In last week’s blog post I discussed the importance of being generally knowledgeable of technologies outside your specific technical expertise. As promised, this week, I’ll be expanding on this topic and providing various suggestions on how to gain this general understanding.
Note that this understanding comes in two flavors, general and specific. By general, I’m referring to trends within the computer industry, such as BYOD, Active Listening, Big Data, and new IT job titles such as Data Scientist. By specific, I mean technologies that directly touch your technology. For example, if you are a Java developer, you should have a general understanding of how databases are normalized, and how server consolidation in the data center affects your application’s performance and available hardware resources.
1. Be curious Being curious is the cornerstone of understanding the technologies around you. If you’re a technologist, be passionate about learning new things. If you are in a closely related role, such as Business Analyst, Project Manager, or Website Designer, learn how the technology works, not of course to the level that you can do it, that’s not your profession, but understand it well enough that you can intelligently talk about it.
Take note, that if you are not curious by nature, the suggestions listed below will most likely be of no value to you. If you are not interested and curious, you most likely won’t ask questions, do web searches, or be inclined to do the things suggested within this blog.
2. Ask questions As funny as it sounds, one of the best ways to learn about the technologies around you is to be curious as to how they work. If you are a software developer and hear a technical term you are unfamiliar with when walking through the data center, then ask what it means. If you work in the data center and a Project Manager says he/she has just taken a class on the Agile methodology, ask how it works if you are not Agile knowledgeable.
3. Create your technology bucket list Get organized by writing down the list of technologies you would really like to learn more about and haven’t had the chance. Then, each week, set aside an hour or two to investigate a different technology. This short review will by no means make you an expert, but it will at least give you a general understanding and little bit of technical depth on the topic.
4. At technical conferences, learn something new Next time you go to a technical conference, go outside your comfort zone. For example, if you go to a conference specializing in Microsoft technologies and you are a .NET software developer, go to a session on Windows 8 internals, SharePoint Administration, or Introduction to SQL Server. Unless the discussion is totally beyond your technical comprehension, you can pick up some great background information on a new technology (well, new for you). The beauty of taking this approach at conferences is that it can help you get your money’s worth, even during those specific session times when none of the offerings match your specific technical needs.
5. Volunteer for cross-department committees and new technical initiatives Yes, agreeing to participate in cross-department IT initiatives adds more activities to a probably already overloaded schedule, but participation in these initiatives can also give you exposure to technologies, business processes, and people outside your primary job responsibilities. This exposure, in addition to widening your technical knowledge, can also provide you with business contacts that can help you get promoted.
6. Do a web search using multiple key words Try doing web searches using your technology and other technologies within the same search. For example, if you want to learn more about C++ and its relationship with Windows 8, do a web search on “C++ and Windows 8”. If you would rather watch a movie than read a blog post add the word “YouTube” to your web search. I, of course, used Microsoft related products in this example, but this process, as I’m sure you know, will work equally as well on any combination of technologies and/or vendors.
If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.
Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.
Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.