Why Software Developers must take responsibility for their Skills and Career (Software Gardening)

Posted by: Craig Berntson , on 5/22/2014, in Category Software Gardening
Views: 25418
Abstract: This article talks about continuous learning and why software developers must take responsibility for their skills and career. The author also shares some valuable resources to get you started.

In the past few articles, I’ve been setting the stage with the basic requirements for Software Gardening. In this article, I present the last of the requirements, light and sunshine.

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Most plants need lots of light and sunshine. I have a small hydroponic garden in my kitchen. It’s easy to grow plants in this garden. I’m currently growing herbs. They were “planted” about three weeks ago. The seeds come pre-planted in plastic cups that you put into the device. You add water and nutrients to start, then each time the device indicates it time to add more. The garden also has a very bright light that runs on a time. It’s off for about eight hours at night, otherwise it’s on all the time. The light is essential for the plants to grow.


Image: A home hydroponic garden with bright grow light

Light is also essential to your software garden. Yes, I’m going to use an old cliché: you need to keep the light going through continuous learning. Many developers put responsibility of learning on their employer, saying they will only attend conferences or training classes when the employer pays for and requires it. This mentality will keep your skills stagnant and that’s not a good thing in an industry that changes as fast as software.

The bottom line is, you must take responsibility to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. It is not the responsibility of your employer. You and you alone must take responsibility for your skills and career. Let’s look at the various ways you can learn.


The fact that you’re reading this column means you read magazines. An advantage of a magazine is they are generally edited and the content can cover the latest technologies as deadlines are usually close to the publication date.

In addition to the DNC .NET Magazine, there are many others:

  • MSDN Magazine – This is the official Microsoft .Net magazine. It can be obtained in print through a subscription or read online at the MSDN website. It is published monthly
  • CODE – Published by EPS in Houston, Texas, CODE is published six times a year and has the second largest subscriber base, behind MSDN.
  • Visual Studio Magazine – Published monthly, it usually has less content that the other two, but still a good resource.


Books often have a long lead-time, meaning from the time the author starts writing until the book is in print, several months or even a couple of years may have passed. This seems to make books outdated almost as soon as they’re available. However, books are good for getting a complete view on a topic as they often start at the basics and gradually work into more complex topics.

Don’t think that you need to read an entire book. New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said he buys more books than he finishes. I’m the same way. I have dozens of books that I’ve bought and started, but never finished.

Some publishers include:

  • Manning – Known for the old-time drawings on their covers, Manning offers a unique feature called the Manning Early Access Program, or MEAP. As an author finishes writing a chapter of a new book, it’s released on the web and available for download. At this point, the chapter hasn’t been edited, but an online forum is available for readers to post comments on the new chapters.
  • O’Reilly – You’ll recognize O’Reilly books by the animal drawings on the cover. O’Reilly covers .Net , Java, and Open Source topics.
  • APress – Yellow and black covers tell you that you have a book from APress.
  • Pragmatic – PragProg has a handful of .Net books, but mostly produces books on Open Source topics.
  • LeanPub – Unique among the above publishers, LeanPub allows authors to self-publish. While this gives more of the purchase price to the author, the writing is often a lower quality than the big publishers.


It’s easy to get a blog going. Go to wordpress.com and start one. Blog posts generally don’t go into a lot of detail, but because new posts can be made at any time, new technologies are covered quickly. Some of my favorite blogs include:

  • MSDN Blogs – An umbrella place for official Microsoft blogs. You’ll find blogs for teams or individual employees.
  • Los Techies – Home to many very knowledgeable technologists on a wide variety of topics.
  • MVPs.org – Many current and past MVPs host blogs here.
  • The Data Farm – Julie Lerman’s blog on everything Entity Framework

User Groups

Surely there is a user group somewhere near you. It may not be on .Net, but you should be able to learn from groups on most topics. Most user groups are free or charge a small fee. Where I live, we have groups on .Net, SQL Server, SharePoint, Java, Ruby, mobile development, JavaScript, Hadoop, PHP, WordPress, architecture, Linux, game development, Agile, DevOps, interaction design, Oracle, Python, big data, and more.

Code Camps

Code Camps are one or two day training events and almost always free and always on the weekend. They consist of several 60 or 75 minute sessions and cover a variety of topics. The largest code camp in the world is in Silicon Valley and has over 2000 attendees. Most code camps I’ve attended have 300-600 attendees. The other thing that is unique about a code camp is the sessions are proposed and given by members of the community.

Regional Conferences

Smaller regional conferences take place all over the world. They typically run two or three days and charge a fee for attending. Attendees come from the geographical area of the city that hosts the conference. Regional conferences include DevLink, CodeMash, ThatConference, DevWeek, and more.

National and International Conferences

National and international conferences are a bit bigger than regional conferences. Attendees and speakers come from all over the world. Attendance can be 500 to 2000 or more. They usually last two to four days and charge fees for attending. Norwegian Developers Conference (NDC), DevConnections, VSLive, and others fall into this category.

Major Conferences

There are a couple of major conferences that come to mind. Microsoft Build and TechEd. Attendance can be up to 10,000 people. Build is generally held in the US. TechEd is usually held in the US, Europe, and Asia. These conferences have a high cost, but speakers are often Microsoft employees.

In-person Training

The number of training classes seems to be decreasing, but this is still a viable option. There are a number of ways these classes are offered. You may hire a trainer to come to your office and give training to your staff. Sometimes training is held at the training company’s office. A third option is where the training company rents a room at a hotel and opens up the class to anyone. Fees are usually quite high, but there is an advantage to having an instructor that can answer questions about specific issue you may have in your work. I’ve taken classes from several companies. One of my favorites is DevelopMentor.

Online Training

Taking a course online may be the way things are heading. These courses vary in price, but are generally quite affordable and cover a very wide variety of topics. Here are some sites that offer training:

  • Pluralsight.com – Perhaps the biggest of all the sites. It started out with just .Net training, but then went on a buying spree, purchasing several competitors. Their course now covers just about every technology you can think of including .Net, Java, Open Source, Database, Sales Force, Web, Networking, Creative skills and lots, lots more. Over 3000 courses are available.
  • Learninglineapp.com – This is the online version of DevelopMentor. They offer mostly .Net courses, but some others are available. Courses on this site take a different approach from Pluralsight as they come close to duplicating in-person training classes.
  • MicrosoftVirtualAcademy.com – This is the official Microsoft training site, which means courses only cover Microsoft topics. One good thing is they’re free.
  • KhanAcademy.org – Free courses on a wide variety of topics. The tech-related topics lean more to introductory than advanced, but some advanced topics are available.
  • Coursera.org – These are university courses that are free. And the colleges are prestigious, including Stanford, Columbia, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Eindhoven University of Technology, and many more. These courses are taught by college professors and include study groups and homework. There is no college credit given, but courses cover a very wide variety of topics.
  • CodeSchool.com – Courses here cover iOS, HTML/CSS, Ruby, JavaScript, etc. You’ll pay a small fee to attend.

It’s impossible for me to provide a complete list in all these categories. I’m sure you’ll find more magazines, online training, book publishers, etc.

Now you should create a learning plan for you. Don’t limit yourself to a single source. Get your information from multiple providers. Pick topics of interest and dive in. You’ll find that the light you shine on your software garden will help it grow and stay lush, green, and vibrant.

Read my other articles on Software Gardening over here

This article has been editorially reviewed by Suprotim Agarwal.

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Craig Berntson is a software architect specializing in breaking up the monolith and improving developer teams and processes. He is the author of two books on software development and has been a speaker at conferences across North America and Europe. He received the Microsoft MVP award twenty-two straight years. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Feedback - Leave us some adulation, criticism and everything in between!
Comment posted by Colby on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 4:56 AM
I am all charged up after reading this article and if I get unplugged midway I would knw what to do. How's your hydroponic garden by the way?
Comment posted by Craig Berntson on Monday, June 16, 2014 3:59 PM
Hi Colby,

The Hydroponic garden is going well. It's great to have fresh herbs for cooking.

The regular garden has mixed results. Some vegetables are thriving, particularly the peas and radishes. The cauliflower never made it though.

But even that has applications here. If we are continually learning, we find things that take root for how we work and what we're working on. Others do not.
Comment posted by Rhys on Friday, June 20, 2014 1:10 AM
"If we are continually learning, we find things that take root for how we work and what we're working on. Others do not". Now that's a nice quote!