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Time for Learning

By Steve Jones,

Working in technology usually implies that have a need to constantly challenge ourselves to learn new skills and improve our existing abilities to get work done. When I started as a DBA, I could work within SQL Server, writing T-SQL, making backups, and managing security. As the product has evolved, I've needed to learn more about Active Directory to troubleshoot security, I've been called upon to cluster machines and implement replication; I've had to teach myself about ETL processes. There are all sorts of areas in which I've found it important to develop some expertise.

However time is short. With family, with work, with commitments in the rest of my life, how do I find time to work on improving my career skills while balancing my other commitments? Most of my learning time has been spent at work, slipping in learning time during a project or spending lunches educating myself, but I've also had to spend some time at night, practicing skills or reading about the intricacies of some feature.

Andy Warren has estimated that it really takes around 100 hours to develop some level of competence with a new skill. That's 100 hours in a year, which doesn't sound like a lot, but dedicating two hours a week to your career can be challenging. It's much less than the 10,000 estimate for expertise, which is good since most of us can't spare that much time to become an expert.

However is 100 hours too many? There was a TED talk I watched recently that noted you could learn a new skill, at an acceptable level, in 20 hours. I'm skeptical that this is true, and I'd point out that there is prep time to analyze a skill, learn something about it, and then build the plan to learn. Those items alone could take much more than 20 hours.

I'm not sure what a good level is, but I'm thinking to try this in my life in some area and see what 20 hours gets me. I'm also on a Powershell Challenge, which will probably end up being close to 30 hours, but I'll see how comfortable I am with the skill after that time.

Do you think you could learn something like Powershell in 20 hours?

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