The Learning Curve - 5 ways to Stay Ahead

Andrew Connolly 22.07.2015

A career in IT is highly attractive for many, and the reasons for that are clear. But a challenge remains in staying engaged and continuing to learn throughout your career. These are 5 approaches to this that I have observed in highly successful and engaged IT professionals who have spent many years in the industry.

So, you’re an IT professional. Congratulations! You are a valuable, gainfully employed member of an industry that is hailed, rightly so, as a key sector of the future and one of the brightest career paths you could choose.

The possibilities of your day to day is endless; Maybe you’re designing highly scalable, distributed applications with Scala and Akka. Maybe you’re deploying apps using Continuous Integration through Jenkins and Git, pushing them to AWS. Maybe every day, you’re building further expertise in Java or .Net, and using those skills to build robust applications in one of a never ending number of industries. Maybe you’re managing the entire project, or designing the UI, you’re working on application security, developing mobile apps for smartphones, tablets, watches or how many other screens, you’re spinning up Selenium one more time and finding the last niggling bug, or you’re in the background, the sysadmin making sure the lights stay on..

As I said, the possibilities are endless.

Maybe for you, the draw of this industry was your love for the work. From the time you first time you got your hands on a blocky, slow, Windows 98 machine (maybe even earlier, god bless you), you’ve known this was for you. And I hope so! This kind of passion is a fundamental building block of a fulfilling, rewarding career.

But what now? Has your desire to learn and develop been sated?

In my experience dealing with developers and all other IT professionals at any stage of their career, the answer is generally “no”.

There is always another language or tool to discover. Maybe your interest has transcended the constant waves of “new”, maybe you view them as passing fads, and you’re interest is now in high level design, system architecture, performance tuning or code optimisation. Maybe it’s in people; in communication, in leadership, in seeing your team drive and push and finally make that last “optimistic” deadline, or maybe you want to find a product that inspires you, and work night and date to bring it to life.

So how do you keep this fire, and thirst to learn? How do you keep on top of developing trends? How do you avoid becoming the dinosaur of the office, forgotten, in the corner, muddling away with your out of date tech (I’m looking at you FORTRAN)?

Here are some tips that I can suggest, based on my experience working with men and women further down their career paths, who have kept things interesting and are still at the top of their game.

Work with good people

When I’m speaking with accomplished, successful IT people, I’ve noticed that many speak about their colleagues and friends as being integral in why they are still learning, and why have developed the expertise they have. No one is an expert in everything, so working with people that challenge you and complement you in completing the task you set out to complete is very beneficial. 

Challenge Yourself

You may have had recruiters in the past ask you about any personal projects you may be working on. For me, this question is as relevant to the grad straight out of college as it is for the Principle Developer with 10+ years experience. 

Take what you are passionate about dig in a little deeper. Develop an app for Android Wear. Mess around with AngularJS, or Ruby, or Clojure and do something interesting. Get on Git and contribute to some open source projects. Take a problem you have every day, and solve it with code. You will reconnect with why you got into this career and maybe open another avenue professionally in the future.

Go Where your Voice is Heard

Work environments where experimentation and discovery are facilitated, or maybe even fostered, are very valuable. Maybe Google’s “20%” time is the extreme version, but if you work somewhere where you’re exposed to new tech and new ways of doing things, take advantage of it.

If you don’t work in an environment that is, think about finding one another. 

Use the Resources Available to You

This can be documentation on old projects in work, or it can be an online course in Machine Learning on Coursera, but there is always another source of information you haven’t seen. Online courses are becoming more respected among hiring managers, and certainly are indicative of an applicant's interests outside of their day to day job. 

For you, pursuing this curiosity in a more structured way may be more engaging, and prevent those half finished, half baked pet projects continuing to pile up.

Begin As you Mean to Go On

Bad news for the 15+ years developer who discovers he hates computers...

I feel slightly mean including this as the last point, but in my experience, the best way to maintain a healthy career progression, to stay engaged and to reach real levels of achievement is to get into IT or technology for the right reasons. Discover a passion for something, pursue it independently and then move into a professional setting which allows you to work on it. 

Obviously your passion can change over time, and so you will move with it. This might mean anything; from moving into some previously undiscovered (or non existent) area of IT, to focusing on your people skills and management ability. An excellent, and maybe underappreciated, benefit of a career in IT is the scope of the industry, which is only expanding.

These are exciting times, no doubt, and the challenge of staying engaged, and ahead of the curve, is up to you.

A central tenet of what we do in Morgan McKinley, for myself, the IT team and whole company, is to work with people from their first job out of college throughout the rest of the career. To act as a “Career Ally”, if you will. 

If you feel as though your passion may be waning, or just that there might be something better out there, than maybe it's time to consider a change.

Please get in touch with any of our consultants. We will be more than happy to have a discussion about how we can help you in the next step of your career.



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