As the source for one of the biggest (if not the biggest) IT certification programs around, I follow the activities and output from Microsoft Learning both closely and carefully. This past weekend, I ran across a blog posting from an old friend and former Novell colleague, Lutz Ziob, the General Manager of Microsoft Learning. It recounts his musings in the wake of his attendance at the Third UNESCO International Congress on Technology and Vocational Education, held in Shanghai in mid-May. He makes the point that "learning how to learn" is essential for those who work with technology, not only because it changes constantly, but because so many new things come along that entire industries (and the jobs they provide) often appear out of thin air while we're not looking.
The blog post is entitled "Reflections from the UNESCO TVET Conference," where TVET stands for Technology and Vocational Education and Training. In that post, Ziob cites an un-named IDC study that states the following:
Photo of attendees at the Shanghai TVET Congress
This leads him to raise the very real and serious question: "How do we prepare young people for occuptions yet to be invented?" To illustrate his point, he explains how he had difficulty replacing headlights in his car because neither he nor his usual repair facility had the right tools and software to properly calibrate the "smart lights" that automatically track the road while driving at night (it takes more than spare parts and a screwdriver to replace the lights--proper diagnostic software and hardware is definitely required). He also reveals that his dentist now uses 3-D printing to craft custom dental crowns for his patients during a single office visit, rather than taking an impression and using a temporary crown on the first visit, then emplacing the permanent crown on a second visit (lucky guy, he)! And finally, he explains how "ordinary" plumbers and pipefitters must increasingly work with CAD design and display systems to manage the pipes and fixtures they work with everyday. In every case, some training and skills development in computerized tools and systems is needed to "do the job."
The point, of course, is that all of us must keep advancing and improving our technology skills and knowledge at every stage in our careers. This makes my earlier phrase -- namely "learning how to learn" -- a key ingredient for nearly every worker in every imaginable profession, and doubly crucial for those who work on technology's cutting edge, as is inescapably the case for information technology.
That's why building and implementing a regular and ongoing course of study, learning, and certification or more formal education (additional or advanced degrees, certificate programs, and so forth) is so important for those in our field. If you want a long and positive career, you must prepare yourself for lifelong learning. If you want the same for your children or those behind you on the career ladder (colleagues, subordinates, trainees, and others), you must prepare them to shoulder this responsibility with joy and verve.
Think of it this way: "What's new?" is no longer just a common conversational gambit. Knowing the answer to that question is now and forever more the key to continued employment, and an important ingredient in achieving career success.