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Kent Brown Keepin It Real


Is it just me getting old, or is it getting harder and harder to keep up these days? 

From an industry point of view, it seems to me that the waves of new technology keep coming faster than ever, but the adoption rate isn't quite what it used to be.  Maybe it never was what I thought it was.  I guess I always enjoyed trying to stay on the cutting edge and wrote off people that didn't as lazy or no fun.  It just seems that post the dotcom bust, companies are a lot more cautious about taking on new technologies. 

But it's not just the companies, who have a legitimate business need to do the cost/benefit analysis before rushing in, who are dragging their feet.  It seems I see more developers these days writing off the latest cool thing they don't have time to learn yet as unimportant.  Or too risky or just too hard.  How many projects have you seen on WF, or WPF, or WCF, which have been out for a while now?  How many developers do you know who are all over VS2008, which is supposed to RTM by the end of this year?

I've seen brand new development efforts, where developers have a lot of leeway to choose the technology, but they are hesitant to try WCF, instead opting for ASMX because it's tried and true.  Either they are content with what they already know, are suspicious of the value of the latest and greatest, are scared of the risks, or are just too tired to learn something new.  In a way it's good that developers have "matured" and consider the risks and business value instead of rushing starry-eyed into the next wave of technology.  But it's sort of strange to me, and a little sad, because the pedal-to-the-medal optimistic mentality of most developers has always been what drew me to software development in the first place.  Let the managers reign you in.  But developers should chomp at the bit to push forward!

On a personal level, I had noticed myself slowing down just a bit as well (I've been in software for about 19 years).  I need to specialize in something (for me it's BizTalk/WF/WCF, basically middle-tier technologies).  So I have to choose wisely how I spend my limited cycles for learning (and how I direct the team of developers I lead).  How can I possibly be an expert in BizTalk, WCF, WF, CardSpace, SharePoint, InfoPath, LINQ, Silverlight, SQL Server Analysis Services, SSIS, etc.?  Not to mention the myriad of LOB and legacy systems an integration expert should know.  These are the full range of technologies I've seen opportunities in over the past year.  So obviously there is a place for choosing wisely or you'll be spread too thin. 

But if you don't watch out, an insidious overly-cautious, lazy mindset can creep in.  If you lose that wild-eyed youthful attitude that "I can learn anything with a good book, a running environment, a free weekend, and a few pots of coffee" it's not too long before you are sneaking around afraid a new technology is going to bite you.  Pretty soon you've become that crusty old COBOL developer you always said you'd never be like.

Lately I've been inspired to jump back in the fray and start drinking from the firehose again.  Partly it’s from necessity.  Partly being inspired by some energetic young guns on my team. 

I relate it to keeping in physical shape.  If I get out of shape, the idea of running a mile or so is a nasty thought, quickly expelled by the click of the remote to a new channel.  But if I dig in and start training for a few weeks, I get back to a point where my body craves the workout.  Rigorous exercise seems to inject more energy into my body and mind than it demands.  In the end I find I attack life more aggressively and positively when I am in good physical shape.

The same effect occurs when I shed the FUD in my mind of learning new technology and jump in with both feet.  Lately I've dug deeper into WCF and WF.  I've done some programming with LINQ.  I've been watching videos on VS2008 during my commute, even going into the areas that are not my core focus.  And I've been forced by different client-driven scenarios to learn and build POCs on several new technologies.  There is still a large stack of StuffIReallyNeedToLearnSoon, but the juices are flowing.  I'm back in the optimistic aggressive mindset that drew me to software development and helped me succeed in the first place.

I am interested in comments about ways people stay sharp out there.  As an architect or manager of developers, do you commit a certain amount of time each day to doing hands-on work?  As a developer, do you spend a certain amount of off-hours time keeping pace?

Posted on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 8:12 PM Rant | Back to top

Comments on this post: Drinking from a firehose

# re: Drinking from a firehose
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When I entered the industry all you had was a 3GL; COBOL, Fortran, BASIC, Pascal or C. The learning curve was minimal. You could truly master a language and after that it was pure creativity. Fast forward to 2007 and things are vastly different. You can't master anything; everything is too large and changing too fast. Did you master .NET remoting? Ha-ha; the joke's on you! Have you browsed the .NET framework class library lately? It's HUGE!!! Try writing an app using WPF, WCF, WF, and CardSpace. A lot of the fun is gone because you spend so much time trying to figure out how to use all this stuff instead of being creative.
Left by David Douglass on Nov 14, 2007 7:30 PM

# re: Drinking from a firehose
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How true....I have noticed many blogs on this very topic recently - with global information sharing via the web, online tutorials, open source, etc - there has never been a better time to be a developer - you can truly learn anything about any topic from your desktop but yet the challenges of maintaining your core competency seem to grow as well. My own habits? I like to dedicate 2-4 hours each week - if I am about to go home at 5:30 PM - I'll stay another half-hour to catch up on RSS feeds - and I like to spend about 2 hours each Saturday morning working on a pet project involving learning something new....this is my version of "Google 20%" time - in the end, its up to me to stay relevant, competent and motivated - but thats what makes us so valuable in the workplace - if it were easy to become an expert, it would be hard to get ahead. Good post.
Left by Brad Osterloo on Nov 16, 2007 5:23 PM

# re: Drinking from a firehose
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Hi Kent,

Good post!!!

Given a plethora of technologies that we have at our disposal and developers like us suffering from what I would term as 'time poverty', there is not a whole lot that one can do if one wanted to be an absolute expert in all that is out there. I do think, however, that if planned well coupled with a goal setting mentality and a culmination of determination, one can still be a jack of all trades and master of some. Of course, this would come at a price.

As a wise man said, "There is not enough time for everything in this world, but there is always enough time for the most important thing."

Cheers mate,

Left by Obi Oberoi on Jan 03, 2008 4:07 PM

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