On The Dot...
Talking about all things .NET related

The Importance of Training and Investing in Yourself

Thursday, December 29, 2011 12:26 AM

Yes, we all know that the IT field is ever-changing.

Yes, we all know the importance of keeping up to date on emerging technologies.

Yes, we all know that you may never have the opportunity to use a lot of those technologies in your day-to-day role.

So here is where the great divide comes…

Those that are believers that the responsibility lies with their employer to provide ongoing training, and those that inherently take on the responsibility for themselves.

The difference between the two views is that the first group will forever be stifled in their learning, because their training will be focused on those technologies that will be relevant to their current employer.

The second group will have some base knowledge or experience in “dabbling” with the newest technologies, whether or not they will be able to put it to practice in their current role.

When I first started out in this field, I fell into group numero uno. I was young, naive, and felt that I had already heavily invested in my education. I thought it was only normal for a company to extend that training when I became employed with them, because it would benefit them as well. Silly, little girl I was.

I realized quite quickly that it doesn’t take long to start falling behind, and to rely on your daily role to stay on top of the latest trends and technologies was unrealistic. I was fortunate enough to have worked within companies that believed in training and embraced it wholeheartedly.

The wake-up call hit me hard when I landed with another company that also believed in training, but much to my dismay, my immediate manager felt that I was not worthy of such training. So in this particular instance, I felt I was being stifled.

The backstory in this case: I had been with the company a couple of years, and the project at hand was to convert their web application suite from classic ASP to .NET. At this point, I was chomping at the bit to learn C# and all things .NET related, so I was very excited about this proposed redevelopment… in fact, all of the developers were. I decided to submit a formal request to my manager requesting approval to enrol in a course as a quick dive into C# to prepare for this new project. After submitting the email request, my manager walked over to my desk to discuss it face to face. The conversation went a little something like this….

Manager: I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you’ve been approved for training. The bad news is that your request for C# training has been rejected.

Me: What? What training have I been approved for?

Manager: Conflict Resolution.

Me (extremely confused): What about the C# course? Why is that not approved?

Manager (smiling like a fool): Because it’s not related to your job.

Me (confusion continues to escalate): Not related to my job? I’m a developer. How is that not related to my job? And why have I been approved for Conflict Resolution???

Manager: Well because you had a conflict with one of our Business Analysts.

Me (angry): There was no conflict. He tried to get me fired because he was getting frustrated with the fact that I kept finding holes in his design specifications. He filed a false complaint. HR conducted an investigation, and it was proven false.  Shouldn’t he be made to take this conflict resolution course?

Manager: Well, clearly he has a problem with you. So it must be something you did or said that caused him to hate you so much that he would file a false complaint just to get you fired.  So yeah, great news! You’ve been approved for training!

Yes, he was still smiling at this point as though I had earned a victory. Needless to say, I didn’t take the Conflict Resolution course. And I didn’t enrol in the C# course either. But from that point on, I did start investing in myself.

I started investing my personal time in myself. Spending an hour at home here and there, reading online… newsletters, forums, tutorials… the sky’s the limit and it was all free! I felt liberated by this epiphany (before you scoff, this was many years ago before online learning was commonplace… I had a closet full of old IT books to prove it).

I also felt like a bit of a jerk. Why had I been holding myself back? Stifling myself to only learn what I needed for the current project? Only to learn what my employer needed me to learn? I had done myself a disservice.

I soon invested in Safari Books Online and found it to be an extremely valuable and useful subscription service. For the price of two good books per year, I have access to books all year long…. and I don’t have a junk pile of old books growing in my closet. I don’t know how I ever lived without it.

That’s the point where I transitioned from group #1 to group #2, and I have never looked back. It wasn’t long after that, I moved onto a new company and met two brilliant developers who each served as a mentor to me, without even knowing it. They inspired me with the contributions they made to the IT community. I admired them and wanted to be like them “some day”, but knew I had a long way to go…. a lot of catching up to do…. a lot of growing up to do.

One of those mentors introduced me to a .NET User Group he founded and ran. I went to meetings sporadically at first. I was always torn between familial obligations and self-improvement. Familial obligations always came first. I finally resolved to make the time to go regularly and volunteered with his group to ensure I made a commitment to be part of this community. I looked forward to the monthly meetings because I always walked away having learned something new.  Volunteering with the group then lead up to being presented with the opportunity to serve as the User Group Leader for the current year. The skills learned that come with that can never be achieved through normal structured training.

For those of you in Group #1 that are reading this post, the point I’m trying to relay (after having veered off into story time), is that investing in yourself is never a bad bet. It will always provide an ROI for you in more ways than you can understand at the present moment.

If you’re looking for a New Year’s Resolution, try this one on for size. Invest in your training, invest in yourself.

Here are a few of my favourite resources to get you started:

Safari Books Online – constantly growing collection of online books from O’Reilly… me love them long time

Pluralsight – extensive online video tutorials in a variety of technologies from Beginner to Expert

MSDNif I need to explain what this is, then you’re likely in the wrong field

CodeProjectcommunity-based resource with useful code samples, articles, etc submitted by regular developers like you and I