Change and innovation are core in the world of tech and engineering. We’ve all heard the sound-bites, such as disruption, one of my favourites 😀 They are everywhere!
We can safely say, however, that behind every push for change there is a genuine desire to either improve what is already there, solve an existing problem or create a tool that will make life or work easier and better.
And even when the original idea is from a non-technical person, engineers and developers are very often those who make it happen. Because of this, the tech workforce is not only highly adapted to change, it is also driving it.
As a consequence:
If you work in tech and want to stay on the game, you need to learn to keep up.
This may feel a bit scary when you are starting out but, in my opinion, it is actually one of the best things of the profession. Think about it. How can you ever be bored when there’s so much going on? And, anyway, everyone will have to learn something new in order to stay afloat, at some point in their careers.
“How do I do it?“, you may wonder…
Well, I won’t pretend it doesn’t take an effort, but there are things you can do that will help.
1. Have an aim.
First of all, don’t try to tackle everything. There are too many specialities, fields, languages. Just focus on one or two instead.
If you are not sure which you prefer or are best at, it may help to have a look at the technology section of the Stackoverflow yearly survey, gathered from the replies of professional, student and amateur developers. It has a list of most used, wanted and dreaded technologies and languages as well as which are most commonly used together.
Another way of finding out which path you may want to take, could be starting a side project. Just for fun, but one that could be made live. If you build something that can potentially be used, it will make you think about all details and you will come across problems to solve that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Of course, you can also do that at work. A good job will provide you with plenty of opportunities to push yourself and to explore technologies, new or established, that you don’t know yet.
2. Stay curious, stay informed.
Build learning into your routine, even when you are already working.
This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down with a book or going through a course. They are both useful when you need to learn something from scratch, but there are more casual ways of staying up-to-date once you already have a base.
I really enjoy going to tech meetups and conferences. While there, it’s worth making the effort to talk to people, even when you don’t know anyone there (yet). Ask them what they do, what technology they use, how they use it, what they like or dislike about it,… It doesn’t have to be an interrogation! Those are just examples of easy starters that help break the ice and normally lead to really interesting conversations.
It’s also good to follow your favourite speakers on Twitter, specially those who tweet about tech. From them you can find out about the latest updates and what other professional developers are interested in.
Some global conferences are also lifestreamed and many are later published on YouTube. This allows you to watch as many times as you like the talks of conferences you haven’t been able to attend. As an example, here is the JS Kongress YouTube channel, but there are many more! The easiest way to find out about them is, again, following speakers and developers on Twitter.
Of course, contributing to an Open Source project is one of the best ways of gaining a valuable experience and going really in depth into a project. But this is normally a big investment in terms of personal time, and not many people have that.
Let’s not forget teaching, of course! After all, there’s no better way of learning something that having to teach it. So if you have a spare evening once a week or once a month, you can become a volunteer mentor with groups such as Code Your Future, Codebar or CoderDojo, just to name a few you can get involved with here in Scotland.
3. Make it a condition when job hunting.
When looking for a job in tech, avoid companies that do not allocate time for learning and knowledge sharing or that are not flexible enough to introduce at least a certain degree of innovation.
4. Accept the unexpected.
It could be due to events in your personal or professional life, both or neither, but it is safe to assume that the unexpected will happen and you may need to reconsider your path.
But you should also know that you will be fine in the end. You have learned to adapt and stay up-to-date and, in doing so, have gained a precious skill that will help you get back on your feet.
5. Love what you do.
This, of course, is the most important piece of advice anyone could ever give. If you love what you do, learning will not feel like a chore and you will get years of fun out of it.
Before I finish, I’d like to add a word of caution for all of us.
Sometimes in this job you may feel like you are on top of the world, specially if you work with cutting edge technology. Do not let the adrenaline ride take over!
It may not always seem like it, but each one of us plays a role in the machine. As software developers and engineers, we can influence how technologies are used and the conversations around them.
Think Cambridge Analytica.
Do not fall asleep on the job.