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Even though the practice of developing a specific piece of software is better enjoyed as a journey than as a goal, the same is not necessarily true when looking at your career as a whole.

To be fair, it may be more enjoyable, but it might not be as profitable - at least that's what Chad Fowler talks about in this week's chapter from My Job Went to India, "Make Yourself a Map."

Staying sharp is hard to do. It's easy to get into "maintenance mode," becoming comfortable with where you're at, and staying there. While maintaining your health may be a fine thing to do, simply maintaining your current skill set means you'll become the next Javasaurus. By that I don't mean you'll be big, bloated, and intimidating. I mean when all you know is Java the language, and Java's no longer the language du jour, you'll go the way of the dinosaur (to borrow an often used cliché). When it comes to technological matters, you fall behind if you're not actively keeping up.

Barney, the bloated Javasaurus

Keeping a daily to weekly plan has helped me become more productive. I even tried to create a longer-term map of where I'd like to be by years end, along with various things I'd like to accomplish (which has only been semi-successful, if true be told). But one thing I've never done is create a map the way Chad's talking about here (pgs 151-152):
Your personal product road map is what you use to tell whether you've moved. When you're going to the same office day in and day out, working on a lot of the same things, the scenery around you doesn't change. You need to throw out some markers that you can see in the distance, so you'll know that you've actually moved when you get to them. Your product "features" are these markers.

Unless you really lay it out and make a plan, you won't be able to see beyond the next blip on the horizon. In Chapters 2 and 3, you discovered how to be intentional about your choice of career path and how to invest in our professional selves. Though I focused on what seemed like a onetime choice of what to invest in, each choice should be part of a greater whole. Thinking of each new set of knowledge or capability as equivalent to a single feature in an application puts it in context really well. An application with one feature isn't much of an application.

What's more, an application with a bunch of features that aren't cohesive is going to confuse its users... A personal product road map can not only help you stay on track, constantly evolving, but it can also show you the bigger picture of what you have to offer...

While it's definitely OK to learn diverse skills -- it expands your thinking -- it's also a good idea to think about the story your skill set tells. (Bold emphasis applied by me.)
For a couple of vacations I've taken in the past, I spun a pen on a map and drove to where it pointed the same night (up to 15 hours away). So far, my career map looks the same: as if a monkey tossed darts at a bunch of options and I decided to follow whatever the darts landed on.

One time, the pen sent me to Memphis.

I'm mostly a web developer - in the sense that I derive most of my income, write most of my code, and spend most of my time writing code that will in some way show up on the web or affect something that will show up on the web.

But I am also interested in, and spend significant time programming and studying artificial intelligence and machine learning, bioinformatics, and game development. I'm also interested in business for the sake of business (though I only occasionally write about it here). I enjoy writing desktop software as well (though I rarely have done so).

AI and game development dovetail nicely with each other. There are a lot of similarities between and overlap in algorithms for bioinformatics and AI. But short of creating a bioinformatics game on the web, it's hard to imagine where all these skills and interests intersect.

Perhaps it would be better for me to try and create a coherent picture out of the skills I choose to learn. But I rather enjoy having my hands and mind roam freely.

How's your skill set? Is it too focused, where you might need some breadth, or do you have a bit of a programmer dissociative identity, where some cohesion could take you a long way?

Hey! Why don't you make your life easier and subscribe to the full post or short blurb RSS feed? I'm so confident you'll love my smelly pasta plate wisdom that I'm offering a no-strings-attached, lifetime money back guarantee!


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