A conversation I had at OSCON
illustrates several problems you may face in today's job market. A young man approached my friend and I to see if we had any suggestions on what platform expertise would be best for his future. I guess we both looked older and distinguished. (Come to think of it, we both had badges on that read “consultant.”) It turns out the young man was unhappy with his present employer and wanted to make a change. His company has a lucrative niche and is riding high with cash flow and lots of work. Currently, the guy develops in Cold Fusion in a shop full of “cowboys” who shoot from the hip and employ little structure or process. He was frustrated because he has some great ideas on how to improve their operation, but simply can't get anybody to listen-- much less act -- on his suggestions. So, he wanted to know what he should learn in order to move into a better position. For some reason, he was hung up on the right “platform.” He didn't want to spend time learning something that would be a dead end. He's even thinking about opening his own consulting firm and writing software for clients.
Listen to the Answer
It's a good question: What platform do you learn these days to secure a decent advantage in the job market? Of course, our first answer was that there is no one best platform to learn. Business needs drive the selection of platform, apps and so on. More to the point, you need to apply the technology to solve a business program -- not the other way around. Go find some business problems and figure out how to solve them. But, he kept asking about the “platform.” Should he learn C#? He had an interest in Python. Why not learn that? He didn't seem very interested in finding that business problem to solve, where he could dominate the competition. Clearly, he had some more soul-searching ahead of him in order to narrow down what he wanted to do for the next few years of his life. Finally, my friend offered up a suggestion that set our wayward, soon-to-be consultant on a new quest. He suggested that the young man just ask people where he should put his efforts (exactly as he had with us). He went off, though I doubt we gave him the answer he wanted. I hoped he was ready to the responses he got from others. I've been to a lot of conferences and can definitely say that the bunch of computer experts I've met at them are some of the best people on the planet. Many are blunt and brutally honest...and extremely passionate. My friend and I were pretty diplomatic. So there's the answer. If you've got questions about your next step, go find some extremely smart people who are already doing the things you think you might want to do. Ask them what they think. Be respectful of their knowledge, be sincere and mentally prepared for their answers - even if they aren't what you want to hear. I wish the guy great success.