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What Training Do I Need for Digital Development Careers?

Question 11: What training do I need?

I’ve worked in ICT Support for 4 years and I am looking to gain more skills, education and experience in ICT4D. What training can I take or what formal education programs can position me for promotion? I don’t know where to start.

Ask a different question

Instead of asking what training you need, you may want to start with asking where you want to be in 3-5 years. Once you’ve identified what you want to be doing, where you want to be working, and at what level, you can then start seeking out people who have the job you desire.

Then comes the hard part – asking for informational interviews with them to understand what their day is like, where they see the profession going, and crucially, how they got their position.

In an informational interview, you want to be learning from your interviewee, not selling them on hiring you. You want to learn what they believe are the prerequisites for your dream role.

Once you know prerequisites..

If you ask 20 people and all of them say you need a Masters Degree in artificial intelligence or a doctorate in public health, then you know what your next step is. However, they will most likely say that its a mix of education and experience that is best for promotion – not education or training alone.

Training courses

I am a big fan of TechChange courses for practical, hands-on learning of key concepts for digital development project management. However, if you need hard-core software development skills, you made want to join one of the many software development boot camps. Overall, I would look for well-known organizations that utilize facilitators that you can Google-trace to their classroom and alumni.


Since you already have a job, you can volunteer for new roles within your organization to get additional experience. Be the person who always says, “yes” to new projects that interest you, and work more and harder to succeed with those projects. This is the easiest way to get more experience.

Another way is to seek out organizations working in your desired areas and find out what their needs are. Then suggest a volunteer consultancy – that is a consulting engagement that is just as rigorous as a paid engagement, but trade exposure and connections for your time, instead of money.

Switching careers is hard

There is no way around the central problem in your question: you wan to switch careers from IT support to ICT4D. It is not impossible, but like any career switch, there will be work and pain involved, and it may take you a year or more to make the transition. However, if you really think it will make you happier with your work life, then its a worthy sacrifice.

It took me two years to make the transition from dotcoms to ICT4D and every minute of the pain (and several rounds of crying over rejections) was worth it for me. I love my work, every minute of it.

Good luck!

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What is the Value of a PhD Advanced Degree in ICT4D?

What questions do you have about digital development careers? Click here to ask your question! We’ll answer it in the next newsletter.

Q8: What is the value of a PhD in ICT4D?

I have a bachelor’s, master’s, and ~10 years experience in digital marketing in health and education, all outside of development. I’m considering a Ph.D. in Information Systems to do research on topics related to ICT4D, but will it pay off in a digital development job?

Education Needs to be Paired with Experience

You may be surprised by the number of people who think that a degree in international development or technology-related field will magically open the door to a rewarding ICT4D career. Sadly, that rarely works.

You have to understand that your competition is someone who has:

  • 3-4 years experience in development jobs,
  • 2 years in the Peace Corps living in developing countries,
  • A masters degree in technology or development.

Key for an employer is the the full mix of employment, exposure, and education. We want to know you’re familiar with development’s issues, the realities of developing countries, and a solid education.

Get Experience Before a PhD

Before spending years and thousands of dollars on a PhD, which in your case will just make you even more expensive with less relevant experience, I would strongly suggest you get experience in the digital development ecosystem.

You should be able to leverage your digital marketing experience to work on social and behavior change communication (SBCC), where we try to engage and motivate people to adopt healthier habits. For example, practicing safer sex, or quitting smoking, or the like.

You can do this with many population groups (Americans need this as much as Angolans) though its best to start thinking about areas of the world you want to work in and focusing on those communities from the start.

Consider a Volunteer Consulting Engagement

Sine you already have a career that showcases your ability, you may want to consider a volunteer consulting engagement to get experience. This is just like a real consulting agreement – you should have objectives, deliverables, and timelines – only you are trading your time for experience versus cash payment.

The international development field is already very familiar with the concept – see Peace Corps – only this way you don’t need to move overseas for two years. However, you will need to work hard, probably harder than you are now, to learn as you perform.

The upside? You’ll be the internal candidate at the next opening.

Good luck!

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How Do I Get Needed ICT4D Skills to Qualify for a Job?

What questions do you have about digital development careers? Click here to ask your question! We’ll answer it in the next newsletter.

Q5: How Do I Get Needed ICT4D Skills?

Another subscriber question:

I want to enter the ME field and jobs require experience with statistical software, however, the last time I used SPSS was in grad school four years ago. How do I tell a potential employer that I’m willing to learn the skill if they can provide some training?

We Should Always Be Learning

Technology doesn’t stand still. Be it statistical solutions for ME or software development languages. So we all need to be learning all the time across our domains of interest to keep current in our work.

For example, right now I’m learning about machine learning, which is reminding me of my lone D in college – in statistics. However, that’s not holding me back in learning the general concepts of natural language processing, though I know I’ll never be a master at it.

Usually, though, we don’t need to be a master of all things. We do need to have enough knowledge and expertise to know our own limitations and to hire and direct experts who can do the work.

Show Your Own Initiative

This brings us to today’s question – how to get expertise needed for a new role?

One way is to take training courses on ICT4D topics. One could balk at paying for such a course, but when you compare $300-100USD in tuition to a year’s salary in a new role, the investment is trivial.

Likewise, the investment in time and effort for a volunteer consultancy, where you have a real project to work (and learn) on, and get exposure to potential peers, can be well worth it.

Finally, you can always explore a self-directed course of study in the new skill. Back in the day, a friend of mine told me about this newfangled Internet thing. I spent countless hours researching HTML and taught myself how to hand-code what was then called an online journal. 25 years later, much of my career is based on my blogging skills.

Regardless of which option you choose, the overall goal is to show a potential employer that you are not waiting passively till you are hired to learn new skills. You want to show them that you are actively improving yourself all the time, and you’ll bring both new skills and the motivation to learn even more to your new employer.


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Should I Specialize or Generalize in ICT4D Skills?

What questions do you have about digital development careers? Click here to ask yours! We’ll answer it in the next newsletter.

Q3: Should I Specialize or Generalize in ICT4D?

Another subscriber question: Will my career advance faster if I stay an ICT4D generalist, with different jobs that focus in each of education, health, and agriculture, or should I specialize in one sector for the majority of my career?

The Case for Generalists Skills

Spreading yourself over several sectors has two key advantages. First, you will not be bored, as each sector, while similar to the others, has its own opportunities, issues, and players.

The downside to this strategy is that it might take you longer to advance into a management role when you move from one sector to another, and have to learn its new norms and networks.

Personally, this is the role I’ve taken, as I thrive on the steep learning curve that comes with a new field. However, I’ve seen peers who stayed with one sector (though not always with the same company) move up faster than me.

The Case for Specialists Skills

If you decide to focus on one sector, say civil society, you can certainly become a key expert and make good progress in your career. If its something you love, by all means, go deep and enjoy.

However, you can become typecast – forever expected to only be in that sector. Then, the longer you stay in that sector, the harder it will be for you to work in any other. This can be very dangerous if that role phases out of need.

For example, at one point I was an expert in deploying desktop computers into computer labs. Yet that isn’t a role for international experts anymore, so I had to quickly adapt or I would’ve been unemployed and unemployable.

T-Shaped Skills for Sustainability

Many career counselors talk about T-shaped skills as the best of both worlds. Go vertically deep in a particular area and then be quick to horizontally collaborate with experts in other disciplines.

The benefit of this approach is a domain knowledge that can advance your career and a network of peers in other domains that will vouch for you if you need to move out of your subject area in the future.

This is what I recommend now too. For example: being a subject matter expert in democracy and governance, yet quick to share your social and behavior change communication skills with peers in health and nutrition. I think its the only way to ensure a life-long career in digital development.