Build a Knowledge Portfolio

Remain Competitive in Today’s IT Market…Build a Knowledge Portfolio!

Times have changed. The competition here and abroad for jobs is tough, to put it mildly. As a programmer you are going to have to work hard to stay in the rat race – to stay relevant…but how?

Take the initiative for your career – for your future

Your greatest assets are your knowledge, experiences, and the ability to apply these to developing solutions.

Dave Thomas, author of “The Pragmatic Programmer, states in a talk “How to Keep Your Job”, that you must “invest in yourself”. He suggests that we treat our knowledge assets as if they were a financial portfolio. By investing in – and managing – your “Knowledge Portfolio”, you ensure that your knowledge assets maintain or increase their overall value and endure changes in the industry, hence remaining more marketable.

The Keys to a Successful Knowledge Portfolio

1. Plan…Set a Goal and Stay the Course…
“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.”– Tom Landry

A successful Knowledge Portfolio starts with a plan. Would you build a house, plan for retirement, or put aside a nest egg for your child’s college tuition without having an appropriate plan adapted to reaching that particular goal? No! Why should your career be any different?

Your Knowledge Portfolio should consist of the never-ending learning process I mentioned above. Do not assume that the knowledge base you have today will be valuable five years from now. Plan for now and for the future by setting specific goals for this year, next year, and five years from now and allow room for change.

Get a sense of where the industry is heading…Decide on where you want to be…Read books,magazines, blogs, newsgroups, and mailing lists…Join community sites…Talk to people.

2. Invest
“If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”– Benjamin Franklin

It is vital to take the time necessary to build your Knowledge Portfolio. “Time” should never be an issue. I’m not suggesting hours per day…but rather hours per week or per month. Building your Knowledge Portfolio should become habit and not just something you do when you “have time”. It needs to be part of your life, a ritual.

Pursue Knowledge. Pursue Education. Take classes at training centers or colleges.
Learn tools, techniques, and frameworks to improve productivity or the quality of your code. Take time to understand a specific industry outside of IT – i.e. healthcare, finance, etc. You will always obtain some form of return on this investment.

3. Diversify
Planning and investing only gets you part of the way to a successful collection of knowledge assets. Spread out your investments in different areas. Strike a balance between low-risk and high-risk investments. Choose your investments to maximize the value of your portfolio. Good investments will minimize risk while not preventing opportunities. The more you know, the more valuable you are.

As a programmer, I try not to focus solely on just my favorite technologies, languages or environments. I’ve learned to branch out to different flavors. However, this took time.

The most value will come from learning something that is greatly different from the familiar. For example; if you know C#, learn Ruby. If your operating system of choice is Windows learn Unix.Know Visual Studio? Learn Emacs. If you create Desktop Applications try developing for Mobile Devices. The list is never ending.

4. Review
Your knowledge portfolio does not live in a vacuum. As the industry and you change, your portfolio’s value and plan will require re-evaluation for their relevance. It is imperative to keep an eye on your portfolio. Make it a habit to check it regularly.

Evaluate your assets for their perceived value in the current marketplace. What is their expected value? Is your plan still sound or do you need to change it?

You DO have control over your own destiny…

To be successful in the current IT environment it will take conscious, directed effort on your part. One of the few key areas you have control over is your own value – the value of your Knowledge Portfolio. By taking the initiative and following the suggestions outlined above, you will not only remain competitive, but will also likely find that good opportunities are still out there for the taking.

In closing, I have been a full-time Instructor at SetFocus since 2000. One of the best parts of my job is watching people make an investment in themselves and see return on that investment. Every year roughly 125 men and women join SetFocus’ .NET Master’s Program in an effort to build or rebuild their Knowledge Portfolios. Through the help and willingness of the instructors, career services, and the students themselves, each person walks away from the Master’s Program with a stronger and more marketable Knowledge Portfolio than when they joined and the results speak for themselves. In 2003, 90% of our .NET Master’s Program students attained a programming position within 13 weeks following the training…enough said.

“Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work. But if you’re not frightened by these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were.”– David Rockefeller