Foundational and the Future

With so much rapidly changing technology, its hard to know what websites, programs gizmos, etc. are going to be useful in your career.  Everything's happening so rapidly that few of us can keep up with it.  I often get the impression all technical innovation could cease for five years and people would still be catching up with ways to use current technology.

This is becoming more and more of an issue in the career arena for we pro-geeks because our careers often rely on advanced technology, if not involve outright working on it.  We don't want to miss out on the latest innovation, we want to think for the future and be in on whats next.

The problem is we often only see half the problem.

We all need to be aware of what's next, what's cutting edge, what's going to be important in the future.  We have to keep up on technologies, we have to find ways to use them, we have to be trained on them.  We're just not sure what's always relevant, and thus resort to research, test-drives, asking friends, and random guesswork and coin flips.

That's the part of the problem we see.

The problem we too often don't see is just because something is vital, cutting edge, and important, it may not be relevant in a year, two years, or ten years.  We may see what's coming in the future and need to learn it, but we need to find out what it is of cutting edge technology that will become FOUNDATIONAL and make sure we use that.

Foundational technologies are those that become unavoidable, important, and integrated into people's lives and careers.  A few examples:
* Google. Google was a list of links that turned out to be foundational for many people.
* The Nintendo DS.  The Nintendo DS is the cornerstone of many people's gaming lives (and part of their social lives).
* Job search sites.  Though the job search is changing, they're still central for people (but individual ones DO change over time).
* Cell Phones.  I know people who've kept the same cell phone number for a decade even though they've moved.
* Online chat programs.  IRC was just the predecessor, but the individual programs (like AIM) now dominate people's lives.

These are foundational technologies, and ones many of you readers (if not all) are using.  We rely on them, they're part of our lives – foundations of our personal and career technical strategies.  There are many sites, gizmos, techniques, and more that have faded over time – there are job sites I no longer use, game systems that have had their time, and so on.

Identifying foundational technologies is the challenge – you don't want to go investing in a web service or learning a development language that may not pay you back for the investment in time.  I myself tend to be a slower-speed adapter for the very reason I value my time and effort, but a few things that I've found help:
* Does the technology integrate with others or can it?  That usually increases its life span and opportunities.  Text messaging (and Twitter) are good examples of this.
* Does the technology play on a basic human need and enhance people's ability to fulfill it?  Social Media is a great example here.
* Does the technology provide convenience people need?  The cell phone is an example of that – freeing us from landlines.
* Is it being widely adapted.  It may not be the best at what it does, but wide adaption ensures use, maintenance, and expansion and growth.

It's not easy keeping up with technology, but if you're a user OR a developer, you'll need to know what's going to be foundational.

– Steven Savage