The rest of the story … lessons from the Red Queen’s Race

A couple of days ago, I ended my post with

 If you have a 25% probability of a job developing into something better, and you consistently have a job for years because you have no choice, then the odds are in your favor that you will eventually improve your situation unless … but that’s my next post …

I lied. My next post was on trying to get SAS Enterprise Miner to work, but that is actually related to my point. Alice in Wonderland is one of my absolute favorite books, and not just because it was written by a mathematician.From the Red Queen’s Race:s

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

How does this have to do with your career? If you aren’t constantly learning new information, you’ll fall behind. That’s why my last post was on SAS Enterprise Miner. I haven’t tried the SAS On-Demand version in well over a year and now I am trying to install a newer version. Mostly, the past few months, I’ve been working with javascript with a bit of PHP, CSS, HTML and SQL thrown in, working on our latest games. The Invisible Developer does the 3-D part and I do almost everything else.

The main reason I teach (it sure as hell isn’t the money!) is that it forces me to stay up to date on the latest software and statistical methods.

Some people do teach from the same yellowed notes every year – I knew a professor that joked he wrote his notes on yellow legal pads so that students couldn’t tell when he’d been using them for years. However, it’s a big mistake, for you and your students. I am shocked by the number of schools using Windows XP – they’re educating (and I use the word loosely) their students to use an operating system that doesn’t even resemble what they’ll be expected to use on the job.

Here is the unless … unless you fail to ACTIVELY seek out opportunities to learn and increase your skills and knowledge. It is so, so easy to fall into the “I’m so busy” trap. I have been really busy. A few months ago, I bought a new laptop and installed Windows 8, because even if you could buy an older operating system (and people do), that’s a mistake. You might as well announce, “I’m too lazy to learn.”

When I went to the schools that had just gotten Windows 8, I at least knew enough to install and test our games on their computers. Because I had tested on my new laptop, I could state positively that the games were compatible with Windows 8.

Realizing I hadn’t updated my Mac desktop operating system in a long time (remember, I’m so busy), I finally bit the bullet and did it and then some of my other software – garageband, iMovie, office – was out of date. So, I updated that, too. Realizing I was using Graphic Converter 6 – and version 9 is available, I updated that also. Much swearing ensued as options I was used to using were no longer there, menus were different. I can’t even say that I found any of the changes to be improvements for my uses. That’s not the point. The world isn’t changing for me and three years from now, if I am working with a school, student or client, whether  they have Windows 8, iMovie 11, SAS 9.3 or Office 2008 I will have enough familiarity to work with them.

I made my first website with Netscape Composer (anyone remember that?). Then it was Adobe GoLive, later replaced with Dreamweaver. Now, I switch between Dreamweaver, Webstorms and Textwrangler.  At one point, frames were the thing, then templates, now CSS  – and that’s just websites.

I tried using Ruby for some programming tasks, but I really needed to do more text mining, I thought, so I tried out a couple of data mining packages – Enterprise Miner is the latest, and I’m looping back to that after having looked at it and decided it didn’t fit what I needed a couple of years ago.

After a problem with dropbox, I signed our company up for Google Apps for Business and we have been using Google hangout for meetings, Google drive for document sharing and backup, etc. We just signed up for a trial of base camp for a couple of projects to decide if that would be a good addition for project management.

I’m testing out both and evrybit (as an alpha tester) .

Here’s the take away message – no one told me to do any of this. No contract required it. I actually agreed to teach the data mining course because I knew it would force me to evaluate different tools on different operating systems. I keep a stack of technical books under my bed and try to read every morning as I have my first cup of coffee.

It’s not enough just to do whatever your job is – you need to know how to do what your job is becoming.

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One Comment

  1. You’d have a ball with Learn about everything tech you can think of 🙂

    I always tell people it’s great to at least learn the “essentials” of just about everything that even remotely interests you, so that you’ll at least know it exists if an opportunity comes up where you can use it (and then investigate it further).

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