Train in Vain

My idea for today’s post is about trying to decide between investing training in new skills and expanding on the skills you already have. I am going through this right now. I have a long history with Microsoft products and only recently started working with VMware. I do have to admit how much I love the VMware community. I’ve met and talked with a lot of great people over the last few months. There is a lot to learn however. The majority of my experience is with Microsoft System Center and Hyper-V but there is room for a little improvement there as well. So the question I am faced with is whether to dig deeper into Microsoft technologies, or ramp up on the VMware stack.

Yeah! Why Not Both??

The answer always seems to be “it depends” in this field. To answer this question you really need to take a step back and determine what you ultimately want to do with the knowledge gained from cross-training. Depending on your job responsibilities and current knowledge it may pay off. Some things to consider:

  • Do you want to be a generalist (for lack of a better term) or a specialist? Having competitive knowledge is always a bonus, but you run the risk of spreading yourself thin. When looking at a new role, determine what will make you successful in that role. I know a lot of great VMware engineers that have a competitive-only knowledge of Hyper-V but very little hands on experience with it. This is perfectly fine for them as their role doesn’t really call for anything more than a passing knowledge about competing products from a very high level. I know even fewer Hyper-V experts that have competitive-only knowledge of VMware, and less than a handful of really smart folks that know both products at a very deep level. The key is to find the proper mix of knowledge for the position you will like the most.
  • Are you looking to expand your knowledge for your current position, or to help land a new position? The answer to this can reduce the amount of time it takes to plan your strategy. What can you study that will make you more successful? Are you often faced with questions about competing products in the marketplace? Do you struggle finding these answers? Are you faced with only questions about the product you currently work with but find the level of questioning become more and more technical and harder to answer? If you are happy with your current role, examine skills that you think you are missing to take yourself to the next level and focus on those. If you are looking for a new job, determine what will make you the best candidate to land the job and be successful in the role once you are hired.
  • What is the timeframe for your goals? You should set timeframes on each goal. If you want to get deeper in one technology but feel that it is important to also cross train short-term to land a new job, then it will pay off for you to focus your energy on cross training. If you feel that you want to ultimately be cross trained and deep in each subject, then it may pay off to focus your short-term goals on expanding what you already know and then set a long term goal to learn a new technology.
  • Who do you work for? Who do you want to work for? Do you want to be internal staff or look for a role with a consulting firm or maybe even a vendor? You may find that as your career grows you will find yourself moving from a generalist role to one where you start to become more focused in a certain technology. Deciding what you want to do will help you focus on the technologies you want to study. If you like getting your hands dirty and enjoy the implementation work then a role as a generalist may suit you. Take the current skills you have and grown them as you go. If you are a generalist now and would like to become a specialist to land a job with a vendor or move into a role as an architect with a consulting firm then you may want to expand on an area where you are already proficient and become an expert in that area.

One of my favorite bands in The Clash. The title of this article is based on one of their songs. I like them because they were always trying out new things and their sound could be vastly different track to track on an album. They were not afraid to take risks with their sound and they didn’t stick the same thing that originally made them successful. I like to think that I use the same philosophy in my career but I have hit a little bit of a rut. I need to invest time into getting a deeper understanding of the current technologies I work with or branch out and learn something new. Treading water and continuing the status quo will only mean all my training was in vain.