Friday, July 27, 2007

Goodbye, J# - We hardly knew ye.

I will shed tears not of sadness but of joy at the apparent disappearance of Visual J# from the list of languages to install in Visual Studio 2008 beta 2. I always use the Customize option of installations, even if only to see what's being installed. If I see optional languages I will not need, I get rid of them. If I see an environment I will not be using, I get rid of it. I have no need of Visual J#, so why should I have to install it? Yet VS2005 had complaints along the way when I tried to rid myself of it. Now, perhaps, we are finally getting rid of a tool that only supports a now ancient version of Java and is thus likely to be useless in "converting" a Java programmer.

Don't miss the samples page after you install. There are some new and interesting items there.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I'm still struggling with how to keep up and in which subject areas. In the past couple of days I've encountered a number of sources of information related to this. When a number of related things cross my path in short order, I pay attention.

One was a blog from Dan Moran a SQL Server specialist (or at least he stays right on top of SQL Server tech info). His recent blog post The More Things Change references a much earlier one with a provocative title (Can Generalists Handle Complex IT?)

Here's the thing that caught my eye:
Back in the days of "Little House on the Prairie," Doc Baker did a good job of handling the medical needs of Walnut Grove. He was a great doctor for the time and knowledge available, but today I'd want to see a top specialist if I needed brain surgery. More and more, what’s considered a commonplace solution is the IT equivalent of brain surgery, but more often than not, the IT equivalent of general practitioners still do the work.
As a confirmed generalist by circumstance (almost all my jobs have been with very small IT departments or software companies) and temperment (high degree of curiosity about new tech, esp. software), I have to wonder...

Am I doing a service or disservice to my employer by trying to keep up?

On the one hand, if there is literally nobody else who can handle, for example, keeping up with service packs and which ones to apply and when, should I take on this area? Hiring a consultant at my current job (a non-profit) would be out of the question. Who else will keep the wolves from the security door?

On the other hand, if you become too much of a generalist, do you start to become unemployable? If a company wants a consultant, will they look at someone who has good problem solving skills because of broad experience but not a great deal of in-depth experience in the job's skillset?

A generalist tends to know how to "get things done" but not all of the ins and outs of the best practices in the area. Is it more important to focus on, let's say, ASP.NET and have little or no practical experience in WinForms? In a bigger outfit, sure that works well. They can hire specialists. But even so, isn't there room for someone who has a larger vision of how something can be architected because of experience with mainframes, minis, and and VTAM as well as PCs, LANs and HTTP?

Another source was a Hanselminutes podcast, an interview with Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week. One of his main thrusts is Simplify. He has an assistant respond to much of his email, for instance. When you really need to concentrate, reduce distractions - close your door, redirect your phone, turn off IM & email. The podcast is worth a listen, though if you turn up enough to hear Ferriss, you will be blown away by Scott. (A little db metering before recording would be welcomed...)

Web Worker Daily has a few items, here, there, and over here, which have a few tidbits of useful info.

One of the more interesting writers on the subject in my brief confluence of influences is Christopher Hawkins, who has written several times on the topic. One of the quotes:
Basically, if it's not helping me to secure or complete projects for my company, if it's not helping me to make money, if it's not improving my life in some way, it's mental clutter and it's out.
I can agree with this, but what if keeping up is what helps your company make money? And I think any techie will agree that lifetime learning is essential, whether or not you try to learn all or just some of what's going on.

Finally, I stumbled across some encouraging items. Perhaps I'm just adjusting to The New Normal, which is where overload is a Good Thing and Continuous Partial Attention is the order of the day.

The one thing that is clear is that any tendency toward ADD, which many if not most techgeeks have, is exacerbated by infoloading (vs. carboloading, which we also do). The danger is that you will flit from thing to thing without really absorbing any of it.

My idea is to make a list of topics, turn off everything else, learn a significant amount about the first one. Repeat as needed.