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Designing Your Skill Portfolio

Published 1/11/2021

🌎Design your skills together, as a portfolio.

Portfolios benefit from diversity and risk management. You can think about your skills in the same way.

But skills are more than just a portfolio. They also require an integrated approach; one skill modifies another. Focus on stacking your skills to make your learning and growth much higher leverage.

🔔Today's Sponsor: Red Hat

The Red Hat Developer program brings developers together to learn from each other and create more extraordinary things, faster. Visit https://developers.redhat.com/about to learn more today!

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
So much about what we talk about on the show is about philosophy and thinking from an abstract perspective about our careers, but in today's episode I want to get a little bit more concrete and talk about building your skills portfolio. We are going to stay abstract in terms of not telling you exactly what to put in that skills portfolio, but instead how to think about what to put in that skills portfolio. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on the show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective and purpose in their careers and skills are a huge part of every developer's career. And very often software engineers, especially brand new software engineers, people are just starting out, they get so much reward out of skill development. After all, it takes a baseline of skills to even start playing around with software engineering. And there's a huge gap between what it means to be a software engineer and actually creating software. There's so many more skills involved than just writing code and those skills are a broad range of things that go well beyond just the technical, obvious things that we all know about. And so it's easy, once again, it's easy to imagine that so much of our careers, nearly all of our careers are about skill development, but the truth is that the skill development that we do pursue is as much about the combination of skills as it is about the individual skills themselves. So in today's episode, I want to approach this from the angle of thinking about skills like a portfolio, but there's a little more to it than that as well. So let's start with thinking about portfolios. A good portfolio, and when we say portfolio, typically we're talking about stocks, right? These are little slices of equity in a company for the simplest example of a stock. And so when you think about building a stock portfolio, some of the most obvious advice that you'll hear is that you need to invest consistently, that you need to have diversity, in other words, you need to have investments in a wide range of things, a wide range of risk levels and a wide range of industries. And the reason for this is because risk in one industry may not necessarily affect risk in another industry, and in fact, you can kind of rely on the market to eventually even out and ultimately grow. That's what it's done for a long time. And this is why people diversify their portfolios and why wealth can continue to grow in a portfolio. Okay. So this is a good model. It's a good mental model for a lot of other things in our lives. For example, how we spend our time, the kinds of decisions we make, even things like our diets, we can take the idea of diversification from a risk management perspective and apply it to our diets. We can diversify our diets. And that way, if you have a little bit of something bad, you may even it out with a little bit of something good. Now, this model makes a lot of sense for our skills as well. We can think about learning different types of skills across the technical spectrum and across the non-technical spectrum. And we can apply this thinking pretty thoroughly. We can think about, for example, learning a brand new language. Maybe this language is kind of risky in terms of, you know, sunk cost. Maybe a little bit risky to learn this because maybe the language is going to die in a couple of years. And all of that time that we invested in it, maybe it won't pan out to have been worth it. You can imagine this kind of thinking applying to skills in the same way that you might have a variety of tools, a tool belt. And if you have all common screwdrivers, you're probably not going to be able to do that. You're not going to be able to do a lot of different things. You may be able to do everything that everybody ever wanted to do with screwdrivers, but you may be limited with other endeavors, right? So you would need a variety or diversity of tools. You might need a diversity of sizes, even a diversity of quality in those tools could be helpful. So that's the idea of building your skills portfolio. So you should start out by understanding that you shouldn't put everything in a single direction. And if you're going to choose a single direction, it probably makes sense to choose a fairly kind of bland one, right? A direction that is relatively risk averse, meaning a language that is well supported. That's fairly popular. A technology that has a lot of backing, a lot of, it's been proven maybe by large companies, has a lot of adoption. So this is one way to think about skill development. To think about risk and to think about building your portfolio of skills based on risk-reward continuum. But there's a little bit more to the skill portfolio puzzle. We're going to talk about that right after we talk about today's sponsor, Red Hat. Red Hat is the first sponsor of Developer Tea for 2021. The Red Hat Developer Program brings Developer Together to learn from each other and create more extraordinary things faster. You can get free access to countless benefits to help you drive your career with Red Hat Developer. Access a full portfolio of app development products and tools for creating enterprise software, built on microservices, containers, and the cloud. Everything from downloads to developer how-tos, getting started guides, videos, books, newsletters. There's a lot of stuff in there. Access to the gated contents of the award-winning Red Hat customer portal. You can even access interactive tutorials on the latest technology and Red Hat products. Speaking of skill development, this is going to help you develop a variety of skills. Hopefully, you can pick the right ones at the end of this episode. Head over to developers.redhat.com. That's developers.redhat.com slash about. Thanks again to Red Hat for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So skills can absolutely be, can have framed in the model of a portfolio. When you think about a portfolio, you think about skills that match a portfolio concept, you try to diversify those skills. Make them as different as possible or make them as safe as possible. Whatever your particular risk preference is, these are all the terms you might use if you think about your skills as a portfolio. But there's something different going on, or something beyond a portfolio going on when we talk about skills. And that is that your skills interact with each other. What do we mean by that? Well, imagine you have a magician. I know this is a strange metaphor, but go with me. A magician learns a very basic trick. And that basic trick might be how to find a card in a deck. But then they learn a totally different trick. Maybe they learn how to do a larger scale illusion, like catching a bullet in their teeth. But then they start learning tricks on top of these. For example, they might learn how to find your card in a deck with a blindfold on. Now, what's interesting about these skills is that they combine with each other. So you're essentially using this base level skill and you're adding a new one, and then you're using them together. And eventually you can find overlap between the bullet catching trick and the card finding trick. There is a way that somehow there would be a trick in that magician's portfolio that uses some of those base level skills. And the common skills to both of those base level ideas. Another great example of this is musicians. Musicians may learn skills. They may learn how to play a chord on a guitar. You might learn how to read music. You might learn how to improvise. You may learn how to play the same song, but on multiple different instruments. You learn about rhythm. You learn about timing. You might learn about different styles or tones that you can play with a given instrument. All of these things are distinct skills, and yet they all combine. When you play a given song, it's very likely that all of those skills, all of those individual skills, you're not thinking about them as individual skills. You're thinking about them as a cohesive set of skills, right? That's why you would call it a skill set. But the skills combine with each other. So the skills that you learn on guitar might combine with the work that you might do on piano and the timing that you do on piano might combine with the timing that you would use to play the drums. And the style that you use to play the drums might combine or inform the way that you play guitar. So all of these things kind of mix together. And when you think about these different skills combining together to form a skill set, this is what we really want to go after when we talk about a portfolio. And when I think about how these skills interact and most importantly, as you are learning the next thing, imagine how can I best combine this new skill with the things I already know? How can I integrate what I'm learning now backwards? What lessons can I learn from this new technical skill that I can apply or that I can update my previous knowledge so that I become better in all of the things that I've already invested in? And in this way, we treat skills as expressions of principles. And what should I focus in on this? This is the most important part of this episode. And I want you to take away. Treat your skills, the tactical things that you learn as expressions or the outcomes the kind of minutia that is the result of practicing principles. And the reason you want to do this is because now you can start to say, okay, well, I've learned this thing in this arena. How does it apply elsewhere? And what is the shared underlying principle? Why does it apply into places? The principle that allows you to find a card and a deck is the same or it may share some same underlying principles that allows you to trick people into believing that you've caught a bullet in your teeth. And it's not because they're the same trick. It's because they both rely on some similar principles, like, for example, taking advantage of people's attention and the way that their attention can easily be diverted. And so when you're thinking about your skill portfolio, I want you to both imagine how does this skill combine with my other skills? How can I integrate this backwards? How can it make my existing skills more valuable? And then think at one layer deeper, why does this skill share something in common with another one? What are these shared principles? Or what principles can I extract from these new skills that I'm learning? Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Red Hat, head over to developers.redhat.com slash about to get more information about the Red Hat Developer Program. This episode and every other episode of Developer Teacan be found if you head over to developertea.com. Currently, that's going to redirect you to the spec website. But at some point this year, we are going to relaunch the developertea.com website. We brand new. We're really excited about that. It hasn't happened yet. So stay tuned for that. But you can always use developertea.com to find this show. You can also find the show on any podcast app that you're currently using if you want to help the show out. There's one really important way that you can do that, right? 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