Asking the Right Questions

If you ever thought that keeping up with the Joneses was tough, you should try keeping your skills up to date in Information Technology!

I know a bloke who, not too long ago, got a new job. The new job allows him to live nearer to his home town so he is closer to his family, and is with a reputable company that is providing him with opportunities to work on challenging and interesting things. All in all, the new job is a great thing for my friend. There is a fly in the ointment however. He hasn’t a notion what he’s meant to be doing!

My friend went to the interview for the job without any real expectations of being successful so, to be fair to him, he blagged it, fully expecting to get caught out and sent on his way. Disaster, kinda, struck when he landed the new gig and found himself handing in his notice at the old job. Having bluffed his way through the interview he had no clue what he told his new employer he was capable of, all he knew was that they expected great things of him. This guy is pretty accomplished, so the high expectations weren’t the problem; what was an issue was that he didn’t know what the expectations were.

After a few weeks in the job he was getting deeper and deeper into the role but still wasn’t exactly sure what he was supposed to be at. By this time it was far too late to ask for specifics, and any requests for information from the bosses were met with replies that built on the (wholly incorrect) assumption that everyone involved was working from the same baseline of expectations established at the beginning.

When I heard of the difficulty my friend was in I did what anyone would do, and had a really good laugh at his expense. Then I tried to be helpful (kinda) by suggesting that what he should do is look for the same job elsewhere, not with the intention of changing job again, but so that he could go through the interview, pay attention this time, and thus find out what he was meant to be doing. As unhelpful as this idea may seem on the surface, there is actually some merit in this approach for those pursuing technical careers.

Any serious career in IT comes with a requirement to keep up with the latest developments in technology. At a high level this is done through lots of reading and attendance at the occasional conference or user group meeting but getting real experience with new technologies is not that easy.

Lots of software is available to download for educational purposes, or at least in trial formats, that give you enough time to allow you to get to grips with it. But once you’ve downloaded and installed the latest hot technology, what do you do with it then? How do you go about getting much needed in-depth experience with the latest and greatest if you’ve no clue where to start? In some ways, getting some new system off the Internet is much like being that kid who really wants to draw a picture, but when given a black sheet doesn’t know what to draw. Once you’ve been through the installation routine (which in some cases is quite a challenge in itself) what do you do next?

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