Doubling Knowledge and the IT Professional

Ray Kurzweil, author of “The Singularity” forecasts geometric growth in knowledge and technology to a point in approximately 2045, beyond which we are unable to see. Consider for example, my first computer had a 10 megabyte hard-drive that cost about $250. Today, I have at least a 4 gigabyte flash drive hanging from my keychain. That’s an increase in 400 times the disk space, and a vast decrease in the cost and physical footprint in about 20-25 years. Most cell phones have more computing power than the computers that flew the Apollo spaceship to the moon.

How does this apply to the IT world. In about 2000, I got my first Microsoft certifications. To be a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) back then, you basically had to study VB6 (with COM), SQL7, what is now called “Classic ASP 3.0” (Visual Interdev including HTML and JavaScript), and Solutions Architecture.

Nine years later, the most comprehensive certification for a developer is the (MCDP-Enterprise Application Developer). This includes 6-exams, either on C# or VB.NET, including .NET Framework, Windows Forms Applications, ASP.NET Applications, Windows Communication Foundations Applications (WCF), ADO.NET Applications, and a “PRO” exam. Notice that knowledge of SQL was replaced by ADO.NET, an abstraction layer that allows developer to work with any data source. The ADO.NET exam covers the new LINQ technology. . Even though employers typically require detailed knowledge of either MS/SQL Server or Oracle, Microsoft no longer tests these skills for the developer certifications.

Interesting enough, a Microsoft “Certified” developer is not required to have any knowledge of BizTalk or SharePoint (there are 4 exams on SharePoint and 2 on BizTalk). Next year, 2010 introduces SharePoint 2010, Visual Studio 2010, and probably “OSLO” and the new “M”-Modeling language. It’s currently Sept 2009, and I’m updating many of my old .NET certifications the VS2008/.NET 3.5 platform.

In the world outside of Microsoft, language, frameworks, and platforms keep popping up left-and-right. In the last year, I have made use of Google App Engine, Python, Dojo/Dijit, and JQuery. Ruby on Rails seems to be quite popular this past year. Open Source systems and add-on/plug-ins are proliferating like rabbits.

I have one book on LINQ alone which is 630 pages, which account for probably 20% of just one exam (the ADO.NET above). Back in 2000, you could probably study three or four books at about 1000 pages each. My original VB6 books was 1200 pages, and that covered windows, COM, and distributed applications (two exams). Today, my guess is that the above exams will require 6-10 books of 1000 pages each. And again, that is totally ignoring Sharepoint and BizTalk. My BizTalk library takes up about a foot of shelf space, and my SharePoint library takes up about a foot and a half. A few months ago, I threw away about two shelves of books to make room for the “new stuff”. I figured .NET 1.0 books were useless, now that we are on .NET 3.5. SQL 7 books had to go when we are now on SQL 2008.

As an aside, I have found that Microsoft offers premium “Master” Certifications (formerly the “ranger” program) in SharePoint, SQL, Exchange Server, Office Server, and Windows Server, but nothing there for BizTalk or developers.

Kurzweil and others estimate that knowledge doubles about every year. This means that to keep up, if you have “x” knowledge now, you will need 8x knowledge 3 years from now. OR – you will have to specialize. You will have to go wide(and thin) or narrow (and deep), be a generalist or a specialist. If you have seen lectures on TED ( you need to check them out. Alain de Botton gave a talk entitled “A kinder, gentler philosophy of success”. The gist of what he said was that success in one area comes with lack of success in other areas. For example, to be the world’s greatest pianist, you probably won’t be a great C# coder.

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