There’s nothing like a good gobsmack moment to make you question everything about your life. Let me explain by way of example:
1990 was >30 years ago. No, really, it was. But our brains think:
Let me put this another way. Here is a list of advances that gained commercial importance in the last 10 years:
Augmented Reality (e.g. PokemonGo)
Square Payment System
Anything by Boston Dynamics
Centralized Cloud Collaboration Platforms
Virtual Home Assistants
Freemium (Candy Crush released in 2012)
Smart In-home exercise equipment
Direct Pay apps
We human-types are really bad at time dynamics. It feels like all these advances have been around “forever”. That’s because we understand them and have assimilated them into our daily lives.
But the reality is that we did not assimilate these instantaneously. It took use and it took education. For the average consumer it wasn’t such a big deal. They used the product till they were comfortable with the product - so long as it worked. But when a technology ceased to work as advertised, who did they call? Right! They called the closest 13-year old. But after that, who did they call?
Why, of course, they called us!
And we instinctively knew the answer to their troubles, right? Of course ri….hold up a minute. No. No, we did not. Much as we hate to admit it, we do not have the ability to instinctively know new technologies. While we may have the uncanny ability to generally understand how things work, and while we may have an incredible aptitude for sussing out how something should work, that isn’t the same as having in-depth knowledge, experience, and expertise. It’s more like a combination of practiced talent and innate ability.
The in-depth knowledge part takes time. And, hopefully, we’ve trained our users to wait until we have had a chance to learn the new <insert hot tech here> before they go out and adopt it. But more than learning it once a product/service/tech is released, how do we manage staying ahead of the curve, remaining proactively relevant?
Progress, not Perfection
Simple (well, sorta). You have to get your hands on new technology, and you have to make time to learn it. The trick is making this work within your already busy schedule, not in addition to.
Test Out New Products
Work with your vendors to get the most lenient trials available so that you can make proper tactical decisions that meet your strategic goals. I used to tell vendors that because of the nature of my work, I couldn’t learn enough from a 7-day trial of a product. I didn’t have time to spend solely on a new venture; I had clients to take care of, a business to run, and a growing family who needed me. All that in addition to learning a new “thing”.
Trialing and learning software in 7-days meant I would either have to sacrifice billable hours or I’d have to sacrifice family time. Both were show-stoppers for me. So I successfully worked with vendors to have limited users (usually 2) but an unlimited amount of time to learn their product well enough to make educated decisions and to ask their support staff smart questions.
Spend Time With the New Tech
Put it through an optimal situation and then get creative with the trial. Throw in some unusual events or configurations and see how the product behaves. See how it breaks. Watch the log files, watch for error messages, communicate with support or your CSM. Make lists of questions and prioritize their importance (you won’t have unlimited time with support staff so make the most of it).
No tech is perfect and your knowledge of the new tech isn’t perfect. But you learn as much as you can so that you have the ability to support your users. Yes, sometimes we get paid for our Google-fu, but really we get paid to know things they don’t, to learn things they shouldn’t need to know.
Relevancy on a Larger Scale
Keeping up with tech is more than just learning a particular product or service or skill. It’s keeping up with a body of knowledge. There are strategic and tactical decisions to be made in order to remain relevant.
Generally speaking, having strategic plans for remaining relevant include things such as planning to attend conferences, working toward advanced degrees, or learning new skills that are adjunct to your daily work skills. But you can’t always plan for tech knowledge that won’t show up for another year. So you use tactical planning to maintain day-to-day relevance; things such as setting up test environments, getting involved in job-enhancing beta testing programs, or scouring industry websites/blogs/subreddits.
Staying relevant in IT is like going up a down escalator. There is no standing still. The learning never ends. There are no breaks. Yes, it can be exhausting.
This is Hard
It truly is. It’s like being “on” all the time. “You snooze you lose” is a very real thing in tech. And at some point it can feel like your brain is just simply full; like you can not put one more bit of data in there. Then what do you do?
You take a break, that’s what you do. I know, I know, it’s counterintuitive to staying constantly up to date. But sometimes you just have to step back and give yourself a break. That doesn’t mean ignoring everything and becoming a blob. Instead, do things that free your brain and allow it to build new synapses.
Just One Thing
Most of my articles have a list of suggestions. This time I’m only going to make one recommendation. No reason for it other than that it’s just what I want to do. My blog space, (mostly) my rules.
Like improving your emotional intelligence, improving your brain power in one area improves it in other areas. So pick up a new book or find a new blog. Read everything; not just books related to your work, but all and any reading. Nothing broadens the mind like reading for pleasure. A good mystery exercises your brain, comedy or feel-good books improve your limbic system, and a good biography (remember, this is for entertainment, not expanding your tech relevance) broadens your worldliness.
Give yourself a few days’ break from technical reading and continuing education. When you come back to it, your brain will be in a better place. You’ll find its receptors are more receptive to the new information you’ll need to ingest and digest. As a bonus, you’ll remain relevant on more than just a tech level. That counts too - there’s more to life than work.