May 3, 2018
Your Tech Skills Have A 3-Year Half-Life: Where Do You Go From Here?

In many cases, the vast majority of our clients considering a software developer for hire these days may ask that developer to do a project as a test. During one of those situations recently, a client remarked about a solution that our candidate came up with involving some very modern code.

Frankly, that’s not something you hear every day.

Why? On the technology side, the vast majority of developers are still writing code with good old Java, C++ and C# - which is fine until you learn that a large percentage of their time is spent on maintaining and fixing existing systems.

Meanwhile, many of these languages and their uses are regularly changing over time in which new constructs and capabilities are being developed. Let’s use C++, for example. When we describe C++, we’re not describing one type of code, even though it may seem that way on the surface of things. In reality, there are a variety of differences between C++, C++11, C++14 and the upcoming C++17. As a result, a person could be working in C++ for years but if they’ve continued to use it in the same, standard fashion, they haven’t been keeping themselves up-to-date on the latest thinking pertaining to C++.

In his book, “How to Create a Mind,” Ray Kurzweil speaks to the fact that there has been more progress in software over the last 20 years than in hardware during the same period of time. Yet, a large number of software developers are not fully aware to what degree things are evolving toward the cutting edge. All you need to see for evidence of this is to look at an article in today's technical media and compare it to what was written 10 years ago. If it’s a highly technical piece, you'll realize just how many new things are being discussed.

Now, if you were a physician, would you be content to never learn of any new developments in your field such as drug advancements or new operating techniques? Of course not. You’d want to learn of those and implement them as soon as possible for the benefit of your patients, not to mention your own career in health. The same holds true for software developers – as infrastructure and the world changes at a rapid pace, it’s time to ask yourself: “What percentage of my work week should I spend on learning something new?”

Just like you can’t go to college for four years and expect to live off of that knowledge for the remainder of your career, you cannot learn something today and expect to basically be able to use the same know-how for the next 15-20 years.

The Shocking Half-Life Of Technical Knowledge Is…

Three to four years, in our estimation. That’s right. Within three to four years, there’s a legitimate risk that half of what you know from a technical perspective could become yesterday's news.

Consequently, it’s critical to learn as much as you can every three to four years of a skill that you know is still useful to organizations.

What does that mean for the percentage of your work week as far as the time breakdown between what should be devoted to learning something new compared to the technology you’re maintaining?

If you can spend at least 10% or more of your time on learning something new, you’re starting out on the right path. Yes, as with most jobs, there is a very substantial workload that "needs to be done." Still, you need to be aware of your progress and track it to ensure you’re not slipping backwards. For example, how long ago did you take any online classes about the latest techniques in machine learning, cloud computing, infrastructure, etc.?

If that’s a hard question for you to immediately answer, it’s time to dive into these new technological areas and gauge your comfort level in working with them. Otherwise, if you get too comfortable working on obsolete technology, once that technology gets eliminated (and someday, it will), you could find yourself with a skill set that’s obsolete.

A Simple Change In Mindset

Could Do Amazing Things For Your Career

In the minds of many developers, reading something new or taking an online class represents "their time" and therefore, it's a luxury to learn new things while they’re already working in a job they’re getting paid for. Don’t fall into this trap. Your mindset should be more along the lines of, “If I'm not learning constantly, my productivity degrades.”

If we use the measurement of a half-life of technological knowledge of three to four years maximum, we can say that as soon as three years into the future, you may be only half as good as you should be. If, for example, you find that your compensation is not improving, it may be time to ask yourself if you are truly far more valuable today using current technology than you were four years ago.

So often, a transition into new technological know-how can bring about the need to explore new environments that cater better to that knowledge too. That’s why it’s so important to talk to Talman first. Roy Talman & Associates can help guide you toward a culture that aligns with the next evolution of your career – not just an alignment with a job description. Let our team show you the real difference of our experience today.