Saturday, September 6, 2008

What's Your Career Half Life?

"The Biological Half-Life of Engineering Ideas". That's the title of the article I just read in October's Software Magazine from IEEE. Don't see the relevance to your career just yet? Well hang in there.

The article, written by Philippe Kruchten, professor of Software Engineering at the Unversity of British Columbia, is the first installment in the career development series for the magazine.

Kruchten brings the concept of half life to career development. A product's biological half life is roughly the time it takes for the body to eliminate one half of the product taken in by natural biological means. For example, the half life of caffeine is roughly 3.5 hours. This means that after drinking a small cup of coffee, the body would have eliminated, or broken down 1/2 of it in 3 hours, 3/4 of it in 6 hours etc.

Before going too technical, here is the bottom line question, what is the half life of the knowledge you possess that keeps your career current?

Imagine you picked up one of your professional journals that is about 5 years old. How much of the knowledge in that journal would still be current and valid today? Along the same lines, if you pick up a job description in your profession and find that the buzz words are no longer familiar to you, then you might have some learning to do.

I collect old career publications and pulled a 1987 resume guide from my shelves. Immediately, I spotted differences like font types, longer paragraphs and terminology very different from today. Here is one sentence on whether to type or typeset your resume, "For economic reasons, I would have it initially typed on a correcting typewriter or a word processor."


Krutchen's conclusion? "We can't stop learning new things, or we will get empty pretty rapidly, and we will be totally useless, obsolete...".

Regardless of profession, long term career fitness demands a willingness to explore new things and to recognize that if the last time you had a new idea in your career or went to a professional conference was five years ago - that's too long.

As you evaluate your own career, do a quick career check-up to make sure you are still current. List the top 5-7 competencies you think are driving your profession forward.

Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 on each. For any competency where you rank yourself a 6 or higher, you must have a great example that is probably no more than 1-2 years old. If you don't, then strategize to get that example on your resume soon.

This kind of inventory becomes the basis for revamping your resume or for career stories in the job interview.

When was the last time you took stock of your skills? What's your career half life and are you and your skills becoming obsolete?

Knowing where you are will help keep your career on track, especially if this recession continues to hold.


devguy said...

interesting take on career. This sounds like it could be a quick way to assess and keep in tune one's career fitness: taking a course, acquiring new competence, doing whatever to keep at least half of one's core competencies less than say 3-5 year old. That's what I'm hearing anyway.

Marcie said...


All good tips for doing periodic career tune ups. I agree that 3-5 years is really safe.

People get awfully surprised sometimes when they find they have to do a job search and the industry buzz words are no longer the same.

Come again!