ict4d skills ict support

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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How Do I Get Back Into Digital Development?

A subscriber has an interesting question: they were in ICT4D before, then left to start a business that while in international development, was not a technology company. Now they are wondering how to return to ICT4D and the roles they should apply for.

First: What Do You Want to Do?

I think the hardest part of a job search is figuring out what you want to do. The role, responsibilities, work culture, and experiences that will make you happy. I’ve found that writing it all down and ranking what matters can really help you narrow down your focus.

This is the first task, because you don’t want to do a job search just to get a job you wind up hating. I’ve done that twice now – its not fun.

Next: What Are Your Transferable Skills

The person writing in realized they wanted to lead an ICT4D team, so next up was to think through all the skills and experience needed to lead a team and then to find examples of that leadership in their present work.

For this person, that was easy – they were managing a team and often had to overcome technology problems to get their product to the right market in the way their customers wanted. So they can list out those experiences in their CV with the right emphasis for each employer’s desires.

Finally: Who Do You Know?

For better or worse, ICT4D is a very small field and getting in by a recommendation, referral, or direct friendship is always faster than blindly applying to job ads (including those in our jobs newsletter).

In fact, you should use job ads as a rough gauge of which organizations are hiring and what they looking for, and then start informational interviewing your way into their social/professional networks. You want to be known before you apply.

For this person, they can start with the people they knew in ICT4D from before they left, and build their network from there. They are not in the USA currently, which does pose a slight barrier, but thankfully we have Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp and whole slew of connectivity options for them.

Their job search will not be easy.  No job search is ever easy. Its a long, hard, slog with many questions. Ask your questions now!

How Do You Invest in Your Career?

How We Invest in Ourselves

In the last newsletter, I asked you all how you invest in yourself – build new skills, competencies, knowledge and expertise that can help you in your current and next role.

Wow! You responded to that question with a plethora of examples. I’ve condensed multiple people’s feedback into themes below.

Regardless of which approach you choose, habitually investing in yourself is the only way to strengthen your career resilience over time.

Invest in Conference & Event Networking

I scrimped and saved to self-fund work conferences and events on my vacation time for 4 years that led to contacts who hired me for my current job, which has a conference travel allowance because my employer knows how valuable it is for our work.

Bonus: I get free conference attendance now in exchange for helping facilitate sessions since conference organizers also know how good I am in conferences.

Invest in Formal Education

I invest in myself through formal online education such as TechChange classes and technical courses at major Universities. I am contemplating a Master’s Degree in International Development to compliment my technical knowledge and give me a more well-rounded educational profile.

I’ve found that I need a Master’s Degree to move past mid-level program manger roles into more senior management or even senior technical advisor roles.

Invest in Informal Learning

I was glad to see Wayan included “time” in investment activities. I spend time on things like podcasts, informational interviews, and following people I admire on social media (especially people who post about what they’re reading). This has been more useful than paid courses I’ve taken.

I invest in maintaining my foreign language skills through speaking clubs, audio books, Internet radio, and volunteering with organizations like Translators without Borders.

Invest in Paying Off Debt

First on my self-investment list is retroactive investment in the form of paying off my student loans for undergraduate and graduate degrees.

My spouse and I will be in debt for many years to come, and I feel frustrated that others have the time and money to invest in current and future skills when we are paying for degrees that just got us entry-level jobs. I get the sense that development is only for those already privileged.

Invest in In-Country Experience

I kept hearing that I needed “in-country experience” to get an entry-level job, but I wasn’t willing to dig wells for two years in the Peace Corps, so I invested in a 6-month internship with a local NGO.

The experience itself was awesome and eye-opening, and it got me interviews with a major iNGO and a job offer the day my internship ended.

Invest in a Start Up

I used a small raise, freelancing gigs, and vacation time to help bootstrap a startup. It was very hard at first, but the startup is now supporting everyone involved, we all genuinely enjoy what we’re doing.

I started a side gig with a friend of mine, and while the money isn’t the same as my day job, it is 30% of my family’s income, and a life-saver when I was laid off recently. I still had money coming in and a professional accomplishments to cite while I looked for a new job.

Thanks for reading this far,

We’re About to Enter Job Search Nirvana Are You Ready?

October 1 is a magical date in international development. It is the start of the new federal fiscal year, which means USAID-funded programs often get a big boost of funds and teams go on hiring sprees.

Expect the list of jobs below to expand all through October, then taper off till January 1.

Are You Ready?

Have you been preparing for this upcoming job search bonanza by making sure you know and are known by all the thought leaders in your subject area?

The job hiring competition is winner-take-all. Only one person will be hired for each position – second place is first of the losers. So don’t wait. Focus on your networking efforts now so that hiring teams will be thinking of you before they even write the job description, much less publicize it below.

Good luck!

How to Ask for an Informational Interview

Recently I asked you to tell me about your job search dilemmas and wow! I received a wave of responses. Here is the next installment. Ask your question to see it responded to here.

Their Question:

I have applied to countless ICT4D jobs via the normal online CV submission route but have heard (and can speak anecdotally to the fact) that there is a 4% response rate – so really the only way to get hired is to go through my network.

The challenge: there is a thin line between asking for help and being overbearing even when trying to use my network.

Case in point, I recently asked to meet with someone fairly high up in an organization I would like to work with, and when I let her know I was interested in working there she never responded. It was probably not the best experience for either of us.

My Response:

There is certainly an art to asking for an informational interview and it starts with thinking of it as the beginning of a relationship, not a transaction. You should be genuinely interested in their work and career to better understand your own goals, and path to reach them.

Never, ever ask about working at their organization, which can feel transactional and often leads to them sending you to HR or the company website, if they respond at all.

Here is an example email that you can use to secure an informational interview:

Dear Susan,
I was speaking with Tim Smith the other day about mHealth programs in Vietnam, and he said you were an expert on it and that I should talk to you about my interest in the field. I’m about to graduate with an MPH and I’ve worked for a few years as a project manager with the Red Cross in Washington, DC, but I’m considering focusing on mHealth in Southeast Asia. I’d love to know about your career path, how you came to role with Medic Mobile, and where you see the future of mHealth in the region. Would you have time for a coffee or a call next week?

Note that in the opening sentence I showed that I spoke with someone they knew, who recommended we talk. This introduces a shared connection, validates my inquiry, and creates a social obligation to meet – she wouldn’t want to disappoint Tim. Then I gave my bona fides, and shared why I am looking to her for advice. I finish with a request for a quick meeting.

No where do I ask about roles with her company, even if it is my dream employer. My goal is to learn from her and to introduce her to my dreams, so that one day, when she’s in a meeting and her colleagues announce they need a mHealth manager in Vietnam, she remembers me and recommends that they interview me.

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