IT Pros and the art of constant learning

IT Pros and the art of constant learning

Terry Pratchett once said that he didn’t live life in the fast lane, he felt he was living his life in oncoming traffic. That’s a perfect description of being an IT Pro.

More than most other fields, being an IT Pro requires that you understand that much of the knowledge that you have today will be obsolete in a few years time. Some stuff, like IPv4 addressing might have a longer shelf life than other technologies like Network Access Protection.

(However if one hypothetical day enough people actually remember how IPv6 works, even knowing how to configure a subnet mask and default gateway may become something you don’t need to know anymore.)

The reality is that we don’t know which knowledge we currently have is soon likely to be obsolescent. Technologies fall out of favor. Some are cancelled. Others are replaced. The only way to keep current is to keep learning. We just have to hope that most of what we learn will have a long term payoff, while remaining realistic in acknowledging that a great deal of what we learn will probably be irrelevant in the not too distant future.

We’ve all worked with a person, usually early on in our career, who starts out with cutting edge knowledge about a suite of technologies, but doesn’t keep up with their learning. They learn everything there is to know about Windows Server 2003. They get all the certifications and own a shelf full of books. But ask them today and they can’t tell you anything about Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012, or the version that is coming out later this year.

They didn’t figure out that knowing about Windows Server 2003 was only truly a good thing until Windows Server 2008 came out. In fact one of the big reasons I believe that so many people are still running the operating system, which finishes end of support in a few months time, is because the people that manage the OS stopped learning about the newer versions. What technologists need to keep in mind is that they need to be cognizant of not just the technology they work with, but what is coming over the horizon.

Sometimes we know the person who reaches a point where they feel they’ve become an expert and that there isn’t anything left to learn. This is like a person who climbs a mountain and only realizes that at the top what lies in front of them are more mountains to climb. A problem with expertise is that it’s fleeting. If you don’t keep working at it, you won’t stay an expert for long. You also have to understand that strange things happen, and that technologies that seemed to dominate the market at one point may be irrelevant a few years later.

The best way to stay employed as an IT Pro is to keep learning.

But most of us don’t know how we learn, so whether or not we can be better learners is a bit of a mystery. Why do we remember some information about technology for years, yet forget other things as soon as we’ve finished using it to solve a particular problem?

I’ll talk a little more about how we as IT Pros learn and how we can get better at learning in the next post.

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