-to-door salesmen, or smooth talking account reps. Not really.

Source: Fourquadrant

Sales is the function that creates real value and revenue, and a good salesperson seeks to deliver two-way value, both to their own company and the client.

Someone with great sales skills knows how to create long-term relationships and not try cut their clients’ throats over short-term gains.

There’s inside sales and outside sales, one trying to generate leads remotely from ‘inside’ their company, while outside sales involves reps traveling face to face to meet clients.

Sales is a high-rewards career path because of the compensation involved, usually based partly on commission and performance.

Sales isn’t just about building rapport and speaking well. Modern sales tech and CRM like Salesforce, Apttus and InsideSales have seen huge jumps in investment activity, indicating heightened interest from businesses, and an increasing value for workers to be proficient with these tools.

Want to be good at sales? Look at these:

a. Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into a Sales Machine with the $100 Million Best Practices of Salesforce.com (Aaron Ross, on Amazon)

This seminal book on the outbound sales process expounds on how the founders of Salesforce generated a 9% response rate and millions of dollars from cold prospects, all without cold calls or a marketing budget.

b. The Ultimate Sales Hustle Podcast (Steli Efti via OverCast)

Steli Efti of Close.io, an inside sales CRM for startups and SMBs, regularly bangs out short, digestible tips to increase your sales process and skills. Great for commuting and maximising every hour of your day.

c. HubSpot’s Sales Blog (HubSpot)

If you Google ‘How to xxx + sales’, one of HubSpot’s articles are likely to pop up. On point, straight shooting advice for improving your sales skills, one article that stood out to me was the actionable 8 Email Templates With 50% or Higher Open Rates (Used by Real HubSpot Sales Reps). It explains psychological pain points and how to leverage the right language to get people to open (and reply to) your sales emails.

10. Handle Complex Projects Like A Boss (Literally)

Project management’s just about delegation of work, right?

Well, not quite.

Complex projects in an organisation involve many activities, people, deadlines and budgets.

To finish a project on time and within budget, project management methodologies can help.

Source: Dilbert

With the advent of the gig economy, contract-based projects and rapid internationalisation of companies, the resources and geographical spectrum involved in projects are even more complicated to manage.

Companies require people who can step up to the plate to complete projects rapidly.

Here are some resources to improve your project management skills:

a. Project Management: Delivery Complex Project Successfully (MindTools)

MindTools, which provides a comprehensive list of career skills, has a great overview of modern project management.

I think the most useful section is on Agile Project Management, which outlines the process of the scrum framework, which focuses on shipping a usable product within a certain time frame.

Tip: Not all the articles are fully available. You can pay $1 to test out MindTools for a month, and then decide if you’d like to continue paying a higher fee.

b. Weekly New PM Articles (The Practicing IT Project Manager)

Subscribe to Dave Gorden’s weekly roundup of project management articles, delivered to your inbox. An efficient way to keep up with and constantly expose yourself to new PM skills.

c. StackExchange Project Management (StackExchange)

With over 3,500 questions on PM answered, StackExchange is a solid bedrock of information to look if you have any questions about PM.

11. Be a Hustler

A soft skill!

At last, you think.

I probably don’t have to spend hours and hours studying for this.

Well, you do have to spend hours and hours reading, changing your mindset and practicing your hustling skills. In its core essence, to hustle is to have grit, passion and the fundamental perspective that boundaries are fluid.

Source: Jon Carter

There are some things you can read, watch and listen to shift gears into this mindset. Tons of inspirational content out there but these are a few of those that really struck me:

a. Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man (WaitButWhy)

If you only know Elon Musk as ‘the rocket guy who blew up a $200M Facebook satellite’, you have to read this fantastic four part series written by the introspective Tim Urban on his wildly popular blog for intelligent and smart people (it should be obvious by now that this is one of my favourite blogs).

Elon Musk is the epitome of a hustler.

From a $180M PayPal exit, to being on the verge of bankruptcy by starting an electric car company (Tesla), space rocket company (SpaceX) and solar energy company (SolarCity), which were all insane ideas at that point of time, to being worth $13.4B today, he is a true inspirational figure of grit.

Tip: Download the ebook series to read, since the articles amount to the length of a book. It supports Wait But Why as well for their writing efforts.

b. What I learnt from 100 days of rejection (Jia Jiang on TEDxMtHood)

Jia Jiang details his journey of emerging from the fear of rejection, simply by resolving to ask a stranger for a crazy thing per day. The one that really got me laughing – a ‘burger refill’. Easily the best 15 minutes of your day right now.

c. How to Negotiate (I Will Teach You To Be Rich)

Ramit Sethi compiles a list of all his negotiation tactics, scripts and guides. The Briefcase Technique is a good example of how to own the negotiation process in an interview.

d. Grit Scale (Angela Duckworth)

Angela Duckworth, a 2013 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, studies grit and self-control. These traits predict success and well-being accurately, but are distinct from IQ.

This test gives you a gauge on how ‘gritty’ you are, and you can work to improve reading her book, Grit, a New York Times bestseller.

If you’re comfortable where you are in your career, you don’t have to pick up a new skill. It requires a ton of hard work and time. But the payoffs of being competitive, making yourself smarter and changing your mindset of the world around you by assimilating knowledge lasts you for a lifetime. Jobs are increasingly becoming automated, and if you stay where you are, you could find yourself irrelevant pretty quickly.

If you want to pick up a new skill, but just ‘can’t seem to find the time’… just consider: a mere 5% increase in salary now, compounded over 5 years = a 28% overall salary boost. On a salary of $50K per year, that’s already $14K more.

That’s with just 5 hours of solid, focused work per week, just 2.98% of your time. The longer you wait, the more you’re disadvantaging yourself. You don’t have to pick up every skill that we list here (except for maybe being able to hustle). Just starting with one today will help you further your career now.