Continuous Education

Howard van Rooijen recently blogged about the need for continuous education in an industry that is constantly changing.

Enterprise Software Development, in the Microsoft world, is becoming more sophisticated and more complicated. This is in no way a bad thing – at last with .NET we have a platform where good Engineering Practices can be more easily integrated into everyday working cycles. I’m a firm believer in Continuous Education, which is why I enjoy being a .NET developer so much – there is always something new to learn and the development community is one of the most vibrant in existence.

From: Continuous Education - what will you learn in the next 12 months?

This post reminded me of an essay I read recently by Scott Ambler (Becoming Agile) that listed becoming a generalized specialist as a key insight to becoming an agile software developer.

A generalizing specialist is more than just a generalist. A generalist is a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none, whereas a generalizing specialist is a jack-of-all-trades and master of a few.

From: Becoming Agile

To become a ‘master of a few’ is relatively straight forward, but still arduous; you seek out and internalize as much knowledge, and experience applying that knowledge, as you can for a given specialization.

Trying also to be a jack-of-all-trades is a greater challenge. Even if you focused only on Microsoft products and technologies, it would be easy to consume every waking hour trying to keep up with the Redmond info flood.

In Code magazine’s MVP Corner column, Julia Lerman wrote about the subject in a piece called Technology Overload. This kicked off an e-mail thread on an internal list about information overload for developers. Some people felt that if anything there’s more noise for developers to filter to get the information they truly need.

In April, Jeff Atwood wrote about taking a “Just-in-Time” attitude toward learning new technology (Keeping Up and “Just in Time” learning) to cope with this problem.

When I started on Team System over 3 years ago, the product team was quite a bit smaller than what it was by the time we shipped. I suspect that the body of knowledge for any product or technology grows exponentially for a linear growth in contributors.

In addition to the body of knowledge forming around Visual Studio 2005 Team System, I am now trying to keep up with a new body of knowledge that’s forming around the Orcas release and beyond.

It all reminds me of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoon that had a student asking the teacher to excuse him because his brain is full. At TechEd this year, it was overwhelming to think of the massive amount of information being conveyed in one week via keynotes, breakout sessions, pre-conference seminars, BoFs, lunch talks, chalk talks, product booths, the partner pavilion, TechEd bookstore, and more. It can be mind numbing.

How do you handle the constant flood of information about new (and existing) products and technologies?


Comments (7)

  1. Can Erten says:

    Reading the articles, rss feeds. I just make a quick review of the content, than if I found interesting I print it. Than read it whenever I am away from my computer, on the road especially. Hard copy reading is a lot faster than screen reading.

  2. Rob Caron wrote an interesting post yesterday about Continuous Education – the need to continually learn…

  3. Howard has an interesting post on continous education, Rob Caron has a follow up post with a few more

  4. MikeGale says:

    If you’re simply following and keeping up with other people’s designs and ideas this is a world that keeps you on your toes.  If you have your own projects (which are not on a main trajectory) it’s a lot harder.  The constant flow of new ways of doing the old things can (in the extreme) actually sink projects!!  That’s a whole new order of magnitude more interesting/frustrating.

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