Be a Lifelong Technology Student or Fall Behind
As a professional technologist, if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. Today’s leading edge product is tomorrow’s old news and the next day’s obsolete technical artifact. We have all seen it; yesterday’s high-end database server becomes today’s boat anchor.
Yesterday’s hot new software programming language becomes today’s unmaintainable legacy application because you can’t find anyone who admits that he remembers how to program in that language.
For better or worse, lifelong learning is a necessity for those in technical professions. It’s my belief that your technical skills have a two year half-life. That is to say, if today you moved into a cave and learned nothing about technology for the next two years, when you exited that cave, your then two-year-old skills would only be half as marketable as they are today.
This is the case because of new software product releases, newly created hardware devices, IT industry megatrends, changes in business needs, and the productization of newly discovered technologies.
As technologists we have two full-time jobs. Our first job is to perform the tasks required by our employer. Our second job is to enhance our technical knowledge in six general areas:
Vendor movement: Be cognizant of your vendor’s new product releases, strategic alliances, mergers, product line changes, and competition.
Base technologies: If you work in a base technology, such as .NET, Java, SQL Server, or other software development platforms, stay knowledgeable about new features, complementary products, and its growing or shrinking popularity as a development tool.
Methodologies: If you are currently using a standard IT methodology, such as agile, ITIL, or lean, get certified. It will dramatically raise your stature in the eyes of those using these best practices. Additionally, joining the local, national and/or online community related to the methodology will not only keep you current, but it will potentially create some great future contacts.
IT industry trends: Be watchful of ongoing and emerging IT trends. Not only will it help you become a more rounded technologist, it can also help accelerate your career aspirations by pointing you toward new and upcoming high-demand and high-paying skill sets.
Local job markets: Unless you want to relocate, continually travel, or work remotely, your local job market is your potential employment pool. Different cities, regions of the country, and parts of the world have different technical specialties and needs. Know what they are in your current job market.
Business industry trends: If your job is related to a specific business industry—such as the food industry—knowing the trends in your industry protects you from working on soon-to-be obsolete application types and simultaneously helps you provide better service to your business clients by better understanding their needs.