stay current on technologyWhere would we be without technology?  Most likely we’d still be battling with correction tape, typewriter ribbons, and carbon paper.  Thankfully, technology has advanced us and our profession well past that era. Now we can not only carry our laptops, iPads, smartphones, MP3 players, and more with us wherever we go, we can even connect to the Internet from almost any location we are in!  Working virtually has become much simpler and more mainstream using cloud computing and Internet-based collaboration platforms.

So how in the world can a person possibly stay current on technology?  This is a question I’m frequently asked, so I’d like to share several simple strategies you can use to stay on top of technology advances effectively.

Get your hands on the new technology as soon as you can.

Go to your local office supply store to test out display models.  Find a friend or coworker who can give you a quick demo of their latest gadget or device.

Beta test new versions of software you use.

Many software companies will offer a beta version of new software that you can demo or try for free even before the initial release to the public.  Test them out on your home computer so you’re already a proficient user when the upgrade finally rolls out at the office.  Most IT departments will look for internal staff to help beta test software for the company before it’s rolled out company-wide.  Talk with your IT staff and find out how you can be included in those opportunities at the office, too.  Volunteer to test it out at your desk first.

Utilize the free online training tutorials and resources offered by many software and technology companies to help get you started.

YouTube.com is also packed full of free training and demonstrations if you search for them.  Microsoft also provides extensive free online training for all of their Office suite programs. You know your coworkers are going to be asking you questions about the software when they start using it anyway, so get a head start and begin mastering it as soon as you possibly can.

Research software packages that you need to learn to remain competitive and LEARN THEM.

Consider website development training – basic website development, basic HTML, and blogging.  Learn how to utilize social media for business use. Almost every company is utilizing or shifting to web-based, collaborative platforms, and you need to understand how to use these technologies. Master the core Microsoft Office software programs, then dive into learning the premium suite programs that accompany it. If some of these skills haven’t shown up in your job description yet, it’s just a matter of time before they do.

Talk to recruiters and human resources professionals to find out what skills their clients are looking for.

Comb through the help wanted ads and job boards to see what skills are in demand for the types of positions you desire.  Ask your executives what skills they’d like you to develop further as you continue to support them. Better yet, assemble your list and give them some ideas of what you’d like to pursue and why.

Watch the events section of your area newspapers for networking events or open houses hosted by local technology service providers or community colleges.

I love to attend technology related events where I can see the demos and try it for myself.  A lot of times I’m the ONLY administrative professional in the room full of I.T. professionals.  Sometimes I feel very out of place. But I view scoping out the latest technology and resources for my executives so I can tackle it before they start asking me questions about it as part of my responsibility.  I’ll take feeling a bit out of my comfort zone any day over feeling completely ignorant when I’m asked a question about technology my executives need help with.

Subscribe to free newsletters or blog RSS feeds for technology based websites and publications.

One of my favorites is the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital blog at http://allthingsd.com/.  Two other great sites are www.Mashable.com and www.BusinessInsider.com which has a daily email called “10 Things in Tech You Need to Know”.

Technology touches everything we do in some way, and that’s not going to change.  The more you expose yourself to and use new technologies, the more user-friendly they typically become.  So don’t let technology scare or intimidate you. Choose to tackle technology intentionally.  When you do, the more fun and useful it will become to you in every area of your life.