Monday, June 5, 2017

The Half Life of Knowledge

Some of us are in industries that are changing over time, and the core knowledge we’ve had in an industry changes over time. Actually, most of us are in an industry that changes. Carpenters still have plenty of jobs, but the way we erect structures is changing and there are better jobs for those that better understand insulation and thicker walls.

If you are in an industry that is changing more rapidly, some portion of your knowledge becomes less useful. Certainly in technology there are changes that many of us should learn if we want to drive our career forward. However, there’s another side to this.

Over time, some part of your knowledge becomes less valuable. It’s not that you might never use it, but in terms of driving your career, those items are not valuable. Let me give you an example.

I used to work with SQL Server 6.5. In SQL 6.5, if you need to track the growths of your databases in case you need to restore in a disaster. That was a cumbersome, painful process. I learned it well, but since SQL Server 7, that knowledge isn’t relevant. I used it into the 2000s, but then it wasn’t something I needed. I might still run into a SQL 65 instance, but for the most part that’s not valuable knowledge.

To continue to find good jobs, or find new jobs if I lose my current one, I need to learn more. I need to spend time on a regular basis keeping up with different areas of my industry.

You should as well. Some of you might prefer intensive learning, maybe a week long class. Some of you might like reading a book every few days. Some might like working through an online tutorial every night. No matter what you choose, set up some schedule and keep to it for a few months. Pick a manageable slice of time in your life and commit to it.

If you aren’t learning and improving, over time, more and more of your knowledge decays. I don’t know how much and that will vary by your career area, but some of it goes away. Try to get at least an hour a week  (on average) of learning.

These days of shorter employment terms mean you might want to always be prepared for a new job.