Learning isn't a destination, it's a process. And in our profession, that process is often out-prioritized by the exigencies of the moment: "I'll sign up for that course in wireless networking as soon as we wrap up this VPN deployment." "I'll take that class in strategic management right after corporate completes this hostile takeover and we integrate the new company's systems into our own."
But the rabbinic sage Hillel was clearly onto something when he warned, "Do not say, 'When I have leisure, I will study,' because you may never have leisure."
Indeed, taking a week to attend a seminar, particularly an out-of-town seminar, is tough, especially while you're trying to balance 12 top-priority projects, manage a staff and maintain some semblance of a home life. In the past year or so, as I've settled into my new job in a new city, with a new baby, a new house and countless cartons still waiting to be unpacked, I've found it virtually impossible to set aside time, even for online courses.
Pick Up a Book
But when it comes to learning, if you're not going up, you're going down, regardless of profession. This is where that most asynchronous of learning tools, the book, comes in handy.
Yes, folks, they may seem antiquated, but books are still a prime source of excellent IT and management resource material. What's more, you can use them anytime, anywhere--just add light, and maybe a pair of reading glasses.
So, with the back-to-school spirit in the air, I give you my three top literary picks for the term ahead, based on my review of recommendations from peers and publishers, and my own bedtime reading.
The Practical Manager's Guide to Open Source, by Maria Winslow (Lulu Press, 2004). Although biased slightly toward Linux, this book is a one-stop shop for information on open-source software. Its approach is particularly well-suited to people who find themselves in a large or midsize organization that hasn't yet availed itself of open source. It walks the reader through open source's origins, and current and future uses, and then it lists the software that fits specific enterprise needs. It's not a super-appealing book visually, but it serves as a great reference (though the Internet is a better source of alerts on open-source software updates and viruses), and the information is right on the money.
The Art of Project Management, by Scott Berkun (O'Reilly, 2005). Project management is like statistics: It's a fine art, people misuse and abuse it, and, as one of my stats professors used to say, it's a subject you can study repeatedly and learn something new each time. Every IT person must know something about project management to get anything useful done for his or her end users.
Berkun's book makes good points about breaking projects into manageable chunks and being realistic. My favorite line: "If the brain surgeon tells you it will take five hours, would you pressure him to do it in three?"
It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To BeZ, by Paul Arden (Phaidon Press, 2003). Written by an advertising expert, this little book serves up a wallop to all professionals in all professions, IT included.
Like any demanding field where you must be good to succeed, IT is peopled with prima donnas. But ongoing success in IT is all about your drive, not about how well you did on your CCIE test.
Unlike the many tedious management tomes that fill bookstore shelves, this is a page-turner full of bons mots such as, "The person who doesn't make mistakes is unlikely to make anything." Arden's right--no risk, no reward.
Managers and staff alike would do well to remember this.
Jonathan Feldman is director of information services for the city of Asheville, N.C., and a contributing editor to Network Computing. Previously, he was director of professional services at Entre Solutions, an infrastructure consulting company based in Savannah, Ga. Write to him at email@example.com.