Taming the new technology beast

By on September 26, 2013 in Education

A common challenge for developers and architects is keeping up with technology. We are bombarded daily with so many emails, blog posts, articles, podcasts, and webcasts that demand our attention, its just overwhelming. Who can take the time to keep up, the sheer volume of it is crushing. So we do what comes naturally, ignore the problem and feel guilty about it. After all there are only so many hours in the day and something has to give, right?

If you feel that there might be a better solution but just don’t know what it is then you have come to the right place. Learning about new technologies is one of our professional responsibilities and is an essential part of our jobs. This post is intended to motivate you to learn new things daily and embrace continued learning as a challenging yet rewarding aspect of our profession. Below I will describe the strategy I use in hope that it will benefit you.

The first step in taming the new technology beast is to create a plan for integrating learning into your schedule and on your terms. The sheer volume is just overwhelming if you attempt to tackle it head on. New content must be queued and organized in such a way that it can be consumed on your schedule. We need a way to monitor all the noise, mining for important technologies that are relevant and require deeper investigation.

I have tried and failed to devise a process many times but have finally settled on one that works well for me. The intention of this process is to set continuing education goals that I can stick to throughout the year. The first step is to create a schedule that organizes your content channels and consumption frequency. I begin by separating my content types into daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual frequencies, each targeting a different type of content and delivery mechanism. Below I will outline each category and the consumption goals I have set for myself.

Queue your content for daily consumption

My primary channel for daily content is listening to podcasts. Podcasts are ideal because they can be queued and consumed anywhere and anytime.They are the most efficient way that I have found to consume large quantities of information, listening for the important nuggets that I may need to spend more time investigating. Many podcast applications allow you to listen in 1.5 or 2x the speed so you can move quickly through the entire episode or slow it down when the speaker hits on a topic that is of interest. Start with a goal of listening to 1 or 2 per day but you will find they are addicting and will quickly find yourself listening to them throughout the day. I listen to up to 10 podcasts a day, mostly when performing other tasks that don’t require my full attention like: running, cleaning, waiting for my kids, etc. the opportunities are endless. I just plug in my earbuds and listen to one of the many queued podcasts I am subscribed to.

Not all of your content channels will offer podcasts so you must queue content for offline consumption. This is probably something you are doing already with an RSS reader but if you aren’t find one that will let you manage your blogs and podcasts. Also take a look at tools like instapaper or evernote that allow you to queue content from any website for offline viewing. Instapaper even syncs with my kindle so I have an unlimited supply of reading material whenever I need it. Save all of your written content for the evening when you are winding down or when have some time to fill. Dedicate 30-60 minutes per day in the evening for this type of content.

Bi-Weekly lunch with your colleagues

It is important to develop a network of friends and colleagues that are as passionate about technology as you. This has most likely already occurred organically but it is important to identify people in your network that are not only passionate but well informed and eager to share what they are learning about. It has been my experience that only a small percentage of our community fits this bill. It is important to cultivate these relationships as they will be a source of motivation and education. These are the people you want to surround yourself with because their excitement is contagious and will help to keep you motivated. Meet with this group every few weeks one on one or in a group. Their passion will not only help educate but will inspire you to learn new things daily.

Meet your community monthly

There are many people in your community that are as excited about technology as you. They are easy to find because they are speakers, organizers and attendees of the local user groups in your area. In my area there are at least half a dozen local groups meeting to discuss technology. They often hold free monthly meetings where you can listen to speakers present on various new and interesting technologies. The speakers at these meetings are not all professional speakers so the quality can sometimes vary but you are attending not just to learn about a particular topic but to build new relationships and to leverage the passion and excitement in the room. These are enthusiastic technologists, committed to learning and like your peer group above, their passion is contagious. Immerse yourself in this community and take from it nuggets of information and a loads of motivation. Here you will extend your network of relationships that will not only help to educate and motivate but will be a great resource for future employment. Immerse yourself in this group and extend your motivation group outside your circle. Attend these free meetings at least once a month.

Regional user groups meetings quarterly

If your community does not have an active group then look outside your community. Often there are regional groups within a few hours driving time. This is obviously more challenging logistically but find the regional groups that are providing quality content and attend their meetings quarterly. Because you are traveling it will be important to identify meetings that provide the most value. Many larger communities hold code camps which are free single day conferences open to anyone that wants to attend. Speakers are from the local community and region, many of which are professional. This is not only a great opportunity to learn but also to extend your network and feed off the excitement and buzz this group will have. Try to attend these meetings or conferences at least once per quarter.

Annual Professional Conferences

Professional conferences are a great place to get high quality content, however they can be costly. Many companies will reimburse expenses for your attendance so pick one early in the year and plan to attend. Like the community conference above there will be many opportunities to learn about new technologies but here you will find mostly professional speakers. This is a great place to learn about new technologies and make contacts and become motivated. Try to attend a professional conference at least once per year.

Deep Dives – Traditional & On Demand Classes

The last category is professional training which I have separated into two groups: Traditional in person training and on demand training. Both are great ways to get deep dives into specific topics but I find on demand training much more accessible. In both areas the content is typically excellent and much deeper than any of the other categories.

Traditional training can be very costly so unless your company is extremely generous you will often only be able to attend one or two of these annually. Classes usually run around a week and provide a deep dive into a specific topic or technology. Here you will find great content but not always the same motivation that you see in community based sessions. This type of training should be reserved for when you need to get up to speed on a specific technology quickly. Traditional training is an excellent source of education but because of the cost I prefer the on demand training I will describe below. For most of us the choice will be between attending a professional conference or traditional training. I lean towards the professional conferences because I can investigate many technologies with the intention to do deeper dives using on demand training.

The second class of professional training is on demand training. On demand training can be found from many sources but my favorite is pluralsight which is why I became an author for them. They provide quality content and deep dives via webcast that can be targeted as needed and on my schedule. I find myself leveraging their catalog to perform deep dives on technologies I have identified using all the techniques discussed above. You not only can do deep dives into a specific technology but specific topics within a technology. This is perfect for software architects because often we are looking for specific examples or explanations of a technology and not a full class on a topic. There are other vendors in this area so I encourage you to explore to find the one that offers you the most value. Annual subscriptions are often many times cheaper than a single class and they can be watched on your schedule.


I hope this post has provided a few ideas on how to tackle the new technology beast. There are a tremendous number of great opportunities to learn and most of them only require an investment of your time. For those of you that prefer the cliff notes I have summarized my strategy in a simple table below. Please leave a comment describing your strategy or if you have any suggestions to improve mine.

DailyPodcasts throughout the day.
Written content (blogs , articles, news) 30-60 minutes in the evening.
MonthlyAttend community user group meetings once per month.
QuarterlyAttend regional user group meetings,conferences or code camps at least once per quarter.
Deep DivesOn demand training subscriptions are great ways to perform deep dives on your schedule.



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