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Professional Development

By Andy Warren,

I'd be willing to wager that most visitors to this site visit for one of three reasons; to solve an immediate problem, to learn more about a technique they plan to employ soon, or for pure professional development. Yes, all three increase your knowledge and depth, but the last one is more deliberate, has greater long term impact, and will be of most interest to your next employer. It's not that the first two do not have value - they obviously do. But if you want to grow to the top ten percent of your profession you'll have to do more than the first two!

Professional development is easy when you're starting out, everything is new and their are lots of new challenges. Five years later you've learned enough that truly new issues don't come along as often and it's easy to get a little complacent. Sometimes that complacency is offset by the excitement of a new version of whatever software you're working with, sometimes it's easy to look at the new features without a lot of excitement. It's also easy to get plain tired of keeping up with something that changes underneath you year are year.

Not nearly enough companies assist with professional development and when they do, it's often half baked. In a perfect world I think employers would do all of the following:

  • Continuously invest in books for a shared library (an initial funding of $500 and another $50-$100 a month will let you keep up with new topics & products)
  • Require each person to attend one conference or class each year (and fund it of course)
  • Subscribe to any magazines that seem pertinent to the technology in use, and maybe a few that are not
  • Conduct at least a quarterly 1-2 hour informal class (brown bag lunches are one way to do this) where the team can interact together
  • Provide each employee with the option to spend some time at work enhancing their skills either solo or in groups of 2-3, anywhere from as little as 1 hour per month to as much as 1 hour per week
  • Have someone available to help employees identify gaps in their game and suggest a method to fill that gap (mentoring/coaching)

Note that I said a perfect world. Funding is sometimes hard to come by, and time still harder still to find. For now think about how those things would benefit you, both as an employee and as an employer, and in an upcoming article I'll talk more about how to get some of those things done.

On the other hand, I think employees don't spend enough time maintaining and enhancing their skills sets. As an employer, here is what I'd like to see from employees as far as professional development effort:

  • A defined professional development plan that they consistently execute
  • Focus first on weaknesses that affect their ability to do immediate work, then looking beyond that for skills that make them more valuable long term
  • Use the professional development resources (large or small) provided aggressively

Again, an upcoming article will talk about how to do those things in more detail. For now, think on those and if you think I left something out, post a comment to this article.

What I hope you'll start thinking about today is whether you're growing deliberately or reactively. Reactive growth has it's time and honestly is probably always going to be part of your career in technology. It's hard to win if you're always reacting, and in my view it's tiring as well. Some days you just want to DO the work, not figure out why some bizarre thing is happening!

Now, time for you to start thinking about how you are today:

  • How much time do you apply to your profession in a week/month/year that is not in direct response to problems, projects, andchallenges at work?
  • Do you have a plan for continued professional development?
  • Does that plan include breaks so you can recharge?
  • Do you include a mix of reading, webinars, classes, and conferences?
  • Do you track your professional development time?
  • Do you wish you had a mentor?
  • Do you want to be in the top 10 percent of your field?
  • Are you reactive or deliberate?

I've got at least two follow up articles in mind, one that talks about why and how to fund professional development as an employer, and a second that goes into detail about how to build a solid professional development plan for yourself. Before I write those I'm hoping you'll give me some feedback, both on this article as well as how things are in your world today. Tell me what works and what doesn't, what you wish you had for training resources and assistance.

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