It is not so long time ago, when I was asked how do I manage to stay up to date with so many technologies and how am I able to follow so many streams of news that are available each day.
The answer is simple. I DO NOT MANAGE IT, but I do the best I can. I do not think, that there is simple solution or single way to walk. I also doubt, that the path I am walking will work for you, but I hope you might find a thing or 2 useful and maybe you can try it out. Please let me know if it worked for you as well.
I was attending a conference somewhere in US, when one of the presenters I liked very much, mentioned to audience, that if we wanted to stay up to date with news and technology, we should better sign into Twitter and start to follow people, that know stuff. Even before the lecture was over, I signed into twitter and this presenter was the first person I followed. This was back in 2012 and since then I am very picky who I follow on twitter, since often it turned out, that person who is today sharing something very useful, is not guaranteed to do so tomorrow as well.
Since we do not have time to read twitter all the day, there is also limited number of people you can follow and read what they are twitting about. For me this me number is somewhere around 100 (give or take a few), though when there is important and big conference (which I am not attending), I am also overwhelmed with the number of tweets and I so not read them so regularly and I might skip forward a bit.
In the years I have learned, that also highly technical person or expert is sometimes tempted to tweet a lot about actual politics, which I am not interested about. Sorry colleagues and peers from USA, but I do not care about Trump and all his tweets or why he is again playing his favourite sport (despite his current wife being from city near me). However, this is not a reason to stop following somebody who with all his heart living and breathing technology. Luckily all modern twitter mobile apps have option of filtering. So I have set up few keywords to hide tweets containing them. And so I can stay more focused on topics I am interested about.
There is one more thing. When I find tweet, that is containing link to interesting pages or blogs, I save it for reading later.
Attending conferences sound the easiest to do, but it turned out that this is not so anymore. When you are starting your career path, you can fast find conference, where you learn a lot, but later it must not be so. I must confess, that I have become a bit picky over the years and not every conference is good enough. I tend to pick conferences, where there are many presenters from all around the world and even then I am picking sessions, that are marked with the highest level. In last time I enjoy the most level 400 and would sometimes even wish to have higher levels available. In this respect I miss Microsoft Management Summit, where quality of sessions was on a really high level. I know that some people from original team are now preparing IT/DEV connections, but unfortunately this conference is financially not reachable for me. Into same category I would also count TechMentor conference, which taking 5 days at MS HQ in Redmond and it is full of master classes.
Price is one of the factors, that prevents many of us, to attend really good conferences. The best conferences can be really expensive (often prices can easily be several thousand € or $) and then you also still need to calculate travel and accommodation costs. I do not think, that there are many employers on the market, which would pay for the best conferences and specially here in Slovenia, there is nearly impossible to get approval for conferences outside Europe. I was lucky enough to get tickets for few of them through contracts my employer has with vendors, but most of the time I paid travelling and accommodation expenses out of my own pocket.
I do not want to say, that there are no good conferences available also for smaller budgets. In fact I am just on a way to one of them. It is called Experts2Experts Virtualization Conference (E2EVC), which is held in Amsterdam and it costs no more than 500€ (accommodation, travel and conference fee). Very good and affordable is also ExpertsLive conference, which is hosted in many places around the world. I visited one last year in Berlin and it was small and cosy.
But content and lectures is not the only thing you can get at conferences. The most I have taken out of conferences is connection, offstage conversations and couple of times also invitation to closed sessions, where NDA was needed to be signed prior entering. On conferences, you should swallow your pride, take your fear aside and talk to peers, presenters and experts, that are there. People are there in person and if you make their break, lunch or walk to next room a bit shorter with talking to them, you will find that we are all having very similar issues are surrounded with similar co-workers and can learn a lot from each other. If nothing else, you will at the end have at least one more person, who can help you, when you are out of ideas for possible solutions in your toughest professional challenges. This way it is also not hard to come to best specialists in the field, the ones who are actually giving lectures. I know from personal experience, that people are willing to share more in a private conversation, give more accurate advice and give you more accurate account events that led to their spectacular save of the day.
Testing new releases in your LAB
When you hear about new software, feature or just new release of your operating system, it is time to see, how the things work. The best way to do this is to do this is to build your lab. Long have passed time, when building a lab meant looking for some spare HW equipment, now you can even get virtual appliances for devices like routers, firewalls of even mobile phones.
Since I am most often testing on-premise solutions, there is no better way as to use tools from my friend Jaromir Kaspar, who is Microsoft PFE. He has built nice bunch of scripts, that enable you to prepare lab just on your laptop computer. Scripts can be found at aka.ms/WSLab. And what is the best with this scripts? They are automating all your work and there are already more than 20 prebuilt scenarios waiting for you (like: S2D cluster, Storage replica, LAPS, S2D Failure scenario, Bitlocker on S2D, DeviceGuard and many more). You would also be surprised, how fast new scenarios are appearing and if your scenario is missing, just contact Jaromir and he might prepare scenario for you (if you ask him nicely….buy him a drink or two….promise to test new scenario throughout 🙂 )
Use your commuting time to learn
I am waiting for the day, when I will not need to drive to job every single (working) day. You might also find yourself driving a long time to come to customers and back or just drive to come to conference.
I try to use this time to learn something new. There are countless podcasts, recorded sessions, or even audio version of books available today, so there is no reason not to use commuting time for learning. It has helped me, why should it not help you. This way I do not really mind if I am staying in traffic jam again.
Sometimes I find it hard to follow very technical presentations while driving, then I try to repeat it once or even more often if needed. Be careful though, highly technical stuff can help you fall asleep. Don’t listen to it after hard working day and you still need to drive. For me it helps to listen light literature in such situation.
However, there is no reason to waste your time with listening to radio stations, which are anyway full of commercials and repeating their play list at least twice a day.
#### Be Aware ####
You are doing this at your own responsibility and do it wisely. I take no responsibility if you suddenly miss your exit, drive too fast, forget to turn home or anything worse.
Helping your friends, when they are stuck
I have often been asked by a friend or a peer to help. Sometimes this means a fulltime engagement, sometimes hours long discussion and troubleshooting, but sometimes only listening. In all those cases, I got out with a lot of new information, wiser for a new experience or looking for possible root cause even forced me to learn something completely new. I always say, that helping or teaching is always 2 way process. Both parties learn something new and both are wiser at the end.
Helping is not equal making a job instead of somebody. This is what you are doing (often) at your working place. Helping means assisting somebody in a way, that he/she will be able to do same thing alone next time.
I am very glad, when I am asked to help, when something does not go by the plan. This way I am forced to deep dive into problem, investigate already available solutions on the web or even come up with some totally cray idea. This is my way of learning. This way I get more experienced.
Once I found a saying, for which I have no idea who the author is , but I totally agree with. It goes something like:
“Experience is, when things do not go as planned”
Giving back to community
This point must the most important of all. Sharing your experience in a public presentation, talking about or just discussing it with your peers over a beer, is what makes us bigger and more respected.
For me it was very hard to give a first lecture in front of more than 100 eager listeners. I think that it was when I was about 17 or so. But when I started to talk, words and sentences just poured out of me. I was talking about my passion, something I like to do and about something I invested a lot of my time into.
Since then I have learned a lot new, solved (or even failed to solve) a lot of issues, but have always kept sharing my knowledge in community meetings and conferences. When you start once, you will see, that it is not so hard. Just talk about your most fascinating experience, your toughest project, most tricky solutions or about technology, which is really exciting for you. Believe me, if you are talking full-heartedly and with passion, your lecture will not be un-noticed.
In my opinion community is gathering of friends with similar interest and there is no reason I would want my friends to make same mistakes as I did. This are my mistakes. I should copyright them. They should invent their own.