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Staying current when your job doesn't expose you to the latest technologies

I'm an AS/400 senior programmer/analyst with 15 years midrange experience in RPG shops. I have a BS degree in computer science. I'm happy in my current software house position, but I want to make sure I don't become obsolete and unemployable in the future. We work with a lot of legacy code and don't get a lot of exposure to bleeding-edge technology.

Can you suggest what skills or certifications I should pursue to keep myself from becoming a dinosaur? I'd hate to be on the bench one day and get a rude surprise when I find out my skills are no longer in demand. I'm 45 years old. Thanks.

Your background and experience are interesting and reasonably compelling, but somewhat backward looking. You're right to be concerned about obsolescence, but you'll also want to pursue topics and technologies that have some relationship to what you're doing now, if only to make a case for any available employer support for training and/or certification. I'd urge you to tackle these three topics that will help you stay fresh and keep you appealing to future employers, no matter what happens to your current position:


  • Learn XML. This may not require certification -- though IBM and other outfits do offer credentials in this area -- but because XML is becoming such an important tool for data representation, capture, transformation and online delivery, learning XML will help you today, tomorrow and in the future.
  • Learn Object Oriented Programming (OOP) concepts, tools, terminology, techniques and design approaches based on the "Design Patterns" work from the famous Addison-Wesley book of the same name. Most forward-looking development projects use OOP tools and environments of some kind. Try to find some kind of fit, but also do your best to become and stay literate in this area. It's a basic, essential skill for any software developer or analyst who wants to remain engaged in the field. (Editor's Note: For more information on object-oriented programming and technologies, you may want to check out the VS.NET Info Center.)
  • Learn project management skills and methodologies. The Project Management Institute's (PMI's) Project Management Professional (PMP) credential is academically sound, highly regarded, and many institutions and training companies offer related curriculum and training for this credential. Check out PMI for more information and pointers galore.

    This should keep you busy for at least a couple of years. It will also help protect your future while building valuable skills and knowledge. I sincerely hope you find these suggestions not only well-intentioned but interesting and compelling. Good luck!

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