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On Picking Skills

I've written a lot about the importance of acquiring skills, but haven't touched at all on what type of skills to acquire. In an ideal world I'd recommend acquiring every skill possible. Since life doesn't last forever though, we can't acquire every ability out there. In the real world, we typically have to pick and choose skills based on need. When deciding what to focus on learning, always pick things that play well anywhere. Focus on learning things that never fall out of style. Things like math, problem solving, and communication skills will never stop being important, these are the type of skills worth dedicating time towards working on.

Earlier this year the Governor of Illinois pushed through an Executive Order to join all State of Illinois departments of Information Technology into one bureau called DoIT (Department of Innovation and Technology). This merger is going to bring many disparate parts into one unified organization. The reason this is relevant is because there will be a push for standardization across the organization. From the programming languages used to the types of networking tools supporting the infrastructure, things will be changing. From my standpoint, I'm not worried at all. My software development skills will work in any environment. As a developer, I feel my best skill is problem solving, which is a tool agnostic ability. Whatever language or platform of the week is decided as the target environment will be fine for me. Others who have let their skills stagnate may face an uphill battle.

Picking the right abilities to learn, though not quite as important as actually building them, is of immense importance. Focusing on the wrong skills offers less flexibility and future value. Think of the Cobol programmer or the Open VMS expert. These skills, having fallen out of favor for almost all new development projects, offer much less flexibility than they did in the past. To continue to learn and practice these skills would likely close a large set of hypothetical doors in the future. On the other hand, if they're focusing on the underlying concepts and continually staying up on current technology the doors are once again open.

That's not to say that all skills have to be work related. Skills outside of work are vital to improving wellbeing. It's important to have hobbies that enrich the experience of living. These skills may not have the best monetary return on investment, but they will have just as big of an impact on wellbeing. These activities are perfect to create variety and strech the mind in different ways that your day job can't. Pick abilities that jump out to you. Try as many different skills as it takes to find some that are worth pursuing.

Below are my criteria that make a skill worth picking. If a skill doesn't meet any of these criteria it's probably not worth diving into.

  • Timeless (the skill will still be relevant in 100+ years)
  • Provides Value
  • Creates Happiness/Enjoyment
  • Improves Health

Published on 4/15/2016 10:25:40 PM

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