Staying Current & Staying Fresh in the Software Industry

As a software product development executive I place a high value on professionals who take the time to stay current and on top of emerging trends in their field. Recently I recruited and interviewed candidates for 2 project team roles for one of my clients, and in doing so reminded myself how much I value these attributes.  In one case a candidate had significant QTP automation experience (the tool used in his company) but nonetheless was very familiar with Selenium – an increasingly popular tool my client was planning to use for the project. In another case an information architect/UI designer had invested in understanding software development using the latest front-end web technologies in order to provide better UI designs.

As obvious as it may seem to stay current and fresh, not everyone makes the time to do so. When I’m interviewing, the candidate who makes the time and exhibits this passion stands out in the crowd.

One could call the act of staying current “continual self-improvement”. Or you could call it a career mandate. But I think it goes beyond that.

The benefits include:

  • Broadened skills make us more valuable to our current employer and to future employers.
  • Learning something new is energizing, and the new energy helps us do better on our current assignments.
  • Stepping out of the day-to-day often helps us solve problems in the present. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been at a conference or listening to a panel totally unrelated to a current problem. I’m trying to solve a technical or managerial problem and the solution just appeared to me. Seeing how somebody else approaches a problem can give you insight into how to solve your own problems.

Like everyone else, I am busy. When I am working on a big project, I am “all in” and it’s hard to allocate time to acquire knowledge that isn’t directly related to the project I am working on. But I know it has to be a non-negotiable part of my week and I know that the benefits will be there.

Fortunately it has never been easier to access the tools one needs to stay current and on top of trends.

The web has a plethora of free information including seminars, webinars, blogs, and LinkedIn groups. There are many interest groups sponsoring low-cost events.

Personally, I find webinars an invaluable tool. If there’s a topic I’m interested in learning about I sign up for webinars from 3 companies on the subject, and I can then triangulate the information into a complete picture, unbiased from the company who is marketing their wares. If you’re a software engineer you might be inclined to define a side project, to experiment with a new tool, technology or technique that is not directly related to your current job. Or implement some current work in a new language/framework.

The challenge is that there is so much opportunity for learning that prioritizing is key. Some good questions to ask yourself, to help you prioritize:

  • What emerging trends am I interested in that are the most germane to the next step in my career?
  • What knowledge would make me more valuable to my current and future employer?
  • What knowledge, if not obtained, will put me at a disadvantage or behind the curve in the next year?

There is a lot of opportunity to learn. So….know your priorities…make it a career mandate…take the time. It’s not going to be painless but the efforts will pay off in the end.

Our guest blogger is, Melanie Ziegler, president and principal at MSZ Consulting, LLC. A consulting firm providing software development leadership services that help software companies build high performing software teams and high performing software products. Melanie has over 25 years of experience as a practitioner in Software Development, including 12 years in executive-level engineering leadership roles in companies such as VFA and Advanced Visual Systems.

Melanie can be contacted at melanie@mszconsulting.com. Or on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/melanieziegler

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