Sharpening The Saw

One of the best things about working in the software business is the high rate of change. Not only do we work with machines that radically change in capability every few years, but new techniques and technologies are constantly appearing on the scene. It is a fascinating new frontier that never gets dull.

One of the worst things about working in the software business is the high rate of change. If you only focus on your job and stop paying attention, you could wake up one day unemployed with an obsolete skill set. Keeping up to date is a lot of work, and it becomes harder every year.

Some skills hold up better over time. Solid work habits are priceless, and can help you advance your career even where technical skills are lacking. Work management, software design, and coding practises are good subjects to study as well; they don’t age nearly as fast as specific technologies, and they can make a big impact on the quality of your work. Unless you become a manager however, you’re still going to need to study technical stuff.

The only way to really learn a tool is to use it, so study at home isn’t always enough. Some employers will deliberately favour new technologies to keep skills fresh and employees happy, but this is not the standard. If your company starts to lag behind industry trends, you might consider changing jobs while it’s still possible.

There are some tricks that help me stay up to date: I listen to podcasts while exercising or doing simple chores. Public transit is a great opportunity to read while commuting. A smart phone helps me squeeze in a few extra blogs and tweets when I’m waiting for something. This isprimarily how Ifollow industry trends.

To learn specific technologies, I’ll spend an hour or two a few times a week reading or watching videos. I need to play with something to understand it, so I spend an odd evening banging away at some pet project.

My study used to be limited to an occasional book or seminar, but increasing my study time, and opening myself to podcasts, blogs, and twitter has made a huge difference in my career. I have more to contribute in design meetings. I have opinions on various technologies I haven’t even used. It takes more energy for sure, but I feel like I am a better developer for it, and I don’t regret it onebit.

This business is a challenging one, but exciting as well. If you are the kind of person that loves to learn, explore new technologies, and push yourself to constantly look at problems in new ways, then embrace the change and you will do well.