Back in the day, when contracting was my full time gig, I had to carefully consider the merits of prolonging certain long-term engagements. Some projects required so much commitment and focus, there was a real danger - over the life of that project - that many of my other technical skills would go to seed. This was especially true of projects that ran between 18 months and three years in duration.
I know this must seem like a fantasy to many of you – but yes, many projects in the past did actually use to go on for a couple of years or so. Internet Time is actually a recent occurrence (relative to geologic time).
The dilemma one always faced: chasing financial stability, versus keeping marketable skills fresh and up to date.
The Great Recession changed a lot of that worry, naturally.
Even so, a like challenge faces even full time employees (and even those full time employees engaged in tech related industries) – how does one stay current and conversant as a generalist, keeping up with current education and trends, when so much time is spent in becoming expert in a focused area of expertise? How does one keep their pursuit of “deep domain” knowledge and expertise from sabotaging their ability to keep and maintain a marketable set of skills needed for the next gig, the next promotion, or the next job?
The straightforward answers are:
Never stop learning.
Never stop challenging.
Never stop changing.
Try these practices on for size:
- Learn New Skills. Especially when you’re in a stable, long-term engagement, the inclination is to ease back a little. You should use this period of stability to increase and improve your skillsets. Ask to be trained. Lobby for hack days. Push for 20% time.
- Keep Presentin’. If you really want to master a skill or a subject, try teaching it. Presenting before others, especially in an environment where your position or opinion may be publicly challenged, is a sure-fire way to stay sharp. Plus, you will raise your profile as a subject matter expert in the bargain.
- Re-invent Yourself. One of my personal favorites. We all need to put ourselves at risk from time to time. It’s how we grow as people, and as professionals. Put yourself out there. Try a project with entirely new tools and knowledge domains. Create opportunities for positive change, by empowering yourself to change.
Never stop learning. Never stop challenging. Never stop changing.
And – never stop railing against complacency, the true peril.