Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Keeping the Tools Sharp

Any software engineer that isn't right out of school knows how important it is to keep up with the latest technology. I'm a Unix guy so if you are going to follow this blog you are going to hear about Unix and its related technology stack and Java to the extent it is platform agnostic. Nothing against the Microsoft tools, there are just only so many pencils you can keep sharp at once.

Let me clarify what I mean by keeping your tools sharp. It not only means keeping up with new versions of software you use (Java EE 6 for instance, huge changes over earlier versions). It also means diving into your tools that you use every day and really understanding them. Especially fundamental tools like your IDE or your source control system. Knowing these tools inside and out means you will get a reputation helping others fix problems and you yourself will be more productive.

But it also means taking the time to revisit things you haven't thought of in awhile. Let's say you are an expert C++ programmer. When was the last time you flipped through Stroustrup's book The C++ Programming Language for those not familiar. Well worth it even if you write C++ code in your sleep. There is always something new to learn.

I would also highly advise taking advantage of any tuition reimbursement program your company offers and taking some classes at a local University. I recently took an operating systems class from a local public university. I'll be honest I wasn't expecting much, I don't write operating systems. But it was actually a great experience. It reminded me about some concepts I don't have to think about very often in my day to day job like signal handling or interprocess communication. But those are things I should be familiar with, they are tools, they solve problems. Being reminded how operating systems schedule processes or how a real-time system's I/O architecture differs from Unix can be critically important and be the difference between looking like an idiot and being the star of your next project. Go to school occasionally, it is well worth it.

Keep those tools sharp.

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