Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What do I do to stay involved in IT?

In my opinion, one of the things that separates a "professional" from a "worker" is a demonstrated desire in learning about IT. The people who excel are always the ones who are reading about new developments, techniques and strategies.

In my case, I've always enjoyed learning about computers. I could keep my finger on the pulse of most of the IT universe 30 years ago. There was much less to keep track of and things moved much more slowly. As time has gone on, keeping track has become harder and harder to do. I still retain the simple desire to learn, but I don't always choose the most lucrative things to learn about. I'd estimate that 75% of the things that I've ever learned have not been put to good use.

In the 21st century, it's impossible to really "keep up" with IT. There is such a breadth of systems, applications, tools, languages, environments, hardware and software being created and maintained by millions of people that you literally can't know it all. Just keeping up with a particular area of concentration can be hard enough, and with the demands of "real life", I have come to believe that it's just a question of how quickly (or slowly) you fall behind on most of it.

I still read a number of blog articles. I follow about 25 blogs that are specific to SQL Server and about 170 sites that are IT related in some way. In the mid-oughties, IT blogs were a staple of my daily diet of news and information. I'd probably spend 1 to 2 hours a day reading posts. It seems that people are updating them less and less frequently and I find that there is a lot of rehashing of introductory subjects. (This is particularly true of things posted to LinkedIn.)

Since Google has announced the pending shutdown of it's Reader application, I've switched to Feedly. I'm  less efficient with Feedly than I was with Reader and Bloglines seems worse.The number of things I'm reading is down. In short, it feels like this area is dying out. I've decided to take this as an opportunity to find new sources of information.

I spend a lot of time on The Enterprise Cloud Site. There is a lot of comment there on how to best use "cloud" technologies (or perhaps how to avoid being run over by them). The site has a particular focus, and that focus requires me to stretch beyond my core competencies  The exciting part of cloud technology is that it potentially allows SMBs access to technologies that they would not otherwise be able to afford. The not-so-exciting part is that cloud technology puts pressure on the careers of administrators.

I listen to podcasts. Nothing really new here, podcasts are a great way to fill dead time. The interactive questioning between a host (or hosts) and a guest speaker allow podcasts to flesh out a topic in ways that a blog posting cannot. My favorites are:

  • The "SQL Down Under" podcast, which you can find here, discusses a wide range of SQL Server issues. It tends to run a bit over an hour.
  • The "RunAs Radio" podcast, which you can find here, focuses on a wide range of Windows administration issues. In addition to episodes dealing directly with SQL Server, there are also very interesting episodes discussing the virtualization of domain controllers, problems with passwords, hadoop on Azure, SharePoint, clusters, security issues and so on. These shows are about 30 minutes long and it is easy to listen to them even if they aren't 100% in your area of expertise.
  • The ".Net Rocks" podcast, which you can find here and focuses on primarily on Windows development. Listening to IT podcasts that are out of one's particular area of concentration can be useful. It's always good to see something through a different perspective. It's good to know what the programmers are going to be interested in and how they might want to use (or abuse) the servers under a DBA's care. (LINQ is the classic example.) The .Net podcasts can get into into some fairly arcane programming issues, so sometimes I'll cut them short or just skip them. They do pump out a good number of episodes, so it can still be hard to keep up with them.

All of these podcasts are available for free through the iTunes store.

I'm still (very, very slowly) working my way through sessions from TechEd North America 2012. You can find those at this RSS feed, via Channel 9. There are many presentations, often given by people involved in the development of the product, feature or service. These presentations can get into very arcane things that are entirely out of my scope. Even when they are within my scope, they may describe situations that I will never see. I have found a few gems  in there, like a presentation on the new features in Windows Server 2012 file sharing.

It's sort of old-fashioned, but I attend my local SQL Server User's Group. In my case, that is PSSUG. I will be teaching a class for the next few months. This leads to a scheduling conflict with the regular PSSUG meetings. I plan to switch over to the Philly Business Intelligence User's Group because it meets on a different night.

In the future, I'm looking towards refocusing towards more formal learning in the form of MOOCs and, after 15 years of database administration and 25 years of IT experience, I might actually get around to taking those MCSE exams.