To Advance Your Career, Reading Is Fundamental

By eweek  |  Posted 2002-09-24

To Advance Your Career, Reading Is Fundamental

Congratulations. Youre doing something that most of your peers arent. Youre reading about your field. OK, so maybe youre reading this particular column only to further your own career interests, but thats as good a reason as any.

Based on my experience, I suspect that the number of ITers who make an effort to stay on top of industry goings-on represents a small minority. When Im recruiting I like to ask the candidates what trade journals or newsletters they read. I really dont care about the specific ones they name, I just want to know that they are reading. Sometimes Im treated to a long list, but usually my question is met with an awkward silence. It seems that the only reading that most ITers do about their field comes from product support knowledge bases, READ.ME files, and pressing the F1 key. Not too long ago, I was interviewing a candidate for a network engineering position and describing our SAP implementation. "Whats SAP?" she asked. Now, this job didnt require knowing a thing about SAP for the job. But, what was I to make of that response?

On another occasion I was being interviewed for a job at a site that was virtually 100 percent Microsoft. But, the hiring manger asked me what I thought of Sun, Oracle, IBM, Novell and a few others. It was obvious he was trying to determine if I could form cogent analyses. If I had not been keeping up on the industry, my answers would have been limited to the framework of my own exposure to these companies and their products.

There are a great many journals, newsletters and Web sites dedicated to various aspects of the IT industry. Some are very broad, trying to cover the industry as a whole. Others are more specialized, covering different technical areas—PCs, mainframes, networking, etc. Some cover just a single product. And others cover the technology for a particular industry (e.g. manufacturing, health-care) or application group (e.g. supply chain, HRIS).

So, if youre reading any of these journals, youre ahead of your peers But how far ahead? Are you only looking at those journals that are directly related to your job and not those related to your career? What journals are you reading? What does your boss read? What about your peers? What journals are important to the user-community you serve? Wouldnt it be nice for your management and users to hear you talk about something besides IT?

Fortunately, the great majority of trade journals, industry newsletters and Web sites are free. But for most ITers the challenge isnt money, but time. On that front, I have an advantage. My New York City subway commute gives me 90 minutes (sometimes more) of uninterrupted solitude (a peculiar way of describing a crowded subway) for reading.

Even if you dont get that kind of time every day, there are ways to get the most out of the time you do get. A great trick is to just scan the headlines. This lets you quickly zero in on those items of interest and see whats making news. And, with time so precious, dont waste it reading journals and newsletters that are virtual clones of each other.

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You should periodically pick up one of the mainstream broadsheets like the New York Times, Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. This is what the executives at your company are reading. Whatever theyre learning about IT, theyre probably learning it there. I have one former colleague who read every IT trade journal he could get his hands on. Then, one day, I showed him a profile of Bill Gates that the New York Times Magazine had done, which was obviously of a different style and perspective than all the other profiles he had read in the trades. Between the new information in this article and the realization that this is what upper management was reading, my colleague concluded that he desperately needed to balance his trade-journal reading with other sources of information.

You want to assemble a set of journals that gives you the fullest perspective for the amount of time you have. Choose either daily e-mail newsletters or the comprehensive weekly summaries, but you dont need both. Rotate your reading by alternating among the various weeklies. Pick up a copy of the New York Times this month and the Wall Street Journal next month. When you see an article thats particularly on-point to something youre involved in, pass it on to others who would benefit from it.

And, you never know where youll find a great article. It was recently brought to my attention that the September 2002 issue of Playboy had an interview with Larry Ellison. (No odder a combination than the National Spelling Bee airing on ESPN, I guess.) With apologies to my eWEEK publisher, Id have to say that I learned more about Ellison by reading the Playboy interview than I did from anything Id ever read about him in any IT trade journal.

Our industry revolves around processing information. Make sure youre getting your share.

Brian D. Jaffe is an IT director in New York, an eWEEK contributing editor and co-author of the "IT Managers Handbook: Getting Your New Job Done." He can be reached at

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