One of the big issues for most of us technical people is that of staying up-to-date with the software we work with. We could be the greatest expert in one version of the software and be left behind after that. It’s an ongoing struggle many of us face throughout our careers.
First, I should add that I’m extremely lucky in my work with Sample Manager and LabWare LIMS to be able to be working with the latest versions to keep my skills current. Some of that is based on the fact that I struggle to make the effort to get myself included in the latest versions but, as some of you know, it’s not just about effort — there’s some luck involved.
When a new version comes out, the software vendors make a great push to show how very different it is from the old version. That is acctually true since a major version upgrade should contain a great deal of new items. Having a major version upgrade is pointless, otherwise. Somehow, this convinces quite a lot of people looking for resources that anyone without that specific skill couldn’t possibly understand how to use it. That is because the people doing the looking don’t happen to know enough about the product to know otherwise.
Thus, while those of us who have a great deal of knowledge in the industry are trying to find new customers or change jobs, we find that those doing the looking are sometimes asking for two years experience in a version of software that has literally only just come out onto the market for purchase. It has always been this way, whether we’re talking about Java programmers, SM 10 people, or LabWare LIMS V6 developers. VGL doesn’t fundamentally change nor does LIMS Basic. As for using .NET in SM 10, those of us who need it are learning it, but we still need the VGL skills because the base system is still filled with VGL that we need to work with. Whether the customer is new in SM 10 or is migrating from an older version, we still need to work with the VGL and that skill is still one that customers will need from those of us who provide it.
But those of us working with these products know that they don’t fundamentally change from version-to-version. They add features but most software vendors make their software backward-compatible (it works with the old features and data, for the most part). Thus, since these are huge, massive systems, finding someone who knows any version is actually then just a matter of that person learning the new features. No matter how many new features there are, they are tiny compared to the number of features that already exist in these systems.
Long-Term Thinking and Projects Versus Short-Term
To those of you in the industry reading this who are experts, I would say just to do what you can and keep trying to land yourself into the latest version you can. Look at opportunities to do this over anything else. Long-term projects seem like opportunities to stay working but are also opportunities to stay doing the same thing so long that you’re seem as obsolete. Once again, I realize some of you are trying and not succeeding. It’s hard and I know that because it’s hard for all of us to do. So, while you could try really, really hard and get no interest for your skills, if you don’t try at all, you definitely won’t get any interest. So, while I was lucky to get into both these new versions to work, I got there by sheer persistence and by keeping my goal in-mind, which isn’t just to work a lot in the short-term, but to keep my long-term skills up-to-date. It’s a hard balance and one that each of us views somewhat differently.
Is Training Worthwhile?
There is a difference between learning and training. We all MUST continue learning our skills or we DO become obsolete. This doesn’t mean that we go to formal training to get this. Many of us have been in a situation where we think we might become obsolete so we take a course in something that we think we’d like to get into. Or, a software vendor offers us a course insisting that if we take it that we’ll get business from them. Neither of these has ever worked-out for me. I’ve heard from people who this has worked-out for but in all the years I’ve been working with systems, not a single time for me. So, I would warn that a free class that doesn’t even require money for travel expenses is not a bad choice if you have the time and interest. But if you’re in a situation where your finances are getting low and you’re desperately looking to “invest” in yourself, just be warned that just because you let someone talk you out of what little money you have saved-up for some string of expensive courses doesn’t mean you’ll have an income from it when you’re done, so just be really skeptical about these before jumping too desperately into them. Once again, do nothing out of desperation.
It is faster to find someone who is experienced with the specific software package and let them get up-to-speed with the new version than to bring someone who has merely been trained on the new version but never implemented the system. It’s faster by an order of magnitude.