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The Cult of Constant Learning in IT

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

In a field where skills and knowledge turn over constantly, dedicated professionals need to cultivate a mindset of constant learning. There's always more to learn about what you work with, and new tools and technologies coming down the road.

Source: NY Public Library Digital Collections Interior of 59th Street power houseSource: NY Public Library Digital Collections Interior of 59th Street power houseLast week's Certification Watch from GoCertify.com includes a quick summary of a recent post from guest blogger Larry Alton for ISACA (the certification body behind CISM, CISA, CRISC and CGEIT, among other credentials). Entitled "Training: the Missing Ingredient for IT Success" this provides some interesting justifications for and benefits of putting yourself in a mode of constant learning as a way to excel in the IT profession. I have voiced many similar sentiments and elements in my own musings over my thousand-plus certification-related stories. If there's one constant note I've sounded, it's been the idea that the best way to prosper as an IT pro is to keep learning, enhancing existing skills and developing new ones.

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Alston also cites some interesting benefits for what he calls "ongoing training" (and I call "constant learning"). He cites needs for less supervision, because those who know what they're doing and "have the knowledge to handle any issue" need less management oversight. He states that "one of the direct benefits of training is less supervision." He also cites increased growth and salary opportunities, because more training means more skills and knowledge, which in turn leads to more and better opportunities, and the promotions, job changes and increased salary that go with them. Finally, he speaks of increased satisfaction, about which he says "if you are good at your job, you are more likely to enjoy it." Based on his own experience, he gives this kind of satisfaction a high value, and links it to improved happiness and a better overall quality of life. I concur.

Alston also makes some useful recommendations for what he describes as a "training habit." After observing that an occasional training session, webinar, or seminar does not a training regimen make, he goes onto suggest these strategies to put yourself in constant learning mode:

  1. Dedicate "consistent time" which means making and keeping a firm commitment to train. He quotes CBT Nuggets to affirm this principle: "Pick a consistent time and set a reminder." Regular, repeated activity is indeed a necessary ingredient to move the ball forward, and to keep your skills and knowledge base fresh and growing.
  2. Involve others: By bringing other people into the picture, you make it easier to honor your own commitment to training and to developing and enhancing skills and knowledge. I submit that there's no better way to learn something than to explain it to somebody else to their entire satisfaction. Alston affirms the accountability involved in working with others, and its aid to motivation and keeping on track.
  3. Choose something interesting: If you're going to devote free time to professional development, it's wise to focus on topics that engage your interest and enthusiasm. This will also help you stay motivated, and keep you in harness when that new HBO or NetFlix special is calling your name. I'm a great believer in following your interests far enough to make them a worthwhile investment. So, apparently, is Alston.

Alston closes his post with the observation that IT changes so fast that "sitting still is the equivalent of backtracking." For those who keep looking for, and then jumping into, new subjects, backtracking (or sitting still) isn't on the menu. Keeping on learning, in Alston's terms, translates into always moving forward. I see it more as part of the rhythm of life and work, especially for IT professionals committed to developing and advancing their careers. Make this a part of your working life, and your mindset, and you'll be able to keep at it for as long as you like. Learning is the engine that drives your skills and knowledge, and keeps you plugged into the leading edge of the IT profession.

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