The problem of staying current is more acute in IT than in other fields because of the speed of new technology development. What do you do when a new technology comes along that makes obsolete a technology that you've devoted a good part of your career to?
When my son was little, I used to help him with his homework. English, spelling, science, no problem. But then he started bringing home his math homework. At first, I thought that it would be a breeze because I'd always been a math whiz in school. I hadn't planned on [insert ominous music here] New Math. I completely confused the poor boy because I was showing him how I used to solve math problems, which was totally different from the way he was supposed to be doing it and by which he would be graded. I knew I was going to be totally useless on this front until I learned the new way of doing it.
Well, easier said than done. The new method completely baffled me. I couldn't get my brain around it because for my whole life I'd only known one way of reaching a mathematical conclusion. I got frustrated, and I whined until he finally sent me to bed without any supper.
Now that's a funny story but that has a much more serious meaning when you think about the effect changing technology has on the career of an IT pro. When you earn your living being very good at one specific technology, and something else is thrown in, what do you do? You have no choice but to keep up. And that can be very stressful.
I received an e-mail from a TechRepublic member in response to my blog about the worst job in the world. This reader made the point, as did many others in the discussion, that a job might not be bad in itself but the circumstances around it might be.
As the reader described in his e-mail:
"Moving from VB6 to .NET. 10 years ago I was doing a lot of COM development with VB6, lots of 'object-oriented' programming, and was very successful at it. .NET changes many of the paradigms that took years to learn, even if the underlying principles are the same. A younger person with no previous OOP experience may simply embrace .NET's approach to classes without having to shed the VB6 mindset.
I personally have not had too much trouble keeping up, but I see a lot of Cobol, classic ASP, and VB6 guys who are drowning with .NET. And, given the changes expected in IT over the next several years, these people are the most likely to end up having to find new jobs — and, without the skills necessary to replace their current salaries."
The problem of staying current is more acute in IT than in other fields because of the speed of new technology development. It's also a problem because the executives who want to shift to the newest thing are also the very ones who don't understand the learning curve. Their thinking is like, "Well, you speak French, surely you speak Italian too."
What was the hardest new technology for you to adjust to?
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.