Leave your comfort zone behind: head to an open conference

If you are a(n) [insert language here] programmer, you probably attend a(n) [insert language here] conference when you’re able.  That’s great, since conferences are an awesome way to improve your skills in [insert language here] .

However, I also recommend that you try to attend an “open (source, hardware, data, ….)” conference if and when you can.  The broader the scope, the better.  Odds are, there will still be something related to your [insert language here] skills that you will find useful (and can use as justification to attend, if need be) but the real value comes from semi-random association with new stuff. Stuff you’ve never seen before, maybe never thought about before.

Recently, I attended OpenWest and of course there were plenty of sessions on technologies I use regularly (NodeJS, Python, Raspberry Pi,  Docker,  Privacy/Security,  and a ton of stuff I don’t know how to do …. yet).  I attended a few of these and learned some new tricks.  I also attended some sessions that were out of my comfort zone.  I learned a bit about Bitcoin and Block Chain, tried to keep up with some Linux server discussions, was completely out of my league listening to a session on Recent Advances in Microcontrollers and, after struggling through some basic “hacker” challenges, I got to dust off my soldering skills and make a cool LED badge.

Why does this matter?  Diversity is the key to sustained growth.  This famously applies to your financial investments, but it’s also important to your growth as a technologist.  If you continue to do the same/similar thing over and over, with the same technology, you will undoubtedly get really good at it.  The potential downside, however, is that you may be perceived as that person who only has a hammer, so everything looks like a nail.

If you enjoy being the go-to person when there’s a problem to be solved in technology X and no expert in X in sight, you need to keep adding to your bag of tricks. You need to keep challenging yourself.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have all of the answers. Sometimes it’s enough to know that a better solution exists “out there” somewhere, and help get the team pointed in the right direction.

Before going to OpenWest, I had experimented with my Raspberry Pi, but only in software ways like OSMC and OpenHab.  I do have an Arduino and I’ve read through a few projects that look fun, but I’ve hesitated to get started, assuming that it’s going to take too much time to ramp up my skills and I’ll probably burn it up unless I practice my soldering skills…. a lot.

Now, I’ve learned that the hardware components are more rugged than I assumed and I’m not going to burn them up with a minor solder error and once again I’m experiencing with how much fun it is to be the “new kid” learning cool, new things.

It is definitely time to go buy a good soldering iron.

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