Need to decide which computer skills I need
March 5, 2009 8:28 AM   Subscribe

What computer skills should I acquire to be relevant today? Dreamweaver? HTML? Flash? I don't even know what the options are!

I'm not old (30something), but I didn't grow up with computers. I taught myself Basic from a book as a kid, tested out of that class in high school, and never took another class like that again. I learned MS Office on the job and have always had admin jobs that didn't require any programming or more involved computer skills.

In order to be relevant, it seems employers want more knowledge than I have to offer. Everyone wants either design program experience (I'm not a designer, but nowadays they expect an office coordinator to get involved, it seems) like Adobe Creative Suite, or web-related experience.

My question: if I want to work in marketing, small-business sales, etc., should I take a class in web design? Which programs should I know? Do I need to know HTML? (I don't even know basic HTML tags)

Every business has a web site, Facebook page, Twitter account...I can use those things, but I can't create them. Is taking a class the way to go? Or are there books you can recommend that are better? I'm actually quite comfortable with computers and a pretty quick study. But I won't lie about my skills and try to fake it as I learn on the job.
posted by cherie72 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
if I want to work in marketing, small-business sales, etc., should I take a class in web design?
It depends. Are you intending to work in sales or development? Certainly, it's nice to work with a marketing/sales person who has some basic understanding of the work involved in web design and development, but I can't see the need for a sales person to learn all the major tools used by designers and devs. Down that path much tension lies.

It sounds like you are running into employers who are looking for a jack-of-all-trades. Someone who can do everything in the office...from marketing and sales, to web design and development, to web master. It's becoming very common.

It's amazingly difficult to stay current on all the relevant software and technology today, unless you are actively working in the field on multiple projects, immersed on a day-to-day basis. Basically living and breathing the job. Jumping over from an unrelated field, while doable, will most likely end up with you starting way behind the curve and constantly playing catch-up. This is not meant to discourage you, just an honest accounting of reality. Even as you take classes, what you are learning, while applicable, will quite possibly be outdated by the time you're done.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:44 AM on March 5, 2009

- MS Excel (learn it inside and out)
- HTML (both hand-coded and using tools like Dreamweaver)
- basic graphic design and photo editing (Adobe's products if you can afford 'em, GIMP and Inkscape if you can't)
- simple non-programming IT skills might be useful too, like knowing how to set up small networks and manage shared drives
- knowing how to interact with databases might be helpful, but if you're looking for a sales or marketing position you probably won't need to learn it
posted by xbonesgt at 8:47 AM on March 5, 2009

Modern webpages can be pretty complex things, with server side code accessing databases and client side ajax interfaces making things user friendly and flashy.

I don't think your goal should be to learn how to do all of that (unless you want to make web sites for a living), but learning about how it works can be helpful. Learning about HTML and CSS for basics will give you a leg up to talk to anyone who will be developing complex sites with you. I wouldn't start with developing flash apps or server side scripting unless you're planning to be a programmer.

On the other hand, if you learn basic HTML and CSS, you could modify a website template and update it for a specific company. This might be a good solution for small businesses who have a website and simply want it maintained (assuming the website isn't database-driven).
posted by demiurge at 8:49 AM on March 5, 2009

I think it todays economy being able to automate things using techology sets you ahead of the pack, since you would be seen as being focused on efficiency (eg. do more with less).

What does that mean really? Well for starters I'd look into areas that deal with scripting and parsing. Since you've already shown some interest on the programming side of the spectrum (rather than the support side), you may want to get acclimated with visual basic, batching (ms-dos style), macro'ing (autoIT, etc), PERL (for parsing). These types of things can help you build a strong foundation for dealing with all the data and procedures you'll encounter later on, whatever specialization they may be, with greater efficiency.
posted by samsara at 10:03 AM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

what kind of marketing?

perhaps you should take a sort course in marketing, find what you like and then develop the relevant computer skills for that market.
posted by gonzo_ID at 10:21 AM on March 5, 2009

If all you know is Excel and Powerpoint, with a smattering of Project, that will take you a long way in marketing/sales. If the job is actually, you know, building websites, then that changes everything.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:33 AM on March 5, 2009

The question is, what do you want to do? If you have been doing admin tasks for most of your career, it really is quite a change going into marketing.

Unless you are passionate about marketing, it makes little sense to learn these tools.

Instead, imagine where you want to be in three years, and then try to determine the path to get you there.

In three years you will be in your mid-thirties, which is pretty long in the tooth for a marketing coordinator.

Most people at this age are moving into management. Managers typically hire staff who keep up with the technical tools, while managers focus on managing.

On the other hand, some people don't want to be managers, and instead wish to hone their creative skills and provide real value for clients. If this is what you want to do, you should take some marketing courses, and some basic design courses.

You may also think about becoming a project manager. It's not much different than being an admin, except you have more responsibilities, the admin is more complex, and you also have to somehow drive projects forward.

But, at the end of the day, what do you really want to do, and how will you get there?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:35 AM on March 5, 2009

It really, REALLY depends on what you want to do. The tech requirements for marketing and sales are all over the board; it could be anything from web design to database management to I don't know what (I'm not in marketing or sales). I would think that sales would require Excel and Access at the very least, as well as Word.

That said, look up what jobs you want to do, and see what they require. I don't think marketing and sales would require that much computer tech; usually that would go under web design or IT or software development. Something like that.
posted by curagea at 11:51 AM on March 5, 2009

I'm not sure what kind of job you want, so I'll randomly pick one: super-admin with sales and marketing responsibility for a small business. In that case, you would be appealing to potential employers if you could say "I can keep the copy on your website up to date, write a blog, create kick-ass emails for campaigns, and track your reputation on Twitter" or something like that.

The first 3 would require knowing basic HTML (I learned from a Visual Guide book) and some CSS--just enough to recognize what to change and to change it correctly. You would also want to be comfortable using FTP or other ways to update online files. The email campaign manager I use (AWeber) works best if you know some HTML and can upload and link to images. For all this, I would focus on learning how to use HTML and CSS to format text and position images. You would probably just need to know how to edit a template, not to create the whole thing from scratch.

Writing a blog can also be easier with basic HTML and CSS. Things like tracking mentions of a firm on Twitter just require the ability to enter a search term and subscribe to an RSS feed.
posted by PatoPata at 2:53 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

- Grab a copy of Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML and read it.

In order to be relevant, it seems employers want more knowledge than I have to offer. Everyone wants either design program experience (I'm not a designer, but nowadays they expect an office coordinator to get involved, it seems) like Adobe Creative Suite, or web-related experience.

What they want is probably not specific design or web-related experiences but just something that would distinguish you from the rest of the pack. I could think of several things that you could do:

- Get good in Office (Excel esp.). Really good! You'd be amazed how many quick office 'hacks' that could be done using excel. I would sometimes even use it as shortcut to dynamically build large number of queries when I'm too lazy to use SQL proper / scripting languages.

- Retrain and take a part time diploma in IT / computing from reputable schools during your spare time. It would give you a training path that is typically more focused, as opposed to you having to figure it out yourself.

- Build your own website following good design principles, with light to moderate contents on it (think: blog). You'd be able to put your newly learned HTML knowledge to use, and it would be a boost in your resume as well.
posted by joewandy at 9:50 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older How to tie a shoe   |   A very boring question about renting a car. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.