A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility included the following:
"There was also the impact of job cuts, which at times replaced older, experienced engineers with young recruits. Mr. Jha said some of the older staff didn't have the newer skills required." (Sanjay Jha heads the Motorola cellphone group.)
That quote should remind engineers and engineering managers to keep their skills up to date. But given the number of courses, seminars, trade shows, magazines, Websites, Tweets, and so on, how can you stay current and still have time for both your job and a nonwork life? My suggestions follow, in no specific order, and they don't include obvious sources such as trade magazines, newspapers, and industry-related Websites.
I like trade shows and conferences, because they let me see what companies have to offer, and smart marketing people ensure they have knowledgeable engineers available to explain products and answer technical questions. Some time ago I wrote a short article, "How To Work A Trade Show," for Test & Measurement World magazine.
Exhibitors at trade shows often include book and magazine publishers and companies that provide other printed or online information. You get a chance to see what they have and to browse through materials. I haven't figured out how to do that at Amazon.com, and nearby bookstores no longer carry many technical books. University and college bookstores are worth a visit, too. Textbooks, teacher instructional packets, and other materials give you a good idea of what gets taught in engineering departments.
If your company cannot pay for you to attend a show or conference, use vacation time and your own money to attend at least one show a year. A small investment in staying current with products and technologies sounds better than unemployment.
Companies such as Microchip Technology, Freescale, and National Instruments hold annual conferences to explain their new products and to highlight interesting applications and customer success stories. Third-party vendors also attend some meetings and have displays. You can attend hands-on lab sessions and conference meetings to gather information and get a closer look at what companies are doing.
Distributors throughout the US, and perhaps in other countries, offer free or low-cost seminars about specific products. I have attended several -- a $99 daylong, hands-on seminar sponsored by Zilog and a free half-day tutorial sponsored by Texas Instruments stand out as particularly valuable. I took a vacation day and paid my own way for each. I talked with technical experts, got information about new products, and chatted with other attendees about the problems they wanted to solve, what they needed to learn, and so on. Attendees often take home cool hardware or software to play with.
Join a local engineering group. Professional societies have regional sections and might have a smaller group in a nearby city. I checked out the Utah Section of the IEEE and found no announcements of regular meetings and no upcoming events. With a local group, you'll have to put in time and effort if you want to meet with engineers.
Universities and government labs produce research-related magazines that cover many topics. I subscribe to magazines from Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and I receive the Missile Defense Agency newsletter. The National Institute of Standards and Technology sends many interesting announcements and articles via email.
I welcome information about what you do to stay current. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.