I got started in database work during an internship. I was asked to program some Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets to help a department. I was pretty proud of the mess I made, since it helped someone with scheduling. Another person noticed and dragged me over to work on some dBase stuff, eventually moving into Clipper and compiled code, even some basic event driven Windows work. This led to some Visual FoxPro and eventually a real database backing the application. The choices I made in moving from Lotus to Clipper to FoxPro to SQL Server (eventually) defined my career.
I was reminded of those times in reading about technology radars. I’ve seen a few of these from companies like ThoughtWorks, and we’ve even experimented with them at Redgate. The idea of a radar is it’s a living document that assesses risks and rewards of technology. I didn’t create one explicitly early in my career, but I’ve always been interested in reading and learning about lots of technology, with an eye on trying to decide how useful, popular, and valuable different things would be for my career.
There’s a nice piece from Neal Ford at Thoughtworks that says you should consider building a technology radar. Certainly if you’re in the business of creating technology you might want an organizational radar, but for your career, you might think about the technologies that are around you.
I didn’t explicitly build my own radar, but I did evaluate Windows v. Linux, betting on the former since I considered the overwhelming inertia from Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. I evaluated Oracle v. SQL Server, and at times I almost wish I’d have chosen Oracle (for the pay drawn working with a cumbersome set of tools), I’m glad that I went with SQL Server. I’ve enjoyed the product most days. There are other choices along the way, including my decision to sit too long on VB v C#, but I can’t guess 100% right. Even now, as I look at R v Python, both choices that are tangential to my work, I’ve thought for a few years that Python was a better choice. I’m glad it was added to SQL Server and I expect its use to eclipse R in a year or two (or three).
It’s hard to keep up. It can be overwhelming. Eugene Meidinger compares keeping up with learning to the stages of grief. It’s not a bad analogy, and I find many people someone on that spectrum, trying hard to figure out what and how to learn, not to mention finding the time and money to invest.
I do think that it is important that most of us keep up with changing technology, at least a little. The world is changing and while some, or even many, of us stick with the same job for a long time, I don’t know anyone these days that expects to never change employers. Having a variety of skills, being able to learn quickly, and most importantly, muddle through projects that you know little about are skills that will help you find your way in an uncertain employment situation.