Members offer refresher course on keeping skills current

Most consultants say they keep their skills up to date, but are you really making your best effort to stay current? Read your fellow consultants' advice for keeping skills fresh, and then get a head start by exploring TechRepublic's skills resources.

Consultants know that offering the most innovative, up-to-date solutions is what drives their business. We recently asked IT Consultant community members to share their tips for keeping their skills current, and although some of their suggestions may seem commonplace, they bear repeating—especially if you've neglected to brush up on your skills regularly.

Read your colleagues' advice and then follow the links to some TechRepublic offerings that will put you on the right path.

The old standby: Reading
Chuck Harrington, an MCSD at Redbud Valley Consulting Company, says that staying current is his "second job." He has been an independent developer for the last 14 years, with a gross income "well into six figures."

"As someone who is brought into a project for his specific skills and experience, keeping my technological skills current is my lifeblood," he said.

He said he subscribes to technical newsletters and invests between $500 and $1,000 annually on technical newsletters and books to increase his knowledge of the technologies and tools he uses. He also advises that it's important to allocate time in your daily schedule for self-study and reading.

Related TechRepublic offerings:
Experiment with new technologies
TechRepublic member Chris Adams of BLC Consulting suggests doing sample projects in your spare time or using new technology or techniques whenever possible in small side jobs.

"Give low rates to projects where there is an opportunity to use new technologies that you believe have a future," he said.

Related TechRepublic offerings:
Become a certified professional
If you are a technical specialist and a certification program is available in your area of expertise, Harrington advises that you become a certified professional.

"There are arguments on both sides [as to] whether certification is valuable, but in my case, it is like icing on the cake," he said. "It may not always be required for the job, but it sure won't hurt."

Related TechRepublic offerings:
Networking: It's all about whom you know
You never know when having a beer after work will lead you to your next position, said TechRepublic member Riley Baughn, whose specialties are project management and test planning. He says that he regularly keeps in touch with former bosses, peers, and office assistants through happy hour gatherings and occasional lunches.

Baughn said he also attends one instructor-led class each year and finds many of his best contacts there.

"People are a window to the direction of their companies," he said. "You learn their projects, approaches, successes, and challenges. Invariably, these are additional contacts to establish relationships with and maintain for future reference."

Another place to find great networking opportunities is a local chapter of a professional organization or user group, said Harrington, who currently belongs to two such organizations.

Related TechRepublic offerings:
Attend classes, workshops, and seminars
Although it's sometimes tough to schedule them around his projects, Harrington said he makes it a point to attend a minimum of one major two- to three-day training seminar or workshop each year. His latest foray will be a two-day technical training workshop on Microsoft's new .NET development technology.

TechRepublic member Paul Hutcheson said that he gets the most out of local classes because he has time to talk to the professors and students about the software issues and problems he faces. Often, the conversations result in useful tips. He said that he recently heard a great idea from a student.

"One of my fellow students told me they use a dual-screen computer for Web site development," he said. "One screen to develop, and one to view the site. This is just one example of how the students can help you."

Related TechRepublic offerings:
Are workshops and seminars really helpful?
What's the best workshop, seminar, or class you've attended so far this year? Send us an e-mail about what you learned or post your comments below.


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