Saturday, October 20, 2012

Keeping Your Knowledge Current

Lately I've been part of several discussions about keeping our tech skills up to date.  This post discusses my techniques for staying current.
  • Commit to spending time EVERY workday (and often non-workdays) keeping up with things. Everyone feels pressure to complete current projects on time... but we can't let that get in the way of maintaining our competency.  I personally spend one to two hours every day scanning various communities and investigating new things.  As a worker in the tech industry you can coast for awhile on your current knowledge, but soon you'll be wasting your time and the resources of your employer using old methods and technologies.
  • There are new libraries and technologies released daily.  Here is how I evaluate whether one is worth my time or not.
    • The easiest way is to watch how frequently it is mentioned.  If it's mentioned only once and not heard about again... don't waste your time.  If you hear about it over and over from multiple sources, especially over an extended period of time, you better check it out.
    • If you decide to investigate it, search for the "main" page about it.  Usually this is the product or project home page.  That should give you a quick idea of what it is about.  In your mind compare it to other similar products.  If it looks like something that may take off, read through the sites tutorials if they exist.  Also check for other blogs/sites with tutorials or discussions on it.  I usually put a product into one of three categories at this point.
      • This is cool! - I need to try out some actual code in the next couple days.
      • Interesting - Ok... I learned what it is.  I have that frame of reference.  Now I will wait to see if it catches on or not.  If so, I'll invest more time at that point.  
      • Redundant or not useful - Don't waste any more time on it.
  • I encourage you to find your own sources of the latest news and trends.  I have three main sources:
    • Hacker News - I subscribe to their RSS feed so I see every post, but if you are short on time just check their home page a couple times a day.  The most useful articles will float to the top.  Some people instead prefer reddit
    • Twitter - I was a latecomer to Twitter.  I still don't tweet much, but I have found it invaluable as a tool to follow some of the influential people in the industry.  (FYI... if someone consistently tweets irrelevant things that pollute my stream, they're gone.  Even if they occasionally post something great, I can't waste my time reading what they had for breakfast.)  This is who I follow.  I particularly recommend:
    • RSS feeds - I use Google Reader.  Here are the tech feeds I follow (probably too much for some).
Some people go to tech conferences as a way to stay current.  In my thinking you are WAY too slow if you are doing most of your learning at conferences.  That means someone else already investigated it, learned about it, prepared/submitted a talk on it, got accepted, and is now giving a talk on it.  That's often a six month or more lag. Ouch.

Employees in our industry are in high demand and we are usually paid well and have employment opportunities across the country.  Staying current is a small investment that justifies that luxury.

What are your tips for staying current?


  1. Can you post the RSS feeds again? Text file or links please. The linked you have has been discontinued. :)

    1. I use Feedly now, but I don't see a free way to export the list. Sorry.