Recently my manager asked me for examples of things I do outside of work to stay current in the development world. It seemed like a good topic for a blog post - so here it goes. Essentially I do three things to stay current; participate in the local .NET user group, attend the regional Code Camp (when possible) and read blogs/books.
Local .NET User Group
I’ve been involved in the local VTdotNET user group for about 4 years now. It is held monthly and covers a variety of topics related to .NET development. In the past presented some “newbie” sessions for the user group. I found the exercise of putting a presentation together to be a good way to force myself to learn a topic in more depth. As a side note, when I would be preparing a presentation I would always do a dry run of it in-house for my co-workers as a tech chat or lunch and learn. Doing that led to questions I hadn’t considered and resulted in a more thorough presentation.
Another benefit to participating in our local .NET user group has been the number of books I’ve won as door prizes. The books I have which have familiarized me with WCF and LINQ were door prizes. The book I’m currently skimming is “Programming ASP.NET 3.5” put out by Microsoft Press.
I should also mention one of my new co-workers runs the VT SQL Server user group and I've committed to him that I would begin attending more regularly once they get going again.
Twice a year there is a regional Code Camp held in Waltham, MA. Code camps are free events, held outside of work hours, that are run by the development community for the development community (here’s a link to the Code Camp Manifesto). I’ve been attending these for about 4 years and they are marvelous opportunities to learn. Although the event itself is free the fact it’s held in Waltham, MA means most people need to cover travel expenses. I grew up in that area, though, so I stay with family which makes it an easy decision for me. Here are links to the last presentation schedules for Code Camp 8, Code Camp 9 and Code Camp 10 if you want a sense of the topics covered.
Finally I read to stay current. In addition to the books I’ve mentioned earlier there are a few blogs I follow via RSS. Chris Bowen is our regional Microsoft developer evangelist. His blog is how I learn about upcoming code camps and MSDN road shows. Julie Lerman runs our local .NET user group. Lately her blog has focused mainly on Entity Framework (EF), but that’s because she’s in the midst of writing a book on the topic for O’Reilly. While I’m not that interested in EF she also links to other topics (plus following her blog gives us something to talk about socially at the local user group meeting). I also follow the Software by Rob blog. It’s not really a technical blog but he writes on our industry in general. While Ted Dziuba’s blog is technical his topics rarely align with what I do. He has an extremely funny writing style, though, and the nuggets of information I get are usually pretty good.
There are other things I do to stay current such as viewing web casts from Microsoft, the PolymorphicPodcast or other sources but it’s difficult to find dedicated time for watching/listening. Having said that, however, the new job is going to require me to get back up to speed on ASP.NET programming and these are resources which I'm sure I'll rely on more heavily than the past couple of years.