The Knowledge Portfolio

I recently started reading The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas. The book has come up a few times through social media and articles and it felt like it was something I needed to read (so far I love it!)

Hunt and Thomas introduce a concept called Knowledge Portfolio which, boiled down, is to constantly be learning, thinking critically about what we learn, and applying it some way. Once you’re comfortable with what you’ve learned, move on and learn the next thing.

This makes complete sense; especially with technology. Things are evolving so fast that in order stay valuable (to your company and/or industry and/or clients and/or yourself) you need to build and keep your knowledge portfolio up to date.

What does that mean exactly? The book breaks it down into 5 areas:

  • Invest Regularly
    • Even if you’re just doing a little, continuously learn.
  • Diversify
    • There is a lot of value in knowing a lot of things.
  • Manage Risk
    • Don’t invest all of your time into learning one thing.
  • Buy low, sell high
    • Spend time on low barrier-to-entry things.
  • Review and Rebalance
    • Think critically and constantly about what you’re spending your time on. Is it still worth it?

Hunt and Thomas go on to suggest these ways to “fund your knowledge portfolio” (some are a bit out of date – the book was published in 1999):

  • Learn at least one new language every year
  • Read a technical book each quarter
  • Read nontechnical books too
  • Take classes
  • Participate in local user groups
  • Experiment with different environments
    • Windows vs Linux vs Mac for example
  • Stay current
    • Trade magazines
  • Get wired
    • News Groups

While all of this makes sense on paper, the one constraint that we all have to deal with is time. There are only so many hours in a day, and a seemingly infinite amount of things to learn and keep up on (not to mention the opportunity costs based on which things we choose).

How do we realistically make continuously building and managing our knowledge portfolio part of our regular routine? What languages do we learn? How do we know which books to read? What are the best ways to stay current? What do we do first? WHEN DO WE KNOW TO MOVE ON?

While I don’t have the answers, I’m definitely going to focus on these things over the next few weeks and months.

How do you build and maintain your knowledge portfolio?

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