Sharpen Your Professional Toolkit

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I’m the chef in our family, I just love spending time in the kitchen. Last year I decided it was time for some really high-quality knives. When they arrived they were as sharp as razor blades. Even though I honed them after using them every day for some time they dulled significantly.

The other day I sat down and began the tedious process of sharpening all of my knives. Some were so neglected they had been chipped and were so dull they could barely cut. I spent several hours restoring the blades to their original condition.

Professional knives are tools that chefs need to do their job. They have to take care of them, including regular maintenance, such as taking time out to sharpen them back to their original state, so they perform as they should.

As web developers and business owners, we have tools in our toolbox as well. They may not be knives, but our tools of the trade need upkeep and maintenance just like a set of professional knives. Despite the fact that we’ve spent years in our industry, without continuously sharpening our tool set and knowledge we get dull, just like a heavily used set of kitchen knives.

Keep Up With Changes in Technology

It seems like there’s always a new technology or update coming out that changes the way we think about an age-old problem. Jeffrey Zeldman just wrote about a new CSS image replacement method Scott Kellum discovered. We’ve been using the -9999px hack for years, but the new method is much more efficient.

There are a number of ways to keep up with the ongoing changes, my personal favorite is still subscribing to RSS feeds. I subscribe to SitePoint, Zeldman and several other feeds and read them about once a week. You can also subscribe to email newsletters, follow Twitter feeds, or whatever works best for you.

Hone Your Skills Regularly

Keeping up with blogs and websites isn’t enough – you need to put those new methods and techiques to use. It’s easy to get out of practice, especially if you’re in management or the owner. But if you get too long out of practice, it can make it difficult to even estimate a project effectively.

It’s been a while since I sliced and coded a page layout, and recently we were short-staffed so I took on a few landing pages. I was surprised how much I had forgotten in just a few years. I was rusty, and it took me a few days to really get back to the point where I felt comfortable.

Going forward, I’m going to try to build a page or website here and there, or just help with a project, to keep from getting so rusty.

Network with Other Professionals

In addition to keeping up on your reading and honing your skills, it’s good to network with other web professionals to discuss current topics and build relationships. There are groups for web design, programming, social media, and just about any other topic you can imagine.

In addition to meetups, there are Google+ rooms or you can just meet some fellow web professionals at your local coffee shop and talk about current issues. They also provide a great network that you can refer potential clients when you’re too busy to take on a project… and it works both ways.

How Do You Keep Up?

How do you stay up to date on technology and skills? Let us know in the comments below.

Three Knives image via Shutterstock

Brandon EleyBrandon Eley
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Brandon Eley is the Interactive Director for Kelsey Advertising & Design and the co-author of Online Marketing Inside Out.

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