When I interview developers for new positions, I frequently ask them questions about the latest happenings in the technology or language they are familiar with. On many occasions, the candidates say that they don’t know anything about recent releases. The reasons cited are lack of use at their current company and engagement with their present work leaving no free time.
I have heard this reason so many times now that I would say that it is perhaps the primary cause behind lack of improvement in developer skills. What does a person in this situation do? Here are some suggestions I hope will help:
- Subscribe to RSS feeds and email newsletters: Instead of having to go read content, make it come to you through RSS feeds. If you are just starting to read blogs, use a reading tool that integrates with your email so that you don’t have to remember to launch a separate application. Or subscribe to blog feeds that get delivered to your Inbox. Subscribe to email newsletters.
- Change your browser startup page: Make your main technology site for .NET, Java, PHP, Python, Ruby, etc. the default home page in your browser so that you are aware of the latest news and events. Nowadays with tabbed browsing, you can have multiple sites open up as start pages.
- Learn what you can during short breaks: Trying to find dedicated learning time can be challenging especially with pressure at work. Instead, use free moments that you can find to catch up on your learning. Keep your book or printouts at close hand. Multi-task at meal times with some reading. Stop creating timetables – instead do what you can when you can.
- Don’t tie yourself down with one learning style: Some developers think they can only learn by typing and running code. Don’t underestimate your brain power. Learn from different sources – podcasts, video, books, text, etc. Alternate between skimming and concentrating when learning.
- Communicate about technology: When you talk with or email your friends in the same field, introduce technical topics into the discussion. Sometimes, you can gain new insights and great ideas this way. Use your office meetings as a venue to discuss and learn new things.
A fundamental part of learning is to understand that the responsibility lies on one’s own shoulders. It is easy to find reasons to justify lack of knowledge – work pressure, employers, subordinates, stress, family needs, etc. But the problem is that ultimately, regardless of the reason, the person who doesn’t improve himself is the one who suffers. So start changing your outlook today.