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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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?