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TechEd panel gives developers, testers recession-savvy career tips

Developers should get their noses off the coding grindstone and spend time developing expertise in a future technology, consultant Ted Neward advised during the Microsoft TechEd panel discussion on “Surviving the downturn.” Too often, he said, developers are so focused on current projects that they don’t think about advancing their careers.

So, if developers should be studying future technologies, what should they choose? “Choose something that will make you rich and something that will make you happy,” said panelist and consultant Aaron Erickson.

In this post, I’ll share some of the career advice from the panel discussion, held at the TechEd conference in Los Angeles. Panelists included Microsoft MVP Rachel Appel; consultant Aaron Erickson; Headspring CTO Jeffrey Palermo and principal consultant Eric Hexter; and moderator Bryan Von Axelson, a Microsoft partner solutions advisor.

When choosing which technologies to study, do some homework so you’ll know which technologies are not going to be winners in the long term, Palermo said. For example, he ignored the first version of Windows Workflow. Other panelists laughingly agreed he’d made a good choice.

“Work on something that raises the bar,” said Hexter. Choose technologies that can help your company leap ahead of competitors.

Neward advised developers to learn a new language every year, even though it may be an exhausting process. Frankly, he said, developers must accept that they’ll always be in school. “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse,” he said. “If you’re not excited by a constant pace of learning, you’re not in the right field. The IT space has a higher pace of change than other industries.”

A good practice for ongoing learning is to first learn concepts more than details, Neward said. Once your interest in piqued, other panelists added, then drill down and become an expert on the how-to details.

Don’t just focus on development to do your job better, panelists advised. Beyond studying technologies, expose yourself to different segments of development and IT.

Just being an expert in one job, like programming, is short-sighted, Palermo said. Pay attention to what the other IT guys are doing.

“Go for something beyond your comfort zone,” Appel said. Learning about database management, for instance, could help a developer approach problems in a different manner. Others suggested shadowing data center, network and other managers.

Too many IT people focus on technologies and not business processes, Palermo said. Those who understand the fundamentals of solving business problems will develop better products that meet business requirements.

After the panel discussion, I interviewed Neward about issues relating to software testers. He said that being able to pitch the value – in dollars and cents – of your team’s role in development is critically important during an economic downturn. Here he answers questions about the impact of the recession on software testing, ways software testers can show the value of testing in dollars and cents and career strategies.

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