Where, When, How to Gain Knowledge

In my last few articles, we have gone through some of the economics of IT: specifically, around the changes taking place in IT. My last article focused on the need to gain new knowledge in order to transform your career while IT is changing around you. That raises the question of how to gain the necessary knowledge, and not only how, but where and when. This seems to be the hardest part of IT—finding time to do everything you wish to do. So, how do you find that time?

Now my current career lets me learn new things, whether as an architect or an analyst. There is always a need to learn new things. However, not everything was always as clear cut. I had a day job that was very different from where I wished to go. More to the point, I just did not know where I wanted to go. This was long before virtualization hit big, and the trend for high-end graphics development was moving directly to hardware, with software handling non-uniform rational basis splines (NURBS) as the time. This was even before NVIDIA came on the scene. I was a developer, a graphics developer doing some pretty esoteric coding to improve performance of graphics libraries.

At the same time, this little-known technology named virtualization was just starting. First, they added daughter boards to run x86 within a Motorola MAC. Then, within x86 machines, three things happened at roughly the same time: bochs emulator, vm86, and the alpha and beta of the soon-to-be named VMware Workstation. I found time to play with all three of these possibilities. I always wanted to run whatever I wanted anywhere, any time. This was the start of that reality. So, what did I do? I took time during lunch to learn these new programs, to try them out. I even brought some home to try with other items, such as a few games and higher-end programs.

In essence, I found the time to play with new things, even if that meant cutting into other time I had set aside. I didn’t do it every day, but I did it enough to whet my appetite and to start looking into other possibilities for home. The key was that I had the drive to learn something new, the desire, and at the time, the extra time to do so. Now that I am older, I wonder where the time goes every day. Eventually, I found a job that allowed me to build out my own virtualization lab, to start to play with security by building my own firewalls. That opened the floodgates onto even more things I did not know. That happens even to this day.

My story may be like yours, or it may not be. To find the time I required, I made sacrifices in other areas. I did go after the knowledge I wanted to gain. I drank from the fountain that never ends. The community sees to that these days. Now it is much easier, I think. There are blogs and articles on nearly everything. Back when I started, we wrote for print magazines. IT has changed so much, and I struggle to keep up even now. Some days I feel like I succeeded, until I realize I still do not know anything.

How can you get started? You have to make the sacrifice to find the time to read something every week or day. Anything you are curious about. I read about dolphins for several years. It did not mean I wanted to be a marine biologist. However, it did allow me to focus on something completely non-IT related. I am still amazed by cetaceans to this day. If you are interested, do some reading, perhaps just fifteen minutes of your day. If you are really interested, download and start to play with the technology. I say download, but if you know the right people, you can even play with hardware. The community can help you refine your searches for knowledge.

However, if you do not find the time to grow your knowledge base, you may not have the knowledge to transform as IT transforms. Then you will be forced to drink from a firehose, and some people do not do well under pressure. At your leisure is a better approach. That new knowledge will drive your career in new directions as you bring it to bear against current problems.

When change comes, you really need to be willing and able to transform your role. Before this happens, build a community, read articles, go to a local user group or conference. Drink from the fountain of knowledge. Seek help from others. The list goes on. The most important thing is to find the time you need to learn. Then, find something that interests you.

I do understand that not everyone is able to initiate this sort of effort. However, if you are one who is, help those who are not. Become a mentor; provide insight, training, and assistance.

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