As we roll into 2014, many of you are wondering how to find the time to learn new skills to expand horizons and bolster your professional IT status. With the state of IT these days (read some insight in 2013: A Look Back and a Look Forward on the Technology Stories That Matter to IT) it's a great time to sit down and plan your future over the holidays.

IT is changing. There are many reasons, but the Cloud is the most prominent. To be successful and have longevity in your career, you need to adapt to those changes. The best way to adapt is to identify those IT areas that will be valuable to employers in the future, and dig in and learn about them.

Once the Windows XP scare is over on April 8, 2014, you'll want to enact your plan right away. No matter what major topic areas get the most focus in 2014, they will all be tinged with the Cloud.

The top areas to focus on are:

  • Virtualization
  • Datacenter Networking (infrastructure)
  • Software Licensing (Cloud subscriptions)
  • Automation through PowerShell
  • Microsoft System Center
  • Security (securing the connection between on-premise and the Cloud)
  • Mobile Device Management
  • Windows Azure

A few of the areas are very general, like Virtualization and Mobile Device Management, but remember, it's the non-conforming skills that generally provide leverage and help sculpt a niche. In return, you'll find your talents invaluable and irreplaceable.

The Microsoft Virtual Academy is a treasure trove of learning, providing the majority of those bullet points in the list, and should be your first stop when looking for training resources. The courses are free and Microsoft has done an amazing job developing them. The courses are informative, technical, and interactive, and even allow you to go at your own pace.

Here's a few important ones, available now on MVA, to get you started: 

  • Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center
  • Microsoft Virtualization for VMware Professionals Jump Start
  • Windows Server 2012: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
  • Getting Started with PowerShell 3.0 Jump Start
  • Advanced Tools & Scripting with PowerShell 3.0 Jump Start
  • Operating and Managing a Secure Windows 8 Environment
  • IT Service Management with System Center 2012 R2
  • Private Cloud Computing and Infrastructure Management
  • Private Cloud Licensing
  • Introduction to the Microsoft Private Cloud
  • Windows Azure Security Overview