The Final Play@Home contest - How do YOU Learn?

The Buckster

So we're down to the wire on the Play@Home contest on "Be The Next Microsoft Employee". First, let's see who won last week's challenge:

  • Joseph Hagan
  • Ryan Roper
  • Timothy Corey

Congratulations! Great Job! You'll get those free books as a prize that we've been talking about. We'll also be selecting the grand prize winner this week - look for the next blog entry. That person gets a brand new laptop - and it's a pretty nice one to boot (did you see what I did there?).

But there's another challenge. No, we won't give you a prize for this one. But there is a trophy - the best one of all. The challenge is this:

How do *you* learn?

Describe what steps you take, what disciplines you have, and what plans you make for getting to the place you want to be in your career. No, you don't have to send it in - but it would be great if you post it here, as a comment for everyone else to see. But most importantly, you need to have those steps, plans and actions to take control of your career.

It's the biggest professional challenge of all. To realize that you control your career.  

  • RyanRoper
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    First of all I want to say thank you, to the people at Microsoft for the great contest and the show and to the show contestents for making it entertaining.

    Secondly, how I learn is to constantly be doing and trying. Anytime I see something that looks interesting I want to find out how it works or how to do it. So I'm constantly reading tutorials, reading books, trying things myself and participating in online events like Ludum Dare this weekend to stretch my boundries. I think learning is a lot about what you do and how far you stretch yourself outside your own comfort zone as much as anything you read and commit to memory.

  • Garrett Stevens
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    I too concur with RyanRoper, great job on the Be The Next Microsoft Employee contest!  Now if you could do it for us Enterprise Admins too. :)

    I learn by researching, taking risks, making mistakes, and documenting, usually in that order.  

    Working in a production environment where any changes you make can affect over 5000 of your current and future customers can definitely make you nervous.  You learn quickly that things that work successfully in your lab environment don't always work as designed in the live environment.  With thorough research when attacking an issue, preparing to install/upgrade new solutions, or even planning a new hardware/software purchase that will integrate into your environment your opportunities to learn are endless.  When documenting a solution or a new implementation that you've just spent hours researching, it helps to reinforce what happened and to allow others to learn from you.  Making mistakes could be one of the most popular ways to learn being an IT professional (with reports indicating over 70% of downtime is caused by human error).  You never know if it will work when you try it, but making that one mistake you are sure you will never do it again, at least during production hours.

    After all that hands on experience learned with the above steps, I then feel more comfortable picking up a book and study guide to study for a certification. My book/eReader study time is typically done for 30 minutes a day on the elliptical.

    In planning for the future, I continue to network with and maintain professional relationships with experts in my field.  Just today I contacted a Microsoft trainer I had, who is a Microsoft Certified Master, to point me in the right direction to get me started on the path to one day become a Microsoft Certified Master.

  • Mercwrought
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    I agree with the above great job all the way around.

    For me one of the most important techniques is to learning a little every day. Take just one concept and explore it a little. When I first started out with SQL I signed up for a daily newsletter I don’t remember who it was from but every day I would take the effort to read the tip of the day. Then during the day I would try the tip a few times even if I had to build temp tables to test it out. You would be amazed how much you can learn reading 5 X 52 tips a year and it takes almost no time at all.  Now I do it a little differently I filter through dozens of articles each day and take the ones that peak my interests and read them as I have time.

    Mentoring others is surprisingly another that tops out my list. It could be from answering question on a forum to helping other with their class work. You would be amazed to see how much you can learn by trying to help others. They always have a habit of asking the questions you don’t have the answers to.

    Just always be willing to lean and you will find something to learn.

  • 0da55e84-d080-4f92-bddb-b5194a8964fb

    Research, research, research.  Learning is a continuous, dynamic process.  I try to delve into as many learning experiences as possible; through as many channels as possible.  Whether through communication with others, social networks, the web, or the library;  I try to utilize any source that will provide information.

    I work as a contractor for various staffing agencies; it's not the most stable occupation, but it allows me the opportunity to test/experience a variety of working environments and companies.  I've worked for a lot of great companies, and I have experienced a lot of great working environments, but I'm searching for the one company that I feel will not only provide a team environment, but will also offer a challenging position where I can learn and grow.  I always feel that I can never learn enough.  Not only the hard skills; such as software skills, job responsibilities, etc., but the soft skills as well, i.e., communicating with/learning from others.  I always try to experience as many things as I can with a variety of people.  I find that volunteering/working in diverse work environments offer the chance to associate with people outside of my normal social circle.  Even at work, learning from co-workers about professional or social matters in a social/work environment creates an opportunity for growth.  The company culture is very important to me.  Is the company socially progressive/responsible?  Are the employees happy, challenged in their positions?  Is there a team environment?  Do employees participate in company sponsored events, i.e. volunteer drives?  Is there diversity in the workplace?  Are the employees passionate about what they do?  With the right company, I want to feel like I am part of something bigger than just a 9-5 (or possibly 9-?) job.  I want to feel like I work for a company that contributes something to the world other than just products.

    Once I have found a company which I believe to be a good match, I try to research it as much as possible.  I find Facebook and Twitter to be very helpful.  Not only do I learn about the current products/trends/departments, I can indirectly interact with the company through posts in the comment section in Facebook, or tweets.  While I am learning about the company through social media, I am continuously searching the "jobs/career opportunites" section for any jobs for which I might be a good match.  So once I find the right job opportunity, I will be well versed in the latest products/trends/departments.

    I guess the priority is to find the right company/culture, then the right job.

  • extofer
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    There are various methods I do my learning, but I will begin with my most recent (giving the adaptation of Twitter) and most popular of my advancement, Social Networking. Case in point, #SqlHelp hash tags and SQL Community have been an asset to me. The online resource has plenty to offer in my learning and career. Before I moved to Colorado Springs from Texas nearly two years ago, I was working with C# development and migrating SQL Server 2000 databases and SSRS 2005 to SQL Server 2008. I found myself following a PowerShall podcast host and then the infamous SQLChicken - Buck Woody eventually came on the list. I carefully began to learn from their post, and like a wild fire, I began to spread following other DBA and Developers. They shared links to amazing blog posts, and the almighty #SqlHelp hash tag was usefull to me in migrating Reporting services and implementing Disaster Recovery. Take a look at my latest #SqlHelp encounter I posted about just yesterday:

    Another method I learn, thanks to the likes of Twitter, I landed on several links to Web Cast and highly useful resource. Although I'm a Developer at heart (and trade), at the time I was a Software and Database Developer. I attended several SQL Lunches put on by Patrick LaBlanc, attended several Pragmatic Works free online training and watched SSWUG free virtual conferences. I was learning and is was until I saw a post by a MCT, with a link to Microsoft Certification Second Chance Voucher. It was a sign, and I jumped on the band wagon. Taking in what I had learned and with company bought preparation books, I planned to become certified: currently MCPD ASP.Net 3.5 and MCTS SQL Server 2008 Development.

    Having learned from online seminars, workshops and reading, got me to a level of Development in C# and SQL Server that I landed a new job in Colorado Springs. This is where the new phase of learning kicked in. Having little population of technologist in El Paso, TX, I rapidly join the Colorado Springs SQL Server User Group and the South Colorado .Net User Group. I have been exposed to more hands one learning, and being able to meet and people in person that do what I do. I have been indulged by the meetings and have confronted to share as well. That's right, share what I have learned or that I already know. I have now been presenting sessions on SQL Server Security, T-SQL and .Net Development. Being part of the community, not only learning from it but giving back to it by volunteering and participating has led me to evolve as a better Developer.

    What do I do now? I revisit the basics, it helps me pick up on something I missed, or reassure myself on something I have forgotten. It never fails that I come to realize I been doing something wrong and should learn to do it the right way. Learning never stops, and as technology evolves, there are new features to learn. I currently am knee deep in learning to develop a REST API with Visual Studio 2012 and I use the help of Pluralsight. I have signed up for Windows 8 Unleashed and Hackathon where I will try to tame the lion that is Windows 8 Development, and I continue to attend conferences, to learn and to share my knowledge as well. Lastly, as should you, I keep my eyes open for other resources being offered over the grapevine that is the Internet.