Staying Current in Modern IT

Learning is a very individualized process which ultimately means what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. In recent years I’ve noticed that folks are being asked to ramp up on new systems and/or changes to existing ones in increasingly smaller time frames. This used to be just be a part of some professions however it’s becoming expected of all members of the workforce and increasingly more difficult to do in information technology.

If it seems like there is a new “cool thing” to dig into every week from a technology standpoint that’s because there is. No one person is going to be able to master everything in technology but that doesn’t stop some of us from trying😉.  In my years of consulting I’ve somewhat figured out what works best for me from an ongoing education/learning standpoint and while it’s really a combination of mediums the one thing that is consistent is “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Most of my work revolves around Azure and Microsoft 365 which are two very large and consistently evolving platforms. Last year I started tracking how much time I spent with what I considered “staying up to speed” tasks.  These included monitoring changes, updates and utilizing new applications, services or features. I found out I typically spend around 20 – 25 hours a week on those tasks!!! Fortunately, not everyone needs to have knowledge of the developer, IT professional, power user and user roles and there are certainly much more intelligent folks than myself that won’t need that much time anyway.  What I realized while doing this tracking is that I rely heavily on community contribution to point me in the right direction. In the world of Microsoft products they are considered MVPs but I also look to employees, teammates and other members of the community to expedite my learning curve.

Without those folks I would not be able to do my job nearly as effectively nor bring others up to speed.  To be clear, I will likely never be an MVP as I don’t make the contributions to the community necessary, but I am okay with that.  I have 5 young children, travel 50% of the time and work 60 – 65 hours week. My wife should automatically acquire sainthood for dealing with my schedule😉…The reality of my situation is the technology combined with the community make it possible to consume information in so many ways I can pick what works best for me.

Hence the point of this post…below you will find the various ways that I’ve found allow me to stay up to date on technology over the past 20 or so years.  While many of the resources I utilize and reference below are specific to Microsoft technologies they are openly available in other technical stacks as well, if you know where to look😉.

Documentation

  • Microsoft Docs
    • More for the developer/IT profession crowd. Microsoft has done a much better job with documentation the past few years
  • Office Support
    • More for the power user crowd but still a valuable resource for us IT folks as well
  • Microsoft 365 Admin Message Center
    • If you do anything with the management of an Office 365 envrionment you need to be reviewing this regularly…SaaS means you don’t control the updates😉
  • React Docs
    • We use React for our SharePoint Framework development and occasionally for web, so we pop in here regularly
  • Angular Docs
    • We don’t really use Angular much in our Office 365 development, but we love it for our web and mobile application development, so we pop in here regularly as well
  • Vue Docs
    • We occasionally utilize Vue for some of our “smaller” SharePoint work as it’s similar enough to Angular syntactically the learning curve was small and in many cases the use of Angular is overkill and React isn’t the “right fit” for the task at hand
    • Note for the developers reading: Yes, instead of picking one of them we just said, “forget it” and learned them all so we can use the right tool for the job…it was a pain but worth it
  • Ionic Framework
    • With all the references to Microsoft you might expect to see Xamarin listed here however we generally choose Ionic unless the need for native look and feel arises

 

Microsoft Docs Office Support Message center in Office 365 Getting Started with React Angular Docs Vue Docs Ionic Documentation

 

Blogs

Whether corporate or personal I love blogs, but I tend to take them with a “grain of salt” …corporate ones tend to do the sales pitch vs. focus on the reality and some personal blogs focus to much on reality and miss the sales pitch completely. Oddly as much as I love and consume blogs, I don’t subscribe to many. We have a feed setup in our intranet for the Tech Community posts related to various Azure and Office 365 services but outside of that I utilize Twitter to find things of interest and check them out at a later point…more on that shortly.

  • Tech Community
    • If you do any Microsoft related work this is the place to get the latest/greatest information from the source
  • Sharegate
    • We utilize this quite frequently and they also have some very insightful blog posts relating to Office 365 that are worth checking out
  • AvePoint
    • Another utility we utilize that offers up blogs relating to Office 365
  • Microsoft 365 Roadmap
    • While this isn’t necessarily a blog, it’s a way for us to stay ahead of potential changes and feature updates. Just make sure you have a developer tenant set up with targeted release to ensure you get the bugs before your customers😉

 

Social Media

Twitter is usually my “entry point” for digging further into various topics and although I’ve already noted I don’t really subscribe to blogs I do subscribe to YouTube, a lot.   I do check in on LinkedIn occasionally but as most developers can attest, the recruiters just make it painful to use (Not IBS recruiters though, they are the exception😉).  I cannot tell you how many “Great opportunities” I’ve got for Java developer positions, OnBase, Salesforce etc. that are just huge swings and misses.

Twitter

  • Office 365/SharePoint List
    • I create various lists based on the persons expertise the one referenced above is mostly Microsoft employees, MVPs and a few other consultants I know and respect their skillsets
      • I also have lists for React, Azure, C# and Power Platform as well

YouTube

  • Microsoft 365 & SharePoint PnP – Community
    • Weekly videos posted for Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Patterns and Practices
  • Microsoft 365 Developer
    • Tons of videos available for learning and general community discussions
  • Microsoft Mechanics
    • Whereas the above two video series are “developer” centric this one is considered “IT Professional” specific
  • REgarding 365
    • Although it doesn’t have the subscriber numbers as the rest of these it probably should…lots of great content relating to Microsoft 365 for everyone, not just developers
  • Shane Young
    • Anything you could want to know about Power Apps you can get from Shane!

LinkedIn

Reddit

  • I just go here for the trolls…seriously, read some of the threads!!!

Podcasts

This a perfect format for runs, the gym or travel. I try to find 3 – 5 takeaways that I can follow up on quickly or possibly deep dive into later but ultimately it depends on the podcast and the materials covered.   Some of these also have video available and depending on the content I may end up watching the video after listening to the podcast to “double up” and reinforce the material covered.

GitHub

I’ve cloned more repos than I care to admit and looked over thousands for ideas…whether you’re a novice or an expert getting your hands dirty is the best way to learn😉.

On Demand Learning

This is by far where I spend the most time learning and all I can say is: Pluralsight, Pluralsight and more Pluralsight. Yes, it’s a paid subscription and yes, there are lots of other on demand learning resources out there, but I really like Pluralsight’s format and content.  I probably consume the content a bit differently than some other folks which may play a part in my preferring Pluralsight, but it works for me.

I typically listen to the training first (usually while traveling or in the early morning) and make “mental notes” of content I want to go back to and actually “tinker with”.  If a course indicates it’s 4 hours, I usually end up spending twice that to ensure I fully understand the concepts and can implement.  In February of 2020 I logged roughly 10 hours of Pluralsight videos but, I really spent 20 – 24 hours with the additional tinkering.

User Groups and Conferences

Communities are an awesome way to learn as indicated by most of the resources utilized to this point are community driven however sometimes it’s good for us to get out a socialize…that’s where User Groups and Conferences come into play. If you’re not familiar with user groups think of them as a meeting of folks interested in a specific topic where there is usually a subject matter expert on the topic presenting and at least a few in attendance as well.  Meetup is still one of the more popular services for User Groups  but there are others out there like Eventbrite.

Conferences are a great way to get a feel for where things are headed or get a quick synopsis of a technology, but the hallways and events are where the “magic happens”.  I particularly like when conferences have pre-compiler or workshop sessions before or after the normal sessions that allow you to “deep dive” on the topics. Those types of conferences typically are great ways to get insights into technology having one-off discussions with the presenters and attendees. I’ve probably learned just as much in one-off conversations as I have sitting in the various sessions over the years. Below are a few of the ones I would highly recommend:

Teammates

Standups, code reviews, pair programming or just working on something together are all great ways to learn from others. No matter how much you know about a certain topic it’s important to remember that someone knows more than you, even if they aren’t an expert😉.  I’ve been lucky to have good mentors that exhibited a great deal of patience with me when I was starting out but knew when it was time to cut me loose to fend for myself.  This is probably where folks learning styles and personalities play the biggest role in learning.

Anyone that has interacted with me probably already knows this, but I have been called a “Type A” personality, dominant or blunt quite a few times in my life, rightfully so. I’ve made concerted efforts to adapt my personality to the folks that I’m working with and communicate with them in their preferred manner however at my core lays that dominant personality. This is great for learning things on my own as I want to conquer everything but when working with teammates or junior folks, I must remember what works for me may not be best for them.

I am sure I’ve omitted someone or something that I should have included in this listing however these are the “core pieces” to how I stay current with technology for my role as a consultant.  Again, the links to content are specific to my role however the various mediums can be utilized for any role.  Hopefully this listing will provide value and feel free to add a comment if there is something you feel should be added…I’m always open to new learning opportunities😉.

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