What have I done to sharpen and expand my skills?
- Magazines – I recently took stock of my magazine subscriptions and was amazed by the sheer number of them. I have standing subscriptions to seven different magazines running from the specific (php|architect) to the general (IEEE Spectrum) to the practices (Better Software). Almost every issue I find a handful of things of interest, snip the article, and toss the rest. At the moment, I have 31 articles directly applicable to what I am doing, what I hope to be doing, and other things of sufficient geekitude. I cover a handful of them each week but often I realize that the article wasn't quite as interesting as I thought.
- Books – After all of that, I still make a point of reading a handful of books each month. I try to alternate between technical, process, and fiction to keep some sanity and not burn myself out. Probably the most important one I've read recently was Getting Things Done. As a result, I've completely revamped how I track, prioritize, and schedule things. So far it's been working quite smoothly for about 4 weeks…
- Tools – I've picked up and started working with or have atleast been playing with a number of things. On the Java front, picking up the basics of Maven, Hibernate, and Spring has been wildly educational. Alternatively, tools like Smarty and QCodo on the PHP side of things have been a great help to productivity.
- Groups – The first two are entirely self-driven and self-focused so to preserve a further bit of sanity, I am in a few mailing lists. I won't list all of them here as I simply lurk on most and only pipe up for interesting topics which I either know or want to learn more about. The most useful ones are Northern Virginia Linux Users' Group, NY PHP, and DC PHP.
- People – Finally and most importantly are the people. I make a point of speaking with and kicking around ideas with some incredibly smart people like Nola Stowe, Gavin Bowman, Mike Schoeffler, and Patrick Allmond. So far each has been incredibly patient with me and once in a while might have learned something from me.
So all in all, I think I'm doing pretty well information-wise. I'm staying on the cutting edge in many things, just behind the cutting edge in others, and reading and learning from some of the masters in the craft. I don't always get it the first time around, but that's why I snip articles and prefer dead trees for portability..
My only concern is that I haven't picked up a new language lately. I know that I've gotten good in a handful but need to push into new areas in order to stay ahead. After getting into Beyond Java this week, I think I know where I'll be headed next…