At SQL Saturday #615, I had the pleasure of sitting through a session by Eugene Meidinger titled “Drinking From the Firehose: a Guide to Keeping Up with Technology.” His presentation brought to mind my earlier ‘blog article about struggling to keep up with technology, and he also mentioned a few things that didn’t occur to me. I won’t rehash his presentation — I didn’t ask him for permission to use it, and I don’t want to step on his toes — but I do want to mention a few points he brought up. (I was actually hoping he would have an article on this topic to which I could link, but I wasn’t able to find one on his ‘blog.)
The first point he makes is that keeping up with technology is impossible. He points out that “keeping up is ill-defined.” What, exactly, does it mean to keep up with technology? It’s such a vague, gray area. He mentions that you are never “done,” and keeping up is more an emotional issue than a goal. He also mentions that the rate of change is accelerating. How can you keep pace with something that is always getting faster? It can’t be done.
Eugene talks about what he calls “the contradiction of learning.” To add value, we need to specialize, but to avoid being irrelevant, we need to generalize. Personally, I’ve based my career on being a jack-of-all-trades, but I’ve also discovered that employers are looking for experts in a single area. That is difficult in and of itself. If you specialize in an area, who is to say that it will be relevant down the line? When I was in college, COBOL was a big deal, and many employers were looking for people who were well-versed in COBOL. When was the last time you saw a job listing for a COBOL programmer? On the other hand, SQL has been around for quite some time, and there seems to be no shortage of SQL positions. So how do you know which technology should warrant your focus? It’s hard to predict.
I don’t want to delve too deeply into Eugene’s presentation; it’s his presentation, not mine, and I don’t want to take too much away from him. (His presentation slides are available at the link to his SQL Saturday presentation above, if you want to read more.) If you ever have an opportunity to catch his presentation, I encourage you to do so.