look over my shoulder
My friend Ed Tanguay said to me by email last week that “we all feel we are in danger of growing obsolete at the rapid changes in our industry”. By “we”, he was referring to programmers and people in related careers in the IT industry.
I don’t want to start a long rant about how rapidly things are changing in IT. It’s not clear to me how much my perception of the rate of change is related to my getting older, but it seems that doesn’t account for all of it, anyway.
The interesting question is what to do about that our fear of becoming obsolete in the tech. industry. The answer, Ed proposed, is to learn, learn, and learn yet more. Set up a lifestyle, goals, priorities, that encourage learning about all things tech-related. Moreover, be open to hearing about what is important, and new, from unexpected places: areas you don’t work in, using tools you don’t know. Don’t just learn more of what you already know – seek out and get exposed to things you don’t already know, surprise yourself, and keep pushing the boundaries of what you know back.
In that spirit, Ed and I have started a sort of local get-together, which we call the Tech Salon, (I’m starting to call it t’salon, which sounds neater).The t’salon is, at the moment, an invitation-only group of geeks, including programmers as well as hardware hackers, both professional and amateur, people who are paid to do this work and people who do it to have fun or to help family and friends. In our monthly meetings there is one rule: everyone must show something before the evening is over. It’s show-and-tell for geeks, as Ed puts it. Each person decides what they show, like what they’ve
- built, like hardware
- written, like software
- found, like an open-source project
- bought, like a gadget, new phone, tablet
- read, like a new book you want to talk about
- visited, like a conference or workshop or co-working space
This is not about PowerPoint presentations; someone just says, “Oh, wait, I’ve been working on…” and then the rest of us move to that side of the room, stand around this guy’s armchair and look over his shoulder as he shows something off. It’s informal, unscripted, and loose. In between people just talk shop, like geeks do when you put them in a room together.
The main point is to leverage each person’s enthusiasm for what they love in order to get the rest of us motivated to learn. When you look over a geek’s shoulder as they talk excitedly about their current home hacking project, you get excited too, and you pay more attention. And whatever has kept you from learning more is, I think, pushed aside as you catch that whiff of passion and joy that’s bubbling up in front of you.
Learning in our careers is not just about slogging through another 1,000 page tome on Enterprise Best Practices or research papers on distributed systems. I know that I got started with computers because it was fun, I was excited, and I couldn’t wait to spend more time with the machine when I was away from it. That flame of passion and desire is what we are inviting into our t’salon every month, and we hope it will inspire the people who show up to push themselves to try something new. Even if they don’t try something right away, at least they will be exposed to something new, which is good in and of itself – it let’s us know what’s over the horizon, waiting for us, as soon as we have time to head over there.
Right now the t’salon is invitation-only, but we are planning to open it up as soon as we feel the momentum is there and we have a core group of attendees established. But if you think it’s a good idea, by all means, fork and go to it.