My Digital Reading List

At Viewpoint we do a yearly performance review to assess how the past year went, and to look forward to the next.  Around February we get together and bring in one’s direct supervisor, the director of engineering services, and a partner to discuss this last year’s performance, and set out goals for next year.  Being a direct supervisor, I’ve been on both sides of the table, performing reviews for my guys and being there for my own review.  I actually really enjoy the review process…a subject I plan to dive into in a later post.

I joined Viewpoint right out of college, and throughout those first couple years of my employment I flirted with the idea of going back to college and getting an advanced degree.  I remember in my second review I actually had two partners in the room discussing my future when I brought up the idea of going back to school.  The questions started immediately:

“What do you want to study?”

I was prepared for this, you don’t just go walking into a room ready to throw out you want to go back to school and not have a ready made answer, “I’m thinking of getting a masters in Computer Science/Electrical Engineering/Computer Engineering or possibly get a MBA.”  An MBA?  Yes, I threw out there I was interested in getting an MBA…now ask me what I was going to do with a MBA, go a head, I know you want to.

“What do you want to do with an MBA?”

Um…Um…Damn.  I’ve got nothing.

I had spent a good bit of time researching advanced degrees and realized that the courses needed for an advanced Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, or Computer Engineering degree did not really interest me.  In my day-to-day activities at Viewpoint I didn’t see where they would really fit in either.  For me and my career path, they seemed to be just certifications that I may never really use unless I went back out on the open job market.

An MBA on the other hand, now that had appeal.  With a MBA I could…I could…you know, I really couldn’t figure out at the time what I would do with an MBA.  I had gotten it into my head that the ability to manage the business end of the software business would serve me well, and the only place I would be exposed to that kind of training would be while obtaining an MBA.

However, the real reason I wanted an advanced degree…I needed to continue to learn and hone my skills.  Prior to joining Viewpoint I spent four years in college, now that I was out it was my belief that in order to continue to learn I needed to be back in school.

Plus I was scared of the box.

During the summer of my junior year I had a co-op at Keithly Instruments and saw first hand what happened as you aged in this business and you chose not to keep your skill set continually evolving and up to date.

You end up in a box.

They actually put you in a box in the back of the office; there is a ceremony and everything.  They place you in a huge cardboard box, cut out a few holes for air and to run network cable, and there you sit until the next downsizing.  The nice part about being in a box during a downsizing is that packing up your things is very easy-they are already in the box with you.  No fuss, no muss.

I saw a few engineers at my time in Keithly who lived in ‘the box.’  They decided at some point in their careers they had learned all they needed to learn and they almost actively refused to learn anything new.  They had mastered a set of skills and were going to run those skills right into the ground.

Actually living in the box isn’t such a bad place to be.  People from all over come to you and ask for advice, you are, after all, most likely the ‘subject-matter master’ with all sorts of knowledge about whatever it is you chose to learn.  It is often the case you have hundreds of hours with your knowledge, its been battle tested time and time again.  It withstands criticisms.  No one questions you anymore.  You are The One.

However, over time fewer and fewer people will come and seek out your advice.  After all, technology changes and more than likely what you know has been improved upon with a new tool, language, and/or system.  Hell the worst-case scenario is what you mastered back in the day is now being taught to freshman in college in a 100-level course.  Once those kids reach the job market your job is less and less secure.  Entry-level salary is likely 10x less than what you are making.  Oh and by the way, they are too new to have found a box to move into.  They’ll do your job and three others with the energy they have.

Pack up your things, no wait don’t bother, they are already packed with you in your box.

I vowed to never, ever find ‘a box’.

At the time of this review I believed more schooling was the only answer.  Get an advanced degree and stay on top of the industry.  I shared my thoughts and the story of what I saw at Keithly with the partners that day.

::Trivia Question: What company bought the company where the partners used to work before they formed Viewpoint?  Hint: It rhymes with Teithly Tnstruments::

That day I was told by one of the partners:

“Formulate a plan on what you would like to accomplish if you went back to school.  But, reading and staying on top of the industry may serve you better.  We are like sharks, if we don’t continue to read as they swim we will die just like they do.  College isn’t cutting edge, there is a wealth of knowledge out there right now, for free too.”

That day I started reading anything and everything I could get my hands on.  Initially, my reading list was not all that impressive; I read Slashdot, but not much else.  Over time I believe I have developed a fairly impressive daily reading list that I will be sharing here in the next couple of posts.  If I’ve missed someone please feel free to add them to the comments section I’ll check them out and hopefully add them to my list.