Lots of good advice here. Take control of your life -- that is precisely the theme of the talk that Jared Richardson presented at Twin cities JUG.  He addressed the key point of whether your career is a random product of your manager's whims or companies needs, and provided some proven strategies to take control of your career. My notes from the presentation:

  • You may be a model employee, and perhaps the best employee that your employer might ever get. You work day-in and day-out on the proprietary software and that is your whole universe. Let's say you get laid off, unfortunately, how much ever smart you are you may struggle to find a new job. Reason: your skills are so specific to your employer's home-grown framework and not up to the standards of what market expects from you.
  • Who picks your skill set? Your manager assigns you work and you try to learn something out of it OR do you take extra effort to pick your own skill set. There is nothing wrong with the first option, but you should never rely on your company alone to keep your skills current and marketable.
  • Invest in your career
    • Regular deposit of knowledge: Keep learning, learn something new every day.
    • Pay yourself first: Learning and keeping skills current should be your top-most priority.
    • Diversify: Don't put all your eggs in one basket, like depending on only one language or framework will not cut.
  • Set goals. Better come up with short term and specific goals, rather than longer term and vague goals. LOTY (in the spirit of pragmatic programmers) -- Learn a new technology this year or learn one new language this year.
  • There are various ways you can improve the skill set:
    • Take that extra effort and learn the new technology or new tool after work, Jared calls it sanity hacking.
    • Contribute to open source. Tons of projects out there pick that interests you.
    • Join user groups (like JUGs) or clubs to learn and share knowledge.
    • Start a blog and share your thoughts and in turn learn from it.
    • Speak and present your ideas about topics that you are passionate about.
  • Blogging
    • It is too easy not to do! You can create a blog with absolutely no monetary investment (you may start small with Blogger).
    • On a daily basis you learn something or look up a resource that helps you solve a problem. Write about it, there are so many people out there desperate for solutions who will find your blog.
    • You are unique (no kidding!), you have your own experiences and perspectives. Share them, so as to get useful feedback. Bottom line is learning.
    • Post frequently (frequency may depend on your niche), and provide value.
    • Link to other people's blogs. Knowledge is all around, don't worry about losing visitors by outgoing links.
    • If you read books, then write a review.
    • Write tutorials or how-to articles. Even one page article could provide a great value.
    • DON'T blog about any proprietary stuff that you use at work.
    • Track blog statistics (using Google Analytics) so that you can understand what resonates with your audience and perhaps write follow-ups on popular articles. That is an opportunity for you to delve bit more deeper into the topic.
  • Writing Tips
    • Mind maps are an excellent way to brainstorm your ideas.
    • Use a wiki to jot down your ideas. There are portable wikis that you can carry in a USB drive, if that is your preference. JSPWiki is Jared's favorite.
    • Hipster PDA (yes, a small notebook), keep that with you all the time to write down your ideas right at the moment.
    • Write every day even if it is only few paragraphs of the article. Keep the habit going.
  • Speaking: Give presentations or speak about a topic in your company or outside.
    • It makes you go deeper into the topic.
    • Start lunch-n-learn groups at work.
    • To overcome fear of public speaking and improve speaking skills sign-up for Toastmasters.
    • Video tape yourself and review it.
    • Practice, practice, practice.
  • In speaker's own words -- learn to lead with in your company and then stretch out to far greater influence outside, building your reputation as you go. From coding to writing to speaking, from each step you will gain new skill sets, gain confidence and get visibility which goes well beyond your resume. Most importantly, you will be in a position of having options and take control of your career.

P.S: What an advancement in the technology! Jared streamed his talk via his iPhone. Provided the broadcast link on Twitter and I happily attended from the comfort of my home, some 1200 miles away from the venue. Here is a direct link to the video that he recorded.

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