Staying with the Fire Hose

At the recent Ann Arbor Day of .Net, my colleague David Giard arranged an excellent panel discussion with Jim Holmes, Mike Eaton, Jay Harris, Patrick Steele, and Jason Follas, about keeping current with the stream of constantly evolving technology with which we work (aka the Fire Hose). I felt this was one of the best sessions of the day, the audience was very engaged with the panel. It definitely ended too soon. *Update* David Giard posted a video of the discussion on his Technology and Friends webcast.

One of the discussion points revolved around training. I think a couple points were pretty clear from the discussion:

  1. Companies don’t provide enough or the right training
  2. You own your career, it’s up to you to get the training you need.

One of the discussion points that I wanted to contribute, was that the existence of Day of .Net is partly driven as a reaction by the community to the two points above. We attend these conferences to learn (among other things) just enough about new technologies so we can effectively evaluate them and see if they fit into our day-to-day jobs or personal interests. Traditional training methods (books, classroom training, CTBs) seem to be falling further and further behind as the fire hose continues to flow faster and faster. We are at the conference to get some of the training we need, because it’s not available any other way.

Technical Books

For me, books have always been part of my learning, but more and more they are falling short. Technology is changing faster than publishers can respond. More often than not the book I need isn’t going to be published for a while. Even today (May 2010), look at the number of new developer technologies that are hot in my circles:

  • Silverlight 4
  • Windows Azure
  • Windows Phone 7
  • Android
  • SharePoint 2010
  • .Net 4.0

These are by no means niche technologies. You would be hard pressed to find many books published on them (maybe some around beta releases, those get stale fast and are often of dubious quality due to the rushed nature of the title). I completely understand the lag time, but I think the publishers need to step up and start paying authors as full-time employees so they can commit full time to a book and get it released sooner. Typically book authors are doing this on the side, I am sure that slows down time to market. There are some Microsoft technologies, like Commerce Server, that haven’t seen a new book since 2002. Arguably that’s a much more niche technology (and certainly not as popular as SharePoint for instance), but if a company as large as Microsoft is investing money to develop the product, they have users of the software so there must be some kind of market for those books.

I know lots of folks don’t work on the cutting edge (I spoke to a group of VB6 developers yesterday that didn’t even have Visual Studio installed), so this is less of a problem for them. As a consultant, this is a constant problem for me. Maybe I am am the minority and there isn’t as much market for these books so early? That’s hard for me to say. Either way, I know the publishers are losing my money, because I end up digging up blog posts and finding online articles to meet my need long before the book hits the shelves for me to purchase it.

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