When speaking about development and advanced training in IT, the quote from Alice in Wonderland describes the situation very well”: “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”
And it is quite true, at least for programmers and other professionals in IT where a year never passes without a new version of a framework appearing.
But there are other IT jobs which are a bit different because their particular area doesn’t change as often – analysts, administrators, testers (especially “manual”), and managers for sure. But the idea of continuous self-development is fully applicable to them as well, just from a different angle – learning something new not “extensively” (“new versions”) but “in depth.” In these areas, one can and must constantly improve his Soft Skills: Identifying and collecting requirements, giving feedback, conflict resolution.
Not only do the design environment and frameworks change in time, but also approaches to software development. If in the past everybody used Waterfall, now most projects implement a more flexible approach to development – for example Agile.
Today, it’s not enough to just read a couple of books related to your area of expertise and have a few projects under your belt. To become a real expert, it is not enough to just implement projects yourself. You should regularly attend professional and industry conferences, discussions, and meetups. You should extend the geography of such events beyond you home country, and you will benefit from getting state-of-the-art ideas and knowledge from industry leaders.
Besides, you can get real opportunities for growth not only from your achievements but also from reviewing your failures, which is not always the case in books as authors are inclined to present themselves as heroes. Communicating with other people would be more useful – at a conference, for example.
Not every speaker, however, will be willing to face the audience and honestly tell them how he/she made a mistake. But as a rule this kind of stories are the most valuable. Therefore, whenever you attend a conference, you should network and communicate with colleagues, and not hide in a corner.
And of course you can draw out a lot of valuable experience from other people’s trials and errors at trainings conducted by experts, but it is often a rather expensive option.
Note that all the above refers not only to hard skills, but also to personal effectiveness, communication, and other soft skills. The latter are traditionally far from being “very good”, and for IT specialists it might take years to achieve any noticeable progress in this area, which significantly defines their professional success and recognition. Developing soft skills is hard work, requiring extra efforts.
How regularly should you do it?
There are a lot of options to learn new technology in the modern world: From reading books and watching free YouTube videos to attending professional conferences and workshops.
Many companies practice a horizontal extension of expertise through moving employees between units and functions. Today you deal with requirements, tomorrow – with tests. A team next door is implementing a new framework, and you may allocate 25-30% of your time (if approved by management) to join the team on a part-time basis and develop your skills.
You have multiple ways of acquiring new knowledge and skills, and the choice depends on your desire to learn.