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Extending IT Experience

Working in IT? Feeling lost given everything that’s going on in the industry? Are you confused about what to focus on and how to best apply your knowledge? If you can relate to any of the above, this blog post is for you! These days, the lines between job functions are growing increasingly blurrier. New topics and technologies are constantly evolving, so how do you stay ahead, or at least on top of your game? First, understand that staying ahead in the industry is a never-ending journey, which means you will never be “done.” You will reach some career milestones, but there is no end to reach. Second, pick one area of interest in which you would like to improve. For me, that’s network automation, or learning to develop software to assist with daily tasks. Don’t start with a huge topic; keep it manageable. For example, I would not start out with “data center” and try and understand everything under that huge umbrella. Instead, you could start out with: “Data center to WAN connectivity,” which narrows it down quite effectively. The former would take several months and a reading list of 5-10 books, whereas the latter boils it down to maybe three to four weeks and a reading list of one or two books. After you have picked an area, be very single-minded in your focus. Don’t jump back and forth between different tracks that you would like to improve on. This will only make you feel discouraged because you’ll likely feel you aren’t making any progress. This discipline has helped me to focus and improve certain skills much faster than if I would have done a bit of this and a bit of that randomly. This approach also has the side effect of helping to sort out your mind, so to speak. You will feel more in control, which will help reduce the nagging sensation you get when you are feeling lost. Through my experience in IT, there are two truly effective ways of choosing a topic to study. First, pick a topic that is related to something that you already do on a regular basis. The advantage of this is that you will actually get to use your improved skill for something practical. At some point, it might even free up some time to start on my next suggestion. Once you feel you’ve improved enough in one area of interest, pick a topic that you would like to extend yourself into. This will keep your skill set sharp so that you will be prepared for the next big thing coming on the horizon. It also has the added benefit of being something you are really passionate about, which will make it easier to fully focus on it. Now that you have picked out something to improve on, how do you actually go about it? Well, as mentioned earlier, single-tasking can be quite helpful in IT. But before you get to that, I would suggest you map out some time slots during the day that is specifically dedicated to study. If you don’t have time during your normal work day, try and do it before you leave for work in the morning. If you have issues with procrastination, try and start really small. Try reading for just 5-10 minutes. It might not be much, but it’s better for your career than spending that time sleeping. Keep a journal or a list of your progress. I note what I have studied and for how long in my calendar. This has the benefit of providing me with more motivation when I look back and see how I’ve performed during the week. Also, try and mix things up if you get stuck doing only one thing (reading, for example). Shake it up by watching some videos on the topic instead. Finally, to gain IT experience, I would advise you to read popular blogs, news sites, Twitter®, etc. Just dive into the ones you find relevant to your chosen topic. This will help create a mental picture of what’s going on in the industry so that you’ll have them fresh in your mind. You have to be very careful not to take in too much information that is irrelevant to your current topic. By all means, be curious about topics that relate, but be mindful of your mental bandwidth. I hope this information will give you a sense of purpose and rejuvenation in your professional life. I know it’s a system that has worked for me, so I trust others will be able to use it as well.  
Kim Pedersen
Kim is a Senior Network Engineer and blogger at www.packet-forwarding.net with a strong focus on network design. He splits half his time dedicated to consultancy…
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