Standards are great: self-learning is better

It’s been awhile since I’ve touched on industry standards. Some of the philosophical kuffule spilling into mainstream news got me thinking about my call for continuing education. Namely, what should we expect, and what should we enforce?

The difficulty as I see it is how to define such a standard. As I looked into the continuing education requirements in other fields, I failed to make solid comparisons. First, the requirements, and standardization around such education was shameful. However, I think that is more a result of how hard it would be to determine such things. Can we just say everyone has to take a college course every so often? Wait, how quickly does academia update itself? Since they lag behind business, that won’t be a motivator. At least it could provide an incentive to business to invest in education to keep it updated. Maybe we could allow people to satisfy the requirement by teaching such a course. Researchers then ideally would share their research with their colleagues. Maybe.

We could also just leave this up to conference attendance. That’s what many medical requirements define, but that’s just leaving it up to commercial interests with no public oversight, which could be an issue. Look at the current state of the pharmaceutical industry. Setting aside any conspiracy theories, manufacturers educating doctors on the latest medical advancements that just so happen to come in a pill they can sell seems rather suspicious. Thus, we can’t just leave it to industry.

This means we can’t just leave it to vendor certifications either. They’re still important. It’s how we can establish competency with a product. I think it’s reasonable to tie certifications to versions, or release chains, just give them an expiration date, but this isn’t enough, and I’m not sure we should care. I consider the ideal would be to leave it up to the individual to continue their education and select those with the motivation to demonstrate that through work.

We have such metrics: Github commits, articles written, client and employer recommendations for private work. This extends to asking yourself: do you have a job, or a career? Because I can tell a lot about a student by whether they ask about additional reading I recommend. Or have personal programming projects that they are working on. It comes down to what do you do when your shift is over. For that matter, do you even look at your day as having a shift? Are in the office at 9 AM because you’re expected to be there, or because you have stuff you want to get done? When it’s 5 PM, do you go home because that’s when you’re allowed to leave? Or is it because you’ve accomplished enough for the day and it’s time to do something else? Would you read about a new technology because you find it interesting, or because you are told to and your work time is scheduled to learn it?

Sure your employer should provide training. No, I’m not expecting everyone to work 80 hours a week. That’s for the crazy ones who want to drive and revolutionize entire industries. The ones who work 120 hours weeks get to invent new industries. However, it’s not unreasonable, I think, to expect those who want to excel in their field put in an hour a night, or 4 hours on the weekends, reading new technology releases, documentation, learning new programming languages. Something. Anything. Just writing a basic program and check it into Github to show you know how to do something.

As much as I might like to have an objective metric to measure prospective candidates, we have to go by what people show us. If they show us that they’ll check out at 5, and only learn something new when directed to, I may only employ them as a code monkey. I’m certainly not going to put them charge of anything. They have clearly shown they’re not going to put any effort into bettering themselves. So why should I count on them to better our business?

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