Training

As a consultant and a software developer I find that training is the most important activity I engage in. To the point that it is worth giving up billable hours to regularly spend time training. The reason training is a first priority is that if you allow your skills to grow stale you will soon find yourself without hours to bill. It really is as simple as that.

Before going further, I should be clear about what I mean by ‘training’. Training to me just means either acquiring new knowledge or expanding existing knowledge. Besides attending a live class taught by an instruction, training can also take the form of reading or watching videos. There are other forms for training as well like attending meet ups and other gatherings where I can interact with other people who are either learning or are already experts.

The first part to training is figuring out what needs to trained on. There is the maintenance of existing knowledge and determining whether you should invest in it. For instance, I don’t spend any time looking at COM+, ASP.NET Forms or VBScript even though I used to be very good with all of them. I do need to keep spend some going deeper in to C# and JavaScript. For new knowledge, I’m learning NodeJS, Docker, OpenShift and ASP.NET MVC Core.

Having identified areas that I’m going focus on I next do some research to get a bit deeper in to the topic and figure out what areas I need to spend time on. For instance, with JavaScript I need to get better working with asynchronous processes. For Docker, I’m learning how to create service stacks and debug running services from Visual Studio.

With the areas of focus identified I can then look at the resources I have access to and make a learning plan. I’m a Pluralsight subscriber so I’ll usually search for courses there to see if there is something there that will meet my needs. I’ll also search YouTube to see what they have. I then do a general search for the topic looking for blog posts and articles. I’ve lately added EdX as a resource.

This part is what I call curating; I’m just gathering up stuff and not getting in to it yet. For blog posts and articles, I’ll skim them just to make sure they aren’t click bait or garbage. In the case of videos, I just add them to play lists or Channels (Pluralsight). Next, I break things up in to what is fast and what will take more time. A short blog post or article will get consume early. I’ve had cases where a two-page post was all I really needed. Next come short Pluralsight classes. Then YouTube videos. There is a big difference in quality between what I find on Pluralsight and YouTube. There are occasionally great YouTube videos, but in most cases, they’re from companies (Docker has produced some excellent material). I’m very quick to kill videos, especially long ones.

In addition to directed training I also do a fair amount of ‘entertrainment’ where I just watch or read stuff because it is interesting. I find DefCon videos to fit this category very well. I believe this is one aspect of training that people don’t give enough attention to. Three years ago, would you have known that Docker was going to be a big deal? I didn’t. I’d heard of DevOps but customers were not asking about it so I wasn’t paying attention. Had I been doing a better job with my ‘entertrainment’ I might have seen this stuff earlier and not find myself playing catch up. So my question now is: what’s next? That’s what the ‘entertrainment’ is meant to find out.

How much time you allocate to training is up to you and your ambitions. Just make sure you’re doing it and putting the effort in the right places. Also, make sure you have a way to look in to the future so you don’t miss out on exciting new developments (blockchain for instance).

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