I have noticed that some Finnish IT professionals are complaining that being just a good employee isn’t good enough anymore. These people argue that they cannot get a job because:
- Their work experience isn’t worth anything because they have no experience from technology X that is hot right now.
- They are too old (over 40).
- They have a life outside work and that is why they don’t have time to learn new technologies.
I could argue that these reasons are just excuses and these people just aren’t good enough. I am not going to do this because:
- I don’t want to be a dick.
- I am getting older (I am 36 at the moment) and if age discrimination is a real problem, I should definitely be worried about it.
On the other hand, I think that is stupid to worry about something and not do anything about it. That is why I decided to take my destiny into my own hands and ensure that I am still relevant when I am over 40 years old.
I give you five things I do to stay relevant:
1. I Learn at Work
I spend 8 hours of every business day at work. That is a lot of time, and I want to take advantage of this time. Does this mean that I spend all this time learning new things and ignore my work?
No. It means that I learn new things when I am doing my work.
My main priority is to keep my customers happy. The thing is that learning new things at work will help me to achieve this goal. This might sound a bit weird because learning new things takes time. Shouldn’t I spend this time working for my customer?
I claim that I can learn new things, work for my customer, and save my customer’s money (or provide more value) at the same time. I can do this because I am constantly looking for ways to work smarter. If I see something that helps me to achieve this, I will start using it.
However, this doesn’t mean that I make this decision lightly. I will evaluate the pros and cons of each new technology and use it only if its pros are greater than its cons. Luckily, I don’t have to do this alone. We have a lot of great developers and I can always ask their opinion when I need it. I don’t always like their answers but that is a good thing because it helps me to see things from another perspective.
Here are some examples of libraries/frameworks/programming languages that I have learned at work during the last three years:
- Backend: Spring Batch, Spring Data JPA, Spring Data Solr, and Spring Social.
- Testing: AssertJ, Hamcrest, Spring MVC Test, and Spring-Test-DbUnit.
- Software Development: software design, automated testing techniques, agile, and using common sense.
2. I Read (a Lot)
I think that if I want to stay relevant, I need to be able to identify “hot” technologies. Also, I need to improve my technical, business, and human skills. One way to do this is to read, and since I love reading, I read a lot.
At the moment I am reading:
- I follow relevant "news" sites such as Dzone, InfoQ, Reddit, and HackerNews. I won’t read every popular article or discussion but these sites help me to identify trends and see what technologies are “hot” right now. Also, sometimes I find an article or discussion that teaches me something new.
- I read interesting blogs. When I feel like learning something new, I open my feed reader and pick one or two blog posts that I read right away. When I am done, I mark all other blog post as read. The reason why I do this is that at the moment I have about 100 blogs in my feed reader and it would take too much time to read every blog post. Thus, I prioritize.
- I read 5-10 software development books in a year. I love blogs but a good software development book fulfils a totally different need. If I want to get as much information about X as possible, I read a book (or books) because it is a lot easier than trying to find all this information from the internet. Also, I know that this is a bit of old fashioned, but when I buy a book that is published by a respected publisher, I can trust that the book contains correct information.
- I read 5-10 other non-fiction books in a year. Although software development is a my passion, I am interested in other things as well. Typically I read books about entrepreneurship, marketing, psychology, product development, and agile “processes”. Also, I think that reading these books will make me a better software developer because writing code is only a small part of my job. I think that if I want to add value to my customers, I need to understand a lot of other things as well. Reading non-fiction books help me to achieve that goal.
3. I Write a Blog
I started writing a blog because it felt like a fun thing to do. I was right. It is fun but writing a blog has other benefits as well:
- It helps me to learn new things. There are three ways how writing a blog helps me to learn something new:
- The truth is that I write some of my tutorials because I want to learn a new library/framework/tool and writing a tutorial is a good way to ensure that I actually do it.
- Writing helps me to clarify my thoughts and often I notice something I haven’t thought before.
- I answer to the comments left to my blog posts, and since I don’t usually know the answer right away, I have to do some investigation before I can write a helpful answer. In other words, I learn new things by answering to the questions of my readers.
- It helps me to get feedback from other developers. I know that I don’t know everything and that I can be wrong. When I publish my thoughts on my blog, everyone who reads it can say his/her opinion about my thoughts. Sometimes these comments help me to understand that I am not right, and this is very valuable to me because my goal is not be right. My goal is to make people think and hope that they return the favor by leaving a comment to my blog post.
- It helps me to build an online presence and a “brand”. Let’s assume I am applying for a new job or trying to find a new business partner. What happens when these persons google me and find nothing? This might not be a deal breaker, but I think that my blog gives me an edge over persons who are otherwise “as good as I am” but don’t have a blog. I think this way because I believe that my blog "proves" that
- I can learn new things. If this person takes the time to read some of my older blog posts and compare them with my newer posts, he/she will see that my thinking has evolved.
- I am an expert in my field. This sounds a bit narcissistic but I think that my blog posts gives an impression that I know what I am talking about. If I wouldn’t write a blog this person would just have to take my word for it.
4. I Am Active on Social Media
I use social media for sharing the content created by other people, sharing my own content, and having fun. The social media "gurus" state that this should help to brand myself as an expert, but I have to admit that I haven’t really paid any attention to this. In other words, I don’t have a social media strategy.
At the moment I am using the following social media services:
- Github is kind of a no-brainer if you are a developer. At the moment I publish the example applications of my blog posts on Github and I use it to follow interesting projects created by other developers.
- Google+ is a bit of a mystery to me but I decided to try it out because having civilized discussions is so much easier when I can use more than 140 characters. Also, I really like Google+ communities because they provide me an easy way to find interesting content and have civilized discussions. I am also the owner of the Google+ community called Java Testing Society.
- LinkedIn is a place to be if you want to connect with other professionals. Although the recruitment spam has made LinkedIn a bit less interesting to me, I think that I can still benefit from sharing my blog posts on LinkedIn. Also, I haven’t used LinkedIn groups yet, and I am going to pay more attention to this in the future.
- Twitter is a great place to find and share interesting content. I use it mostly because it is fun and it doesn’t really take that much time. The downside of Twitter is that it is “impossible” to have civilized discussions because you cannot use more than 140 characters.
- Youtube is the place to be if you want to publish video tutorials (or watch them). I have published a few video tutorials but I have to admit that at the moment I want to concentrate on other things. However, I will record more video tutorials some day. I promise.
so, how does this help me to stay relevant?
I think that social media helps me to discover "hot" technologies and learn new things. Also, it helps me to grow my network and having a large network is useful if you looking for a job or a business partner.
5. I Work Out
I go to the gym three times a week and do aerobic exercise twice a week (I don’t do any aerobic exercise when I am on holiday though). I know that this sounds a bit excessive but it works for me, and that is all that matters.
By the way, there was a time when I hated physical exercise. At that time I was stressed out, I had very low energy levels and I had weird pain between my ribs. In other words, I was a wreck. Then I decided to start working out.
It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Now I am stress free, my energy levels have skyrocketed, and the pain is gone. I feel great and this helps me to concentrate on other things that will help me to stay relevant.
Is This Good Enough?
I don’t know what happens in the future. However, I do know that doing something is a lot better than doing nothing.
I admit that I am lucky because I don’t have to do these things. I can do these things because I enjoy it, and that is why I think that no matter what happens in the future, I can feel proud of myself.