It is a relatively cold morning in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Woke up earlier and spent time reading the latest issue of Communications of the ACM (10/2016 Volume 59 No 10). A short article titled Fresh Starts by Kate Matsudaira called my attention.
A fresh start is associated with a new job, a new project or a new team. You can get a better description by reading the actual article. Kate lists three things one can do to learn on new and improve on existing skills. The article opens with the following paragraph: “Just because you have been doing it the same way doesn’t mean you are doing it the right way”. There are words to live by.
First Kate suggests creating a learning plan. About 40% of college graduates do not read a single book after they graduate. If you are not in that group, then your chances for advancement and success increase. I have always read technical books and magazines. To me the important thing to do is to get some experience by trying out the material. Just recognizing a term without some hands on experience is not enough. At this time I am reading and practicing exercises from the book “Algorithms” fourth edition by Sedgewick and Wayne. In my Amazon.com wish list I already have among others “Bundle of Algorithms in Java” by Robert Sedgewick. Learning always help you do things better and open new opportunities at work.
A couple months ago I signed up for a Spring Framework on-line course. Classes were three hours on Saturdays and Sundays for four weeks. The course ended last week. There was an associated fee which I took care of. I have not decided yet if I will submit my receipt for reimbursement. I just wanted to learn more on that topic.
The second suggestion is to build better relationships. For that Kate recommends improving your communication skills by writing better email messages and taking someone to lunch. For a long time I have been writing technical documentation (Software Requirements Specification, Software Architecture Specification, and Software Design Description among others) in order to be able to convey as exactly as possible my thoughts. When I send an e-mail I tend to write it in a word processor and when ready copy it to my mail client. That way syntax and spelling errors are addressed.
At this point in life, I am working remotely so do not have too many opportunities to take someone out to lunch. That said; when I visit the office, every single day we do lunch with other employees. Conversations are quite different and you get an opportunity to learn more about the person, not the engineer. Unless my memory fails, I have been lucky enough that in most environments I have been going out to lunch with team members. Occasionally you run into someone that always brings lunch to work or skips it. Not much you can do with that attitude except keep on trying to take them out.
The third and last suggestion is to make better use of your down time. Kate suggests to always being on time for work and meetings. Keep a reading queue so if you are waiting for something you can read something useful instead of surfing the web. She also suggests audio books. These seem like a good suggestion while comminuting in mass transit. Years ago I tried audio books and podcasts while driving. After a couple weeks I decided to go back to background music. Personally I rather pay attention to traffic and not being distracted by following the speaker(s). Perhaps some people can chew gum and walk, but when I drive I rather pay attention to traffic. I know one of my sons listens to podcasts when he drives. Good for him.
If you are not a member of the ACM and are a software developer / computer scientist you might want to consider joining. There are many benefits for members including Communications on paper or on-line.