I’m working for more than 23 years in the IT industry in Greece and Europe, fill in many different positions. During this period, I needed a lot of knowledge and skills I hadn’t had and resources that I lacked! And I still do!
There are many ways to lead you in acquiring a new skill or idea (books, seminars, courses, trainers, mentors, peers, etc.), but the best ones I have found is two: Learning by doing and teaching. Teaching is a different kind of genre (so to speak), but learning by doing is an able practice to make you reach a solid result.
As a knowledge worker, you should be always up-to-date and you should research the topics you are dealing with. It is not always easy, and usually you do not have the time to do it in a proper manner (i.e. to research the topic, see where it fits in your ecosystem of ideas, beliefs, goals, check how to employ it, find its limitation and weaknesses, etc.).
In all my life, I had in my hand a book and a notepad, jotting around and drawing everything I find of interest. My notes, my designs, and my ideas are an integral part of my workflow and help me to accomplish my goals more effectively.
But, sometimes, reading and writing are not enough! Sometimes you need to dive deep in a project in order to see what’s happening! Even when you do not have the necessary knowledge and skills.
This is a practice I used a lot in my previous company especially when we have to deal with projects demanding a different set of working skills! I remember that before we assume a project the managers meet with their groups in order to decide if we had the margins to accomplish effectively the project or not. Many projects have been abandoned due to the lack of necessary resources and skills.
For the projects though we had a limited skill set and we want to participate in (for various reasons some necessary – like the financial restraints, the competition, the development of new business, etc. – and some strategic ones related to what we want to do), we do it anyway. We are discussing a lot the pros and cons and when we have decided that our participation in a project was necessary, we render the required skills as necessary to learn. And we learn them by working at the given project and learning what was necessary, filling in what’s missing and providing the required results.
My experience says that this is one of the major ways of learning new knowledge and skills and can help you to “push the envelope“ when it is necessary. I had the opportunity to see it in action many times that principle but my first time I implemented it consciously, if I remember correctly, was when a new technology landed (circa 1996) in our company (Microsoft’s Active Server Pages – ASP).
It was a new, fresh, technology with a lot of capabilities and wonderful demo to demonstrate its potential, that intrigue me and capture my imagination. The problem was, though, that I didn’t know anything about programming in ASP and what it needed to be implemented. I remember that I started by researching everything Microsoft had published about ASP programming, but as more I read more I found myself in a state of confusion.
So, when I reach this stage, I change my course of action. I start with a goal in my mind, a personal project (to build a light Learning Management System – LMS with ASP) with basic functionality: secure and authorized access, user management, content management, a light system administration module, a utilities module – printing, tracking, statistics, etc.- light and friendly user interface). And I did it, designing and code it from the scratch!
Actually by today’s view the project was not that much, but for the time being, it was the first LMS of my then company (one of the first in the Europe, actually), and provide my company with an advantage unparallel to the market at the time (to own a LMS you can modify for many different requirements and clients). It was not started though as a company project. It started as a personal learning project for me to learn technologies deemed necessary at the time. But after I present it to my department, the project adopted by the company and after a while, it integrated it in its operations.
This system gave to my company the opportunity to enter a new market, to sell the system multiple times to many different clients and to establish authority in the e-Learning market.
In fact, this first system I design and develop provide me the opportunity to learn a lot about server client technologies and specialized in Microsofts products, among other things. But most of all it helps me to learn ASP technologies. Other projects are followed, with different specifications, requirements, and demands, but the mindset I had established in that project help me to cope effectively with all the next challenges.
Question: What you would say? Have you dealt with similar situations? Please write about your experiences!