Social Enterprise optimize

Tips for staying on top of tech

Web 2.0 and social media offer great ways to stay on top of tech.

This is a guest post from Lauren Malhoit, a new TechRepublic contributor.

One question that always comes up among IT people, especially those new to the game, is how do you stay on top of all the new technology, bugs, and configuration issues. Hopefully you'll get a lot of ideas on how to do just that from this post. Web 2.0 and social media are your friends, and it's OK to take advantage of them!

Twitter

I signed up for a Twitter account a few years ago and then promptly never signed in again. I didn't see the point. Why do I need to know that one of my friends had French toast for breakfast that day? Then I realized that companies, tech experts, and a myriad of other people were tweeting up-to-date information about their blogs, troubleshooting issues, and new technologies that were coming out. I highly recommend getting an account and following people in your field. If you don't know who to follow, find someone you know in your field and see who they follow. You should start tweeting yourself! Don't worry if you don't have a lot of followers in the beginning; it's not a popularity contest, but an information feed. I also recommend getting a third-party Twitter agent that you can just keep at the bottom right of your screen. That way you don't have to remember to log in every day.

Podcasts

Podcasts are amazing, both video and audio. Do you have some free time during lunch? Watch a video podcast like Tekzilla or Hak5...there are a ton out there. See which ones you like. If you can't watch videos at work, then subscribe to some audio podcasts. You can even set up your Roku or Google TV, etc., to subscribe to video podcasts and watch them at home. As for audio, I have an 80-minute round-trip every day. I have a ton of podcasts that are automatically downloaded on my phone. I plug the phone into my aux plug in my car and listen to them. I listen to Packet Pushers, VMware Communities (which also offers a chat room if you want to listen live on Wednesdays), CloudCast.net, etc.

LinkedIn

You may have a LinkedIn account already, but do you really utilize it? Try joining groups that apply to your field. They can be local groups or global groups -- it doesn't matter. Try participating in the discussions. I have also found this to be very useful if I have a question about the best technology solution to use. You can hear about what other people have tried and what they like. This is awesome for anyone working in an SMB who doesn't have time to research every option available. You might get two or three ideas and then you can download evaluations for them.

Local user groups

Speaking of LinkedIn, a lot of the groups you join might actually meet...wait for it...in person. There are groups like VMUG (VMware), CUG (Cisco), and OWASP (Security) that meet in person and discuss new trends. They usually have someone presenting some facet of what technology they're working with, sometimes it's sponsored by a company and sometimes it's just a local expert. You might make some connections (people you can follow on Twitter), and you might even learn a thing or two. Most importantly, you usually get some free pizza.

RSS feeds

It's an oldie but a goody. Most people probably just refer to it as subscribing to blogs these days, but whatever you call it, it gives you some great information. Play with your subscriptions. You can see what's applicable to you and what is maybe considered to be marketing propaganda (not that there isn't a place for that). I rely heavily on blogs. I usually have 20 to 40 that I check out regularly. Don't feel bad if you aren't getting something out of one. Just stop subscribing. You can set up Google Reader so that it's available on all your devices and read them wherever you are.

E-newsletters

Some people don't think about stopping work to check out tech sites they like, and they miss some tech tips they might not even know they'd be interested in. Many sites offer e-newsletters you can subscribe to. When something arrives in your email mailbox, it's a great convenience. (You can see what TechRepublic newsletters are available by becoming a member and then going here.)

Training

This isn't exactly a new concept, and hopefully your company offers a training budget. It's a week away from the office and you can get some specific training on whatever you're working on. If your company doesn't offer it or if they don't want you taking a week off because you're single threaded and don't have the opportunity, a lot of training companies offer on-demand alternatives that usually cost less than classroom or onsite training. There are plenty of training videos out there that are free or have a minimal cost that could be very helpful as well.

As an IT person working for an SMB, I don't have a whole lot of time to just read books and figure things out (although there are a lot of books out there I would also recommend). I'm busy putting out fires, trying to update things, maybe resolving a few helpdesk tickets, and, if I'm lucky, implementing new technology solutions. Can these things be a distraction? Yes. But when used properly, they save me more time than traditional research. What do you use to keep up to date?

About

Lauren Malhoit is a VMware vExpert '12, '13 and a member of the EMC Elect. She works as a Solutions Implementation Engineer at Network Storage Inc., where her main concentrations are on VMware, EMC, and Cisco. She has a degree in Computational Mathem...

28 comments
burch_r
burch_r

I find that professional organizations are very useful. I'm a member of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery - www.acm.org), and IEEE also has similar benefits. As a member you receive a monthly journal, can subscribe to newsletters, have access to free-to-member online courses, eBooks through Safari and Books24x7, access to special insterest groups, and an optional digital library. For $99 / year, it is quite a bargain. The only thing they don't seem to provide is the time that I wish I had to spend with all of these resources!

wdchin
wdchin

I love this. I've always wondered how ppl keep up with the updates and these tips are great. One thing I find invaluable is meetups http://www.meetup.com/

echo9
echo9

ok..but u fellas can try chking out slashdot .org might give u some food for thought :) TR is cool too.. I usually dont get time to log in but I can't resist sometimes to join the discussion going around (on OSS, linux etc.)...its f**kin awesome here at TR!

zubairshkh
zubairshkh

I think your title should be "tips for staying in-touch with knowledge" because have a knowledge and experience through which you can stand on top and staying in-touch with knowledge are entirely different, if I have a book in my shelf but I did not read it yet then I cant be able to say that I have a deep knowledge over a topic even to talk or guide the same with others, how will I stay on top in the technical industry having an account of twitter, facebook etc. instead I have time or interest to read all the information shared from the gurus. In my case the basic source of knowledge are magazines, articles and blogs from reliable authors.

Ren2k12
Ren2k12

Sometimes you need to go back and read the basic of networking to remind you how it works. You may even encounter before and have done that but it but due to tons of changes or how fast technology evolves you tend to miss a simple answer to simple questions in an interview that might cost you a job. Well a lesson learned that don't relax and confident that you think you know all the stuff that they will throw on you.

p.e.cox
p.e.cox

You express surprise that people meet locally to discuss technical issues. I submit that this is a major activity of professional societies like the IEEE. The IEEE includes many different technical disciplines, the Computer Society being the largest group. There are technical meetings every month in most cities covering a variety of topics, usually presented by an expert in the field. The meetings are also a great place for networking.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

mostly from other members in the comments. It's amazing what some people know and happily (for the most part) share below the blogs. This site is as close to 'social media' as I've been comfortable getting. As for FB, Twitter et al, the fools all rushed in ("I just had french toast for breakfast, everybody"...."I'm sitting at the airport"); no surprise that angels fear to tread. Given the source of FB's start-up investment, every time you post a social or political opinion there it's safe to assume the NSA is sitting at the next table (as it were), scribbling as fast as you opine....

karen.willis
karen.willis

Even FB provides a good source if you want to follow sources like Mashable. I find I get value out of their links and also see in Flipboard on my iPad..

Mike Houlden
Mike Houlden

One thing I have always done through the years between 1997 on to date,is use local user groups and many social networking sites (Facebook,Yahoo,Aim,Twitter,Etc.) to educate individuals and new pc users in general,what the newest technologies are available,how to use their computer,and how to repair a computer issue.Another thing Have done (several times over) was discuss the differences between closed source OSes and open source OSes as well as the availability and costs.To try and fit the computer to each user (instead of fitting the user to the computer).I find Local user groups are instrumental in this and i will continue to use this as a tool to inform.

joeller
joeller

I was referred to Twitter by my boss and was advised to follow several leading experts in our field (GIS) one of which is my boss. However, when I did so I got a lot "my dog is playing in the rain.", "My soup is cold." "I am sitting at the airport." When this requires maintaining an open internet connection on a military network without much bandwidth or capacity, (I had to enter this post twice because the attempted save truncated it to five words), I found I was not able to work efficiently because I spent too much time waiting for sites to be connected. I never received any interesting posts from Linked in though I got a lot of notices that so and so was now linked in, as well as a lot of spam from people purporting to be linked. Our company will pay for training but the cost of one class will usually exceed the training budget for the entire year, and they won't pay for time so you have to use leave to attend. So my best success has come from buying and reading books, (or how to get certified without paying microsoft). However, everyone knows that books are usually based on advance versions of the new release so that you have to go into the forums to find out where the books fall short. I also am member of a local User group which can be helpful. Also in researching a issue on line for work, I often find blogs that mention some other related issue which represents a technological advance or an tech area with which I have no experience. My boss stays up past midnight each night trying out new stuff and gets up at 4:30 each morning to get the kids off to school. I can't do that. I am in bed by 8:30 PM each evening exhausted and get up at 6:30 dreading another day. Saw another blog about programmers that essentially set their own hours like 11 AM to 2 PM then 4 PM to 8 PM, working from home, going into the office once a week. That would be the life. You would have 2 hours in the middle of each day to check out new technology, no commute, and by breaking the day in 4 hour segments you would still have the energy to check out new stuff when you get home.

IanDSamson
IanDSamson

Anything to do with video is bandwidth & speed dependent. If like me you're on 384kbps, forget video, unless one can download it first and watch it later. ISP is not interested in increasing line speed without significant cost increase that we simply cannot afford.

robo_dev
robo_dev

I have a VMware ESXi (free) server at home, and run everything from a MineCraft server to a full WordPress CMS instance, all free, all virtual. I have Cisco routers, Cisco switches, Cisco WLAN, all bought cheap on eBay. No better way to keep skills sharp than to build/break stuff at home.

mustang84
mustang84

Can't say I agree with lalitha1729 - you stated the obvious and omitted a few more traditional ones: seminars and conferences and print media (including books). Not excellent, but worth the read.

lalitha1729
lalitha1729

really excellent writing by you Lauren Malhoit

jfuller05
jfuller05

Currently, I use the blogs here at TR to stay up to date on technology. I also check with friends I made in college who were in the same IT program as me. I'll definitely start using some of the methods you mentioned in this article like the podcasts.

lmalhoit
lmalhoit

I do express surprise. I live in a city with 1.3 million people. We have the second largest regional VMUG in the US. Obviously a lot of people go to those things, held during the day or during lunch. However, those after work things are usually not attended that well. You might get 30 people on a good night and most of the attendees are not new to the business. I was trying to get the point across that it's okay for newbies to go to such things. I completely agree that it's something every IT person should do and it's a great way to network!

wyattharris
wyattharris

The Spiceworks community is simply knowledge by numbers. It's such a large group that someone out there has an answer to your question or problem.

quokka_z
quokka_z

The Spiceworks community is full of real people working on the front line. I was solo in an SMB and found the community invaluable. I also helped others with my limited knowledge.

lmalhoit
lmalhoit

I do understand your frustrations with Twitter. Have you ever tried just using it as a search engine? Just sign in and type whatever topic you're interested in, and you're pretty much guaranteed to find some up-to-date information on what others are saying about it. As far as books go, I read a lot of them. I'm also working on my masters. I have nothing against a more traditional education. Have you looked in to getting in on a beta program that would allow you to read some of the books that are going to be published for new versions of software/hardware that aren't out yet? I also agree about alternative schedules! I would love to do that myself. I belong to a committee at work that is currently trying to pass an optional 9/80 work week. Meaning every other week you get a day off, but you work 9 hour days. It's not always possible, but any kind of alternative schedule would be nice.

hafizkoh
hafizkoh

Hi Ian, Can I just find out which country youre from? 384k is abit slow to survive and to keep up with current technologies.

pchopewell
pchopewell

Would you be able to provide more details for me as I would like to build a small network at home? I, too, would like to be able to use free stuff whenever possible so suggesting sources would also be helpful. I hope this is not too much trouble for you. Infonerd

lmalhoit
lmalhoit

Definitely a great way to stay sharp! There are also some free emulator programs out there that can be helpful and very "real world," like GNS3 and Cisco Packet Tracer.

joeller
joeller

Never thought of using it as a search engine. I will have to give it a go. There is a lot of stuff going on now I heard tell of. I just hated wading through the mishmash of nonsense to get to it.

gbengaadara
gbengaadara

If I have 384k. I would be sooooo happy. Some folks here in Nigeria survive on 33k

joeller
joeller

Many (if not most) of the people in Rural America are still on Dial-up. Earthlink, AOL, and compuserve are still widely used around here. While they optimumly connect at 54 kbps, in many cases downloads are executed at as little as 2 kbps.

dominicsabol
dominicsabol

How about surviving on less then 25k with a child in the US.