Always Be Learning

In today’s always-on, always on-line world, it should be no surprise that the amount of information available to further your self-education is virtually limitless. Combine this with the ever-more-rapidly changing technologies in the market, and it’s easy to be in a state of constant learning & intellectual stimulation.

Despite this, I’ve often found technical people – IT people – who fail to take advantage of what’s out there, and are sometimes even dismissive of growing their skills. I’ve encountered this most often in shops where the IT team are being provided little paid training by the company, and so some team members develop an attitude of “I’m not going to learn <insert new skill/tech> just because the company needs me to; if it’s important to the company, then the company should pay for real training.” While it’s certainly true that a company should be providing the resources necessary to run their business – including personnel training for the technologies on which the business relies – this perspective only helps further negativity in the workplace and harms not just the business and the IT team, but also the individuals themselves. Yes, investing in your skillset will benefit your company, but the education, the skills, and the experience you gain in learning new things are fundamentally yours, and benefit you most of all. Refusing to take the initiative to learn on your own is a quintessential case of “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Yes, training often costs real money, but not always. There’s an immense amount of training available completely free of charge. Phil Wiffen (Twitter: @phil_wiffen) has helpfully put together a nice list of free IT training on his blog, and a lot of it is even official, straight-from-the-vendor training:

There’s also an immense amount of reasonably-priced (some might even say unreasonably cheap) tech resources and/or reference material out there. The ones below only begin to scratch the surface:

  • PluralSight: The premier on-line purveyor of IT/tech video training, particularly following their acquisition and integration of TrainSignal. PluralSight stand out for two reasons: their all-you-can-eat-buffet approach to training (low monthly or annual charges for as much training as you can absorb, starting at $29/month or $299/year) and because of the quality of their authors/instructors.  They have a strong contingent of people who really walk-the-walk and have already been recognized for their skills by acquiring VCDX, CCIE, and other high-level certifications or technical recognition. Just to point out a few:
  • Safari Books Online: One of the oldest on-line resources, and brought to you by the fine folks from O’Reilly Media, they have a number of plans (starting as low as $24/month or $249/year) providing access to a wide library of technical publications (from O’Reilly, No Starch Press, Microsoft Press, Cisco Press, and many others), but also video training, audio books, conference talks and more.
  • PacktPub:  “Only” a publisher of books and ebooks, PacktPub is distinguished for the variety of their pricing models, their frequent discounting/sales on their ebooks (often 50% off or flat-pricing at $10 a title), and the variety and quality of some of their authors. They also offer a subscription option which provides online access to all of their titles, as well as a free ebook download per month, for $22/month or $220/year. Some of their titles worth checking out:
  • LeanPub: This is a new one for me, having really looked at them only this week, thanks to my finally getting around to buying one of Greg Ferro’s (@etherealmind) ebooks from their site. Apart from his work, they have a variety of other titles that are mostly reasonably priced with a pay-what-you-like model – including some that are completely free.
  • Books/eBooks by Michael W. Lucas: I first discovered Lucas’ work through a series of on-line articles focused on Unix/BSD back around the turn of the century (accurate, despite how strange it feels applying that phrase to such recent times), and he quickly became one of my favorite tech writers. Since then, he’s published a number of wonderfully written, and highly informative, books through the great independent No Starch Press including Absolute FreeBSD, Absolute OpenBSD, Cisco Routers for the Desperate, and Network Flow Analysis.  More recently he’s been releasing smaller, more tightly focused books via self-publishing that are short, sharp, and cheap ($8.99-$9.99):

There’s more than enough high-quality resources out there to keep you in a constant state of learning for the remainder of your career. As Bob Dylan  said, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” If you’re not learning and improving yourself constantly, you’re just stagnating – and no one really wants that. Do it for yourself – get busy being born.


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