Professional Development – What do you focus your learning on? The hard bits, or the soft bits?

OK, time for a building analogy – Hammers, nails, and condo’s.

In the building game, I’m sure that there’s a big difference between knowing how to use the blunt instruments of various trades (hammers, paint brushes, ladders) and using them to build something of value (ie: a condo).  We know this because, in spite of the tooling advances that are made each year, we don’t see the people in those industries going back to school each year to re-do their apprenticeships. 

As a consultancy which makes its money from being able to sell leading edge technology services, a major component of our Professional Development (PD) Program tends to be ‘technology refresh’.  In practical terms, this means that we each use a bunch of our PD time sitting down and learning about the raft of new technologies that come out each year.  In our case that tends to mean new languages, platforms, SDK’s, and other development-relating tooling that comes out from the Microsoft camp. 

But in doing the ‘technology refresh’, it’s important not to get too focused on the new ‘hammers and nails’ but to remain focused on the things that we build with them – the condo’s.

Hard knowledge and softer knowledge

In having a discussion about PD, I like to start off by talking about the new technologies; but I quickly turn the discussion to one about applications and services.  Sure people will tell your that they want to be a web guy, or a windows gal, or a C# dude – but what is it that they actually want to do with those things?  What gets them excited?  That’s the information that we want to get at.

If the tools and technologies are the hard bits, then what we want to get are are the soft bits.  Here’s a table that provides a set of matching Q and A’s which matches some of the soft bits to the hard bits.

What interests you? (Soft bits) Suggested PD Focus Areas (Hard bits)
Primarily integrating a bunch of web based resources to build something cool Mash-ups, Mapping, Sliverlight, Flickr/Facebook/YouTube API’s, ASP.NET
Change the lives of mobile/remote workers Mobile technologies, Compact Framework, WinForms, GPS, SMS, ASP.NET
Help reduce the footprint of IT on an organisation or to build a saleable product/service. SaaS, Identity Management(CardSpace, MiiS), Licensing models, Architecture
Build a kick-ass user experience for managing user’s photographs Mash-ups, WPF, Flickr API’s, Web Services
Knowledge Management SharePoint, Reporting, SQL DB, SQL BI, VSTO, Document Packaging API’s, Workflows

The column on the left contains items that get people out of bed in the morning and has items that I would call soft. 

The column on the right has the tools and technologies that we use to build things with and contains items that I would call hard. 

Give them something to sell!

In keeping staff focused on the left hand column, we focus our thinking in terms of solutions.  By basing our thinking on solutions we also gain the really important learning aspects of how to integrate these technologies to make things of interest – it’s a bit like making a good soup! 

And after all, the soup is often what our customers come to us for.

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~ by D on April 3, 2008.

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