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Keeping Skills Up-to-Date and Discoverability

One thing is always certain about information technology: there is always change. This past week I was pitching in on a Citrix upgrade for my organization and I went to tweak the web interface. Though I'm not primarily a "server guy" and directory services administrator, I do have a web developer skillset (in fact, that's how I got my start where I work now). However, it's been a few years since I've done anything but touch up work with regards to web development and initially I got that blank feeling... the one where you know how to do things but it's like your mind is cycling through the archives to pull back that information and bring it to the forefront. After a thankfully brief period of "brain thrashing," I went to it.

This experience reminded me of a .NET Rocks! episode with noted Windows programming guru, Dan Appleman. In the episode Mr. Appleman talked about the concept of discoverability. Quite frankly, IT has grown so big that no one can know it all. The key then is to know where to find the information you need to solve the problem. Facing this issue, he ran across Google custom search and used it to build SearchDotNet.com, a "search engine" which hits the sites Mr. Appleman, in his expert opinion, are the ones he'd want to search against for .NET questions. Rather than getting all the dross out there from everyone and his brother who might want to throw up a snippet of .NET information on a blog or web page, the search domain is intentionally narrowed to produce more usable results, thereby hopefully reducing the time to find a solution to a .NET related problem.

Sticking just to SQL Server, there is so much to it now that one person knowing it all seems less and less likely. SQL Server MVP, Kalen Delaney, has noted that there is a plethorea of topics for SQL Server 2005 in her introduction to Inside Microsoft SQL Server 2005: The Storage Engine, where she writes, "As I mentioned, even in four volumes, certain features and aspects of the product cannot be covered." MySQL is becoming much the same way. With each new version comes new features that eventually it's going to be like SQL Server, if it isn't already. You just won't be able to know it all. Finding the answer to a problem in either space then comes down to a discoverability issue.

The experience has reminded me I need to brush up on my CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) skills and I'll do that over the next week or so. However, I realize I won't be able to become an expert in CSS. However, I don't have to. As long as I know what I'm looking for and how best to find it, I should be fine. Web development isn't my core skillset any longer. Therefore, I can't spare the time to gain expert knowledge of it any longer. There's too much to keep with in Windows servers, SQL Server, and security to try and spread myself any thinner. Good thing I don't have to, as there are many, many experts who have given back by posting information that's only a targeted web search away.

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K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


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