ABL: Always Be Learning

If you have been in the IT field for any length of time, I’m sure you have heard the phrase “Always Be Learning”.  If you want to be successful and make the big bucks, you are going to have to devote a certain amount of hours each week to learning.  Chances are, what you know now will be obsolete in a few years.

For me, that is what makes my career so interesting and so much fun…I am always learning new stuff.  In any job I have had, if I was not constantly learning something new, I became bored.  Learning is fun.  I always need to be able to add another bullet point to my resume.  It’s not that I’m always looking to leave, it’s just that I don’t want to feel like I’m falling behind.  You should have a boss that understands that the more training they give you, the more you will enjoy the job and want to stay.  And the more you know, the more efficient you will be and the training will easily pay for itself in no time.  If your boss won’t allow you training because he is worried that if he gives you training in the latest and greatest stuff that you will just leave, then he is misguided.  I like that saying “what is worse: training an employee and he leaves or not training an employee and he stays”.

I am always thinking, “If I am laid off tomorrow, do I have the skills to find another job quickly?”.  Knowing you have those skills gives you piece of mind.  And never think you job is “safe”.  Throughout my career I have seen many people who thought they would never lose their job, so their thinking was why bother to learn something new?”  First off, to advance your career, you will have to leave your current position one day.  You will never get a 30%+ increase in salary from your current position, but you can if you take another job.

Second, a quick story to shoot down that idea that your job is safe:  My first “real” job was in the late 80′s for the government.  It was with a company that had a contract to run the Nevada test site.  They had the contract for 30 years.  There were many people there who were with the company for over 20 years.  They never bothered learning any of the new technology because they felt the company would have the contract forever and they just needed to know enough for their current job.  Well, guess what?  The company lost the contract and most were laid off.  Many of them spent many months looking for work and usually had to settle for something well below what they were previously earning.  The moral of the story is don’t ever think your job is 100% safe.  At any moment, your company can be bought by another and the whole IT department can be let go.  I have seen it happen plenty of times.  Do you want to be the one saying “Oh no, I’m going to have a real hard time finding another job” or the one saying “No problem, I make a few phone calls and I will have another job by next week”.

So how do you keep your skills current?

Every time I thought “Well, I think I now know product xx pretty well”, then bam, a new version comes out with a whole bunch of new things to learn.  Look at SQL Server.  Just in the last few years, in addition to all that is involved with the main engine, Microsoft added SSAS, SSIS, SSRS, replication, clustering, mirroring, just to name a few.

So try to carve out at least an hour a day, and maybe a few more on the weekends, to learning.  Here are the things I do every day to stay on top of technology and keep my skills current.  Maybe you can do something similar:

  • LinkedIn Updates – Join LinkedIn asap if you have not already.  I read all the updates for the day, focusing on new blog posts of interest.  I usually visit the site at noon and then later that night.  I have tried to connect with every SQL Server MVP, known expert, popular blog poster, etc, I could find so I have a large assortment of updates and blogs to read (I have acquired about 800 connections in just a few months).  I have found LinkedIn to be the best resource for keeping my skillset up as every day I find something interesting to read and learn about
  • LinkedIn discussion groups – I have joined 50 groups, the max allowed, and receive weekly emails about each groups discussions that I skim, reading the most interesting topics.  Or read a forum like MSDN forum
  • Dice jobs – I receive a daily email of jobs that match my alerts to see how the market is for BI.  See my previous post about Dice
  • MCM video’s – I am studying to take the SQL Server MCM, and watch one of the many excellent videos produced by sqlskills.com.  They are worth watching even if you are not going to take the MCM
  • Other video’s that I watch - Brent Ozar, Pragmatic Works, Idera Webcasts, Idera SQL Secrets, PASS Data Warehousing/Business Intelligence Virtual Chapter, and Channel9.  Pick the one’s that sound interesting and try to watch 1-2 a week.  There are plenty of free videos out there covering any topic you can think of.  I especially like to watch videos on upcoming new products (i.e. Project Crescent)
  • Read blogs – There is a great list by Thomas LaRock of the top SQL Server bloggers.  I usually visit this page once a day and choose a different blogger to read.  I never miss a blog by Paul Randal and Brent Ozar.  Consolidated blogs are at sqlblog.com and check out this blog directory maintained by PASS
  • Write a blog – Have a blog that you update every few days. WordPress is great for this.  Here are the reasons for blogging and help on what to blog about.  What better way to learn about a new product that to blog about it?
  • Books – I try to read a chapter of a technical book each day.  Even if I read just a few pages, I feel like I’m making some progress.  Get them in PDF format so you can read them on your computer, laptop, Kindle, iPhone, etc.
  • Emails – I receive emails from these sources every day/week that I read: eWeek, TDWI, SQL Server MVP Daily, Business Intelligence Daily, Dice Advisor, Ask the Headhunter, Kimball Group Design Tips
  • Attend conferences – Get your boss to allow you to attend a conference like PASS (they have many events, described here), SQL Server Connections, TDWI, SQLBits, TechEd, Microsoft BI Conference and Microsoft PDC
  • Other people – Surround yourself with people who know more about certain subjects than you do and learn from them.  Take a few moments each day at work to ask another worker a question

Now go out there and learn!

More info:

No Substitute for Time, Experience, and Training

SQL Server Education and Training

About James Serra

James currently works for Microsoft specializing in big data and data warehousing using the Analytics Platform System (APS), a Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) architecture. Previously he was an independent consultant working as a Data Warehouse/Business Intelligence/MDM architect and developer, specializing in the Microsoft BI stack. He is a SQL Server MVP with over 25 years of IT experience.
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5 Responses to ABL: Always Be Learning

  1. tnk7200 says:

    wow, so many good resources. Thanks for sharing.

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