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Once a Student, Always a Student: The Back-to-School Season and Continued Learning

Community Manager

'Tis the season of teachers preparing lessons and students stocking up on school supplies. Remember the excitement of back-to-school shopping and the anticipation of starting new classes?

We know things are different today (although it will never be easy to wave goodbye to sunny summer days), and as an IT pro, finding time to learn new skills is one of your biggest challenges. In the spirit of back-to-school season, we want to know your techniques and tips for developing new skills. How do you keep up with new technologies? What are you currently learning and what are you looking to learn next?

Let us know your tips and tricks—and how you overcome challenges—by August 22 and we’ll put 250 THWACK points in your account!


Subscribing to IT and Security groups--and frequently perusing them--is a good start.  I've been exposed to seemingly endless new and interesting ideas here in The Actuator, and I share them with some friends and peers via social networking or internal IM's. 

Keeping an eye on new vendors and their new technologies is often more eye-opening that going to Cisco's dog & pony shows.

Persuading management to keep sending team members to full-time in-person week-long training sessions is a great way to learn the right way to do things instead of trying to reinvent the wheel without a training budget.  And during those in-person sessions we meet new people and learn their challenges and solutions.  It's worth far more than the training session's fees.

Working with security scanning products and vendors is quite revealing--they show what products and apps/hardware/circuits/web sites are vulnerable and recommend ways to remediate the problems.

Working only with vendors that have solutions designed to scale to enterprise levels is also very helpful in preventing vulnerabilities from cropping up.  An example:  When trying to fill a need in one facility, Vendor A may have an application that addresses the perceived need--but only on a local basis.  That vendor hasn't a solution that is Layer 3 aware, and they use subnet broadcasts to discover their products on the same VLAN.  Vendor B's product IS Layer 3 aware and it can scale across subnets into other buildings and cities and states on other address ranges.  The chances are that Vendor A isn't doing their due diligence to provide a robust and secure solution since they haven't got a test environment that encompasses multiple address ranges and scopes, while Vendor B has proven to have a solution that not only covers the needs for expanding across and enterprise, but they've also found and fixed or prevented the vulnerabilities that come with having a narrow view and small R&D budgets.

To overcome challenges be certain ALL parties are invited to the table.  There's no solution that doesn't impact System Administrators, Security Admins, Network Analysts, Applications Analysts, DBA's, Telecom staff, and End User Platform Support people in one way or another.  They all need to be included when a customer begins thinking "Here's a problem for which I need a new application or gadget."  Instead of letting that rogue client go out and buy something from Best Buy or a vendor who might not have a scalable secure solution, the customers must understand that they come to I.T. first instead of to a vendor.  That's the best way to learn new needs while preventing the tail from wagging the dog.

Level 14

How do you keep up with new technologies? 

I try to surf tech forums regularly, as well as the technology section in google news feed, daily. 

What are you currently learning and what are you looking to learn next? 

Currently learning more about DevOps and hoping to expand my skills further. 

Level 9

I have several youtube channels I follow that run through a lot of the latest technologies, and for networking I enjoy listening to the packet pushers podcast. I'm also often tasked at work with solving some fairly unique problems, so google research is my friend and I find a lot of new ideas that way. Leaning on trusted vendors has also brought me several new-to-me technologies over the years that I can't live without now. I know none of this is ground-breaking strategy but it tends to work for me.

I'm currently starting to get into more automation and API driven network and system administration. I'm trying to dig deeper into things like ansible and puppet. We'll see if it leads to anything useful at my current job but it's always good to have new skills!

Level 10

Vendors are a great resource for new tech. People want to bring products to mass, they get partners. Working with partners can get you face to face with new tech.

Subscribing to everything tech might seem like a lot, but even emails or feeds dropping quick lines about new tech can be informative.

I find it hard to get time to take in new stuff. My main source is following tech blogs, magazines, and companies on social media to notify me of high level items. From there, I can dive deeper into a technology if it is relevant to my company or myself.

Level 10

Online learning is the primary method for me these days. I am currently going through Azure Learning material for Azure Administrator Associate, but I am also taking classes on programming on Udemy and Pluralsight, as well as working through Codecademy and FreeCodeCamp. I also try to attend at least one tech related conference each year. I'd really like to attend Microsoft Ignite in DC or Chicago in 2020.

Level 12

I enjoy reading about new technology and then take online courses that are related. Sometimes the tech is so new, you kind of have to read tech sites for what the pros and cons are of the tech. The Thwaks Actuator posted some really nice articles this week. Shared with the colleagues and they find the info worth the time to read it.

Tech learning is best with instructors that have experience in the field. I enjoy learning that way the best, though that is becoming rarer these days.

Diving into virtualization as the "new" thing for me, along with more linux and automating/programming to ease the repetitive tasks.

Level 11

Unfortunately, for any IT person I can almost guarantee that their learning comes from problems, right? I mean that's why experience trumps pieces of paper with no experience almost every time. But in the spirit of this request and active learning outside of work, I enjoy getting to this as much as is possible.

Time during the day can be tough to come by, and balancing work/life time is affected by how much and how desperate the need to learn is. So, I find time when the kids and wife are busy with work/school or on the weekends if they do their "girl time", and I logon to Udemy or catch up on blogs or whatever else I have. I also get emails with quick little "blurbs" that I can read through in a few minutes, then I'll flag the email for follow-up or bookmark a link if I want to read more later. Not the most effective way, but unless I block out time at work when I can, I try to make sure after work is for my family and not anything else.

Level 13

In no particular order

  • make sure you participate (not just lurk) in communities like Thwack and get involved in areas that are out of scope for what you're currently doing
  • read everything you can get your hands on, not just about technology, but business, economics, management.  become a life long learner
  • stay up with up and coming technologies or initiatives that are hot, even if you don't think they are viable
  • attend conferences related to your field, your particular line of business, vendors, whatever
  • find a way to attend some sort of formal training. there are lots of online resources (way more than when I was starting out) that are available for a pretty nominal fee - invest in yourself (safari is a great one - oodles of online books for a very nominal cost)
  • persue some technical passion (interested in arduino, or rasperry pi, or something else?  go for it)

IMHO if you're in any sort of tech you're going to have to pretty much reinvent yourself every 3 to 5 years.  It's like drinking from a firehose, but if you ever stop you're in trouble.  I've been a help desk tech, mini computer operator, programmer in multiple languages including some ancient ones like RPG and Cobol, network admin, novell guy, windows guy, solaris guy, linux guy, firewall/security guy, network engineer, phone guy, and now i'm a dba.  The exposure to and immersion in all of those have helped me immensely over the years.  The path seemed pretty twisty going down it but when I look back from my current perspective it seems a lot straighter than it did while I was doing it.  The theme throughout though has been to learn everything I can from where ever I find myself at the time.


Actually being a student is (and should be) a daily activity.  If you are not learning something new everyday you are stagnating.

Level 9

It's very easy to find training on the internet these days. Blogs, forums, and YouTube just to name a few spots.  I was having a far more difficult time figuring out what I should be learning then actually learning it.  I found several tech podcasts that I now listen to every day on my commute.  Yes, Solarwinds TechPod is one of them!  They help me keep up with the industry and new tech or software that I should be learning about.  I can then do my internet research or try to get my boss to shell out some learning credits.  I recently renewed my CCNA certs, am currently studying to renew my VCP, and may start working on Azure or AWS after that. I'm also saving Thwack points for that SCP Voucher!

Always keep learning.  It's the difference between having 10 years of experience or 1 year of experience 10 times.

Level 11

Very difficult to keep up with everything, but generally like to set some goals for the year of leaning new things and obtaining a cert.  Always a lot of online searching and reading involved, but if it's something that pertains to your job role, then see if your work could cover a course.  You never know if you don't ask, worst they could say is no, but best case you get a free course.

Currently working on a new SolarWinds cert and learning more in Powershell and Python.

Level 9

I look at what is coming down the pipe on roadmaps, look at what best suits my work environment, then dive into those.

I use vendor-supplied training, informative internet sites, hands-on with trials, etc.

I then look at what is coming out that I want to know more about or dive into for my own enjoyment and betterment. And I split my learning time between the two.

For work right now much of it is focused around Orion (I'm a NOC manager) and Azure (all things Azure).

For my own personal growth, enjoyment, I am learning Linux and working with Raspberry Pi's and I will just tell you that it is more fun than I could have imagined!

Level 12

"Hey, we've bought this new software, but we don't have time to manage it, and it's kind of sorta like what you already support, so you do it."

"The head office for our global firm has undertaken a comprehensive software platform review, and have determined the following software packages best meet our present and future needs."

"So what if the software we use doesn't do that, we need it to do that, so you need to make it do that."

"You're still using software from a company that went out of business how many years ago, and I need to get it working?!"

Level 8

I like to read certification prep books, even if I am not planning on taking the tests.  Having a test lab is also an excellent way to learn, since you can break things in a safe environment and see what you can do to fix it.  I usually have some old switches and VMs that I use for various tests and scenarios, as time allows.

As for online resources, CBTNuggets has some excellent IT material if you can afford it, and Cisco dCloud gives you access to virtual environments to learn their products before you put them into production.  Also, if you're into python and automation, check out Kirk Byers' courses.  He has a free introductory course as well as more advanced paid ones.

Level 9

Podcasts on the commute is a great way to keep up, learn, and earn CPE credits.  I like the Security Weekly offerings, Security Now, Sans Daily Stormcast, and TWiT.   I also visit these sites daily: and home - all InfoSec news

In addition to technical manuals and study guides, I have used both Pluralsight and Cybrary for online instructor led training,  The ability to download modules from pluralsight and view at one's leisure is very convenient.

Thanks to mathewpgds for the info on the Solarwinds Techpod. 

Level 8

How do you keep up with new technologies?
Its very hard to stay on top of all new technologies, unless you work as a consultant, there is really no motivation from a company to push you in seeking for better technologies. However, what I have found is that you focus an area, you can stay on top of that particular tech, I am focusing right now on Citrix, which lets me focus on what their new products, features and follow on what their roadmap is.

What are you currently learning and what are you looking to learn next? Mostly Citrix checking their new products


I find Podcasts and videos are the easiest way for me as I can watch/listen during my commute in and out of work. Sometimes I can dedicate specific time slots during my working day to training which is good. I'm currently working on my Cisco Route/Switch exams. When it comes to exam revision (for certification) then I will most likely spend some more dedicated time combining books either physical or amazon books etc.

I'm also reviewing some Cisco/Viptela SD-WAN for a PoC my company wants to perform, along with a Meraki PoC. Both of these are hands-on learning with lab equipment purchased specifically for us to mess and learn with in order to help with the PoC and then enable us to skill up at the same time.

I use PluralSight & INE paid subscriptions along with Youtube as my main source of videos - I do enjoy a bit of NetworkChuck!!!

I think access to training materials are so much easier than it used to be, and I enjoy being a little bit of a Jack of All Trades so I often find myself burrowing down little rabbit holes as and when opportunities present themselves. I used similar methods for my SQL training, as well as my little knowledge of Powershell! I have a fair few different learning paths on the go, which prevents me from getting a mental block, as I can change the topics, change the technology.

Level 9

For me it is about user groups / forums.  Regardless of what the topic is (virtualization, power shell, security, etc) I try to be a part of groups that discuss these topics.

Level 11

Not being afraid to ask others for advice.  I learn much from other people.

Forums are my current main method. Finding issues that other people have and attempting to fix them

I also never turn down when a colleague has an issue, even if i don't know the answer I almost always make myself available for assistance and usually am able to figure out the problem together.

Level 9

I love diversifying my places I learn from. I have books, video series, I dive into lab software when I'm actively hunting down something to learn. Honestly though, my favorite way of learning so far has been through the problems I've encountered at work. It's given me more troubleshooting skills which apply to anything.

Level 12

tmumaugh​ willing to share the youtube channels? 

Level 12

Several of my hobbies have large populations of IT professionals.  I enjoy the talking to them and hitting up the different forums where IT folks tend to vent and share stories on what their working on, new technologies/vendors they are working with.

Level 9

So I'll sound like a shill but the solarwinds channel is actually pretty informative.

NetworkChuck is another good channel focusing more on the cisco/networking side of things.

ComputerPhile is a really interesting computer science channel that goes deeper into the why and how of current tech, which I found from being linked over from NumberPhile which is just a great math channel. 

Level 12

I have used following resources to keep me updated along with Thwack. Currently I am more inclined on learning Python.

Reading Room | SANS Institute

SANS Institute - Upcoming

Randy Franklin Smith's Ultimate Windows Security

Level 10

For one, I check these forums everyday.

I have been taking advantage of the free training that SolarWinds offers. (A+ guys)

I also have a few podcasts that I listen to on my commute (Security Now, PacketPushers).

I'm still newish to Orion and Solarwinds still so I'm on that. I also intended to sign up for ITPro.TV. (If anyone has experience with it, how are the practice exams and labs on the premium side?)

Level 10

I have found that I am still learning new skills at an elementary level. So I've been working family time into my learning by teaching my elementary level children what I'm learning. We are both at the same knowledge level, which is humbling, but it's been rewarding to see them figure things out on their own. I am anticipating the day they show me how to do something. I also take full advantage of INE for my networking skills, peruse Udemy for new courses, and am always on the lookout for free new training. Speaking of, Cisco DevNet offers free courses (Cisco DevNet: APIs, SDKs, Sandbox, and Community for Cisco Developers ) and a free cert that gives you hands on for SDWAN for Silver Peak (Support Training | Silver Peak ), and some Linux ( ). Great stuff available for anyone.

Level 9

Going to conferences, virtual conferences and webinars sure help. But going out and doing your own studying and research is optimal. Reading, listening to blogs and finding out what is out there, and networking with peers to see what they might do.

Level 7

Do a lot of reading on off time, and webinars.  Go to Conferences and Virtual Conference when every I am able or can find time too.  I to watch/Listen to blogs and vblogs Podcasts...  I am on some great email list server and when I have a question I can normally get some help from others.. No reason to reinvent the wheel..  I wish I had more time then I do to try to keep up on things tech wise...

Level 9

Tech learning is best with instructors that have experience in the field. I enjoy learning that way the best, though that is becoming rarer these days.

I enjoy reading about new technology and then take online courses that are related. Sometimes the tech is so new, you kind of have to read tech sites for what the pros and cons are of the tech. The Thwaks Actuator posted some really nice articles this week. Shared with the colleagues and they find the info worth the time to read it.

Level 7

I try to readup during working hours say a lunchtime here and there just to keep up on new products

interesting reading up on new tech and can take it home with me then if i need more time

Level 8

I follow a lot of IT specific channels on YouTube and when I get a few free minutes during the day or at night before I head to bed I just watch and see what is happening in IT.

Level 14

I subscribe to a number of newsletters, blogs and vendor update sites....

I swap info with friends and colleagues from all over my industry.... It's a task just keeping up... But we have to!

Level 15

There are plenty of forums you can participate in online. Also, our lobby has plenty of tech magazines always available so I don't mind browsing through them to see whats new. Also like the read up on all of the ones that

are specific to healthcare and not specifically technology.

A lot of times you can find a lot of content on Youtube and brush up there. If I'm really interested I purchase the certification guides and usually try to read a chapter each morning until I get through it.

Don't always take the test but I get a good overall picture of the technology. After I'm done I expense them and place them into our work library.

Level 9

The way I divide my learning is

1. Basics

2. Learn thing which I presently work on have easy access

3. New technology/tools or skills

Basics - I sometimes like to go back and spend time on learning basics - a few years in my career and I went back and learned from my undergrad courses and books. It all started to make sense when I did that. I also once got professionally trained in typing and MS Office which helped me to be more productive and confident and helped me in ways I never imagined.

Present - I started to make myself perfect at the work I do and also started to attain training from the vendors of the tools which my company uses, even though my role did not involve working on it. I also talk and communicate a lot with potentially anyone about tech. This gives me new perspectives and ideas.

New Tech - I like to take time and attend in-person and online training about anything new.  I also like to learn from online self-paced courses from multiple websites. One more way I try to do this is - implement it in my lab.

Presently I am training on Azure.