Back a few years ago a couple of friends of mine wanted to get into the betas of the MMORPGs that were starting to debut. One of them got the idea to stand up a site where we talked about gaming and did gaming reviews. If we were seen legitimately as a gaming review site, then invitations might come our way. I took on the alter ego of Toothpick the Ferret (pictured) who was a semi-malicious prankster. Colorful characters, brutally truthful reviews, and a wide range of content from boardgames to tabletop RPG to consoles to MMORPGs was our formula. It worked. It worked too well. The problem with keeping up with a site like that is you have to have a lot of time to actually play a lot of games. We didn’t. And so after a few months’ foray into the world of doing game reviews, we slowly let the site die.
In order to run the site, I had to come up on a new technology, Joomla!, which was then an up and coming content management system (CMS). Since I was one of the primary site admins and the chief editor, I spent a lot of time working with Joomla! in order to get things the way we wanted it with respect to articles. The other site admin dealt with contracted artists and specialized on the look and feel (he’s far better at it than I am). At the time, Joomla! was far different from DotNetNuke (DNN), which was the CMS I was most familiar with. It was fun to learn but after our gaming site shuttered any new content, I figured I wouldn’t use Joomla! much again. Of course, I figured the same thing about DNN.
I did get back into DNN when the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) offered hosting to physical and virtual chapters. The CMS is DNN and therefore I use it regularly because Midlands PASS is hosted there. I was able to renew my old DNN skills and while the Midlands PASS site is pretty plain, it gets the job done. Joomla! has also come back into the picture. I’ve worked at a youth missions camp the last few years and because of work I won’t be able to actively help out this year. That’s a shame because I really love what the camp does. They really do go out into the community and help others. Their website is in Joomla! but they no longer had a webmaster because the old one can’t do the work anymore. When I helped out the camp’s journalism team at a crunch time last year (I was one of the few with Mac experience), I had to hit the website and help them get some things up and realized then it was Joomla! This year, when talking with the organizers, I noted that it hadn’t been updated and was told about the need for someone to manage the site. Because I had previously worked with Joomla!, I volunteered.
Funny how skills developed to run a game review site are now being used to support missions. However, it’s often amazing how skills that we’ve used in the past but aren’t active can be valuable to others. I know I run across situations every day where, because of my security background, I end up offering opinions and processes to help folks in my organization. This isn’t directly related to my current day-to-day job as a database administrator. However, it’s nice because I do get to keep the security skill set somewhat active and fresh. If you look at your own skill set, I’m sure there are skills that you’re not using very actively right now that you’d rather not lose. The key is to look for opportunities to put them to use. In my case I’m renewing my Joomla! skills in a volunteer effort. You might find a similar opportunity.
As to why this is important – it gives you flexibility. I remember at the end of 1999 the company I was contracted to decided they were going to cut all their IT contractors at the end of the year. They had invested in sponsoring a race car and needed the money. I wish I was kidding. I was working as a system administrator, managing Windows NT 4.0 domains, servers, and workstations. However, I had web development (ASP) and SQL Server skills from my Air Force days and when I started work, I realized that there was all kinds of information in the databases we had access to but that the interfaces we had to use were terrible. You couldn’t get the info out easily. So I set about building web pages to produce real time reports so we could track tickets, etc. It made life easier for us, we were more valuable to our end users, and I kept my ASP and SQL skills up. Needless to say, when I received word about all contracts coming to an end, I started looking. I wasn’t hired as a system administrator, but as a web developer. Having that skill set gave me the option to interview for that position. For me, that was a valuable lesson. In the current organization I’ve gone from web developer to SQL Server DBA, to infrastructure and security architect, and back to DBA again. I’ve always tried to keep my skills up to date in the various areas and that means looking for opportunities to renew skills. I want to maintain the flexibility and so do you. Look for chances to renew older skills to build that flexibility into your career.