Don’t Stop Learning

A few years ago, I found myself teaching an in-depth SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) class at a local tech center. I had some great students in the class, who were engaged and excited about the material. During the breaks, they talked about their careers, and how what they learned would help them do their jobs better. As a teacher, there is nothing more gratifying than knowing the class will make a difference for the students.

One student, however, I’ll call him “Ron”, was not enjoying the class. He had trouble following along with my demonstrations, trouble working through the in-class exercises. He was making his frustration and irritation clear to the rest of the class, refusing my offers of assistance, and complaining loudly that the instructions were not clear, and that SSRS, like most Microsoft software, was lousy and riddled with bugs. It was evident that Ron did not really want to be here.

Toward the end of the lunch break, seeing him standing alone, I approached him and, rather than discuss the difficulties he was having in the class, asked him a bit about himself. Ron had been working at the same corporation for over a decade, doing the same job, maintaining a legacy system that he knew inside-out. During this time, he hadn’t taken time to learn new technologies or skills. He’d not attended a class nor read a technical book. Ron’s job had seemed secure and his existing skills valued; after all, he was the only one who knew how to look after those systems! He was kept busy, and his company never paid for any training.

And then, suddenly, he lost his apparently-secure job. His company downsized, and re-engineered their IT systems, following a takeover. His ‘legacy’ skills were no longer required. As part of his severance package, his employer offered to pay for him to take several courses to get his skills up to date, and here he was in my class.

Ron hadn’t appreciated the fragility of job security in IT, and how important it was for him to keep his skills and knowledge up to date, while he had a job. Instead of admitting this mistake, he was externalizing the blame on Microsoft, society and his management. The energy that could have gone into learning was going instead into nursing grievances. He couldn’t move on. I tried to encourage him to take an open mind to the remainder of the course, and persevere. After all, he was a skilled developer, who just needed to work out the best way to update those skills, and make himself marketable again. I like to think it helped, and that the class did make a difference to Ron too, in some small way, though I’ve never encountered him again.

The lesson here, though, is just this: never stop learning. Look at what is happening in IT, and particularly in the database world today. Will the skills of a SQL Server DBA, for example, be relevant in ten years? Surely it makes sense to broaden your IT knowledge now, before your hand is forced, even if it just allows you to improve your teamwork with others. Don’t be like Ron and wait until it happens!

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