Your next employee, 10 years experience or an avid learner?

Saturday, 30 January 2010

How do you keep up to date in the IT world?

Several months ago we did a round of interviews for a new position at our company. We weren't interested in how many years experience a person had, what we wanted was someone who was as passionate about IT as the rest of our team. Our team spends much of our spare time discussing the latest trends in the industry and how we can apply new technologies and methodologies to our work. One question that really stumped most people was 'How do you keep up to date in the IT world?'.

From the number of people that we interviewed who could not provide a coherent answer to this question, I would assume that very few people regularly spend their time reading blogs, reading online news or even text books for that matter. I would have even accepted an "I check Digg every now and then to see what are the top results". Most of the time we had to prompt people by asking them more directly, such as do you regularly read any blogs or visit any tech sites. But this also yielded few precise answers.

By the sheer fact that you are reading this post I am likely preaching to the converted. But I would like to say that staying up to date with IT is important and to do that you need to read, read, read. IT is an industry that is constantly trying to justify itself, we have to make time and make money for an organisation in order to exist and hopefully to grow. IT is in constant change which is one of the great things about our industry, but to stay relevant and to keep in touch we must constantly learn.

So how can we encourage reading outside of the few text books that we bothered to take out of the plastic during your college / university years? Maybe this question, "'How do you keep up to date in the IT world?' should become a standard interview question for all new positions, I know it will be top of the list for me. Should we be taught about it by our teachers when we are at university?

One of the best things we can do for new starters and for our own teams is to share what you read. Do you encourage learning amongst your staff or your team, do you take time to discuss what you have read in the past week? Maybe you could set up a page on your companies intranet or blog to share your latest thoughts and ideas or send out an email with your top ten links for the week. Take time in your weekly team meetings to find out what each person has learnt while doing their job this week. Foster a team of learners and growers and encourage this trend for anyone who joins your team.

How you keep up to date is not just about what the individual knows, it is about how the individual will continue to contribute to your teams future. In the end there is not much difference between a basic "programmer" with 2 or 10 years experience. If you can find someone who wants to learn and share and challenge; they will be much more beneficial to your team. But you won't find this person unless you have a team that actively seeks and encourages this kind of person.

What type of person would you like to add to your team? Someone who has 5+ years experience in this or that language or someone who has their finger on the pulse and is actually interested in what they are doing by constantly learning and constantly improving themselves and their team.

Be sure to also check out this post for some good ideas on keeping you and your team learning.

If you have some good ideas on how you or your team keeps up to date with IT leave me a message in the comments below.
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