The field of technology changes at a rapid pace. I know people for whom the rate of change would be their worst nightmare. My worst nightmare would be working on an assembly line doing the same thing day after day, bored out of my skull, and not regularly learning something new. I thrive on the change. Learning and expanding nourishes my soul!
However, the field of technology is so vast and deep that unless one specializes in a small niche area, it’s difficult to keep up. There are many trails I’d love to follow – cybersecurity, systems programming, and embedded programming to name a few – but there just aren’t enough hours in a day. Just trying to keep up with frontend web development is a challenge, not to mention the various versions of Drupal and Magento. And then there’s the world of Android that I’ve fallen in love with. Just staying on top of it all feels impossible, much less getting to the leading edge.
But that’s what I love. There is less than zero possibility that I will get bored as there is ALWAYS something new to learn. And the steeper the learning curve, the better.
So how do I even attempt to stay on top of my chosen areas of tech? Here’s a little rundown:
- First and foremost, I ditched the TV. I haven’t owned a TV in over 25 years. While most people are consuming 2 or 3 or more hours of TV per day, I’m reading books and articles, watching videos, working on side projects, etc. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a good Netflix binge every now and again when my brain is just fried and I want to be entertained and not have to think. But that’s the exception, not the rule.
- I read. A lot. I’m generally reading 3 to 5 books at any given time. At least one or two of those is usually a tech book. I average about a book per week with one book per month being a tech book. I have a list a mile long of tech books I want to read and regularly reprioritize them according to whatever I’m planning to work on next. If I’m currently working on a Drupal project and I know I’m going to be starting a Magento project next month, I’ll be working my way through a couple of the latest Magento books. If I don’t have any projects on the horizon for which I need to update my knowledge, I get to dig into a book that expands my general programming skills, like I’m doing this summer.
- I make it a priority. My morning routine includes a good hour of reading whatever tech book I’m into. It’s not a chore. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. I have to discipline myself to close the book and get on with the rest of life. I do it in the morning so that it doesn’t get pushed aside for the “responsibilities” of life.
- I keep a list of topics that I want to learn or go deeper into and then collect resources for learning those topics. I am forever looking for the holy grail for learning a particular subject and when I find a new resource that looks promising, I add it to the list. Then when I’m ready to tackle that subject (like Kotlin, for instance), I compare the various resources I’ve accumulated and pick the one that looks the best.
- I maintain a Safari Books subscription and consider it the best thing since sliced bread. It gives me access to almost every book available from the major and minor tech publishers along with loads of videos. If I want to read a chapter on a certain topic, I can read it through Safari and don’t need to buy the entire book.
- I use YouTube extensively to watch videos from conferences I couldn’t make it to and subscribe to various channels on programming and Android development.
- I use the Android Play Music app to subscribe to podcasts and listen to them while I’m driving/running/mowing the grass/etc.
- I keep social media to a minimum. I use Twitter to follow the folks on the bleeding edge and Facebook to keep up with my family and friends. And when I’m caught up with the most recent posts, I close the app, and don’t mindlessly scroll…usually.
- It’s all about focus. When I’m involved in something, I’m all in. If I’m reading, my full attention is on reading and digesting what I’ve read. If I’m talking with someone, I’m not checking my cell phone. Whatever I’m doing, I’m giving it my full focus. I’ve found that this saves time in the long run as I make fewer mistakes that need to be corrected and I retain information more fully.
- I balance it out with my other interests. While I am very passionate about web and mobile development and computer programming in general, I do have other interests too. And I find that I need a balanced mix of both mental and physical activity. So mixing things up between working on the computer and my physical activities – running, hiking, gardening, raising rabbits, making healthy foods, and spending time with my family – prevents burnout. And leading a rather different (minimalist) lifestyle without all the time-consuming cruft of the average American lifestyle allows me to fit everything into my life.
- And finally, it’s an innate desire, an insatiable hunger, as I see so much value and benefits of technology (also the dangers but that’s another post). So it’s not a matter of forcing myself to do anything or trying to use external motivation. It’s what I love doing and I’m excited whenever I get to do it.
So there you have it – my personal recipe for keeping up with technology. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me.