How I (try) to stay up to date

I work as a software developer and it's an area in permanent revolution. Every day there is a new framework, a new paradigm to learn. Let's just say it's an area where learning never stops.

The pace of change is so strong that most people just give up and stop proactive learning. They are what Scott Hanselman labelled dark matter developers, people who do their jobs but are not seeking up to date knowledge neither engage with the community.

In order to avoid becoming one of them and stay motivated for learning I decided to do some changes to the way I learn. In this post I will share some of the techniques I put in place to help me be more productive. Works on my machine!

Timeboxing

The main change I introduced was to timebox my learning.

I run two weeks sprints. I choose a topic I have interest in and for two weeks I focus on learning as much as I can about the topic. No matter where I stand at the end of those two weeks, I move to the next topic.

This allows me to widen my T-shapped skillset, which is what I am primarily searching for, but I could also do multiple sprints whithin the same domain and explore, for instance, a new framework I wanted to learn.

Backlog

I maintain a backlog of topics I want to learn. A backlog is, in this context, nothing more than a queue of topics sorted by importance. I keep the most valuable topics at the top and the least valuable at the bottom. When I come across a new topic that I want to explore I just add it to the backlog.

This backlog is the base of my sprints. When starting a new sprint I go to the backlog, choose a new topic and off I go. Typically I get a topic from the top of the backlog as those are the ones that provide the most value.

Reading material

My main source of information is Twitter. I see the trends and find interesting blog posts, articles, videos, etc. I open the link from Twitter, scan it to see if it's interesting and if I want to look at it later and I archive it in my tool of choice. More on this in the tools section.

I also have a queue of books on my desktop. For a sprint I may choose a topic for which there is a nice book about. I just get it from the book queue and make it my sprint.

Taking notes

I started taking notes of everything I find interesting. In the past I didn't do it and, as I don't have a photographic memory, it was easy to forget what I read. Now I use a tool where I write all the important giveaways I get from the material I'm studying. And powered by the cloud I can refer to it anytime, anywhere!

Gamification

I created a points system to keep me focused throughout the year.

I defined that I want to achieve 500 points during the calendar year and if I achieve it I will treat myself with something cool.

Reading a book? 15 points. Writing a blog post? 4 points. Everything I do has an amount of points associated with it. I track progress and I will hopefully hit the 500 points mark at the end of the year.

Tools

Managing queues

For managing my backlog, book queue and tasks completed I use post its on my desktop. It's a simple solution that is very visible, which is what I need. I could have used other tools for it but I found that "far from sight, far from mind".

Desktop queues

Reading material

Almost all content I consume is digital and coming from the internet.
Whenever I want to store something to look into during a future sprint, I add it to a Flipboard magazine, which is a tool that allows me to aggregate web resources in categories I define.

Flipboard gives you a button you can add to your browser and when you find content you want to store, you hit the Flip button and add it to a magazine.

Flip button

When the content is flipped you can access it from any of their mobile apps or in the web interface.

Flipboard

Taking notes

All my notes are in OneNote. I have them aggregated by topic which makes it easy to go back and review when needed. And because OneNote is cloud based, I can access my notes in any of my devices.

OneNote

Conclusion

It's hard to keep up with the pace of inovation in the IT industry and frequently people feel overwhelmed by it. Instead of becoming frustrated I decided to bring more focus to my study.

The techniques I mentioned above work for me. I don't learn everything there is to learn but I get a good idea of what's going on in a wide range of topics.

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