The Hacker Lifecycle

Following on from my first post, here’s a perspective from a developer on the need for continuing education to maintain employability and by coincidence it’s an identifiable cycle:

In general I’m a very motivated person. But during my free time, my motivation is cyclical – it waxes and wanes over the course of 9-12 months. I’ve started to think of this as the hacker lifecycle.

For the last 2-3 months of the cycle, I am content to spend my free time playing video games, catching up on the few good shows on television, and reading fiction. But for the other 7-10 months of my motivational cycle, I spend the every second of my spare time being trying to achieve something. I learn voraciously, I practice my new skills, I build, I create, I hack. I try to do something productive with my time. I am a doer.

When I look at my habits with hindsight, it is clear to me that I’ve spent the last five years in a repeating patten of continuing education. But I’ve subconsciously settled into a cycle that is rather different to the typical term structures found in British universities. Instead, my cycle has four phases, each of which last 2-3 months:

  1. Focussed efforts towards a life goal
  2. Structured self-education
  3. Side projects to practice new skills
  4. Burnout and rest

My cycle, on reflection, has been a little longer but I don’t think that’s a good thing – the market in IT has a pace of change that can leave people far behind. Changes in technology, distribution, programming languages and communications are unrelenting and without a cycle of renewal (and putting behind obsolescence), my marketability becomes reduced and my confidence also declines.

Keeping up with changes in virtualization is no different, and frankly I’ve remained loyal to some technologies well past the point of usefulness too many times.

And it doesn’t matter that I’ve been in this industry for 20 years – because the IT business doesn’t care about my reluctance to change.

Embrace the change and upgrade skills or fall by the wayside. And that means taking some serious life-changing decisions.

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