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I am a software professional. I have reached a stage in career where I will have to do something apart from regular coding. I am very confused about what that extra thing should be. Sometimes I think I should be getting more domain knowledge, or I should be enhancing my technical skills only as I have been into that for more than 7 years or should I be going towards learning some managerial and leadership skill.

Because of all these thoughts I pick a different thing every time, and a loose motivation after studying some of it as I realize that I should have been reading something else. Please help me how should I identify right area for me to go to and then keeping myself motivated to study and learn that.

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What do you spend your free time on? What do you do with your hard earned money? What kinds of things would you volunteer to support? Are there any hobbies that hint at what you truly love? – Muz Feb 19 '13 at 8:27
Your comment is really thought provoking. I had to think twice before posting reply on it. I do not get much free time after office and household work, but things I do in free time include spending time on net including social networking, reading some books including fantasies, sometimes writing dairies etc etc. And writing this comment I realize how much time I waste. I could easy put this time studying some constructive things. :( – mehta Feb 19 '13 at 10:56
Hmm, to rephrase: What would you do if you had unlimited money? One of the most important questions in life is realizing what you truly love and doing it.. most people spend half their lives being good in doing what they don't want to do. Personally, I spent a lot of time in game dev and running charities, and discovered that what I really liked was optimizing people and 'upgrading/analyzing' people similarly to machines. So my life goal is an odd mix of engineering/management/cognitive science. – Muz Feb 19 '13 at 11:47
The thing is, perhaps you enjoy software. Perhaps you enjoy what you do. Then you'd want to keep expanding your career by being 'so good they can't ignore you'! You don't need a hobby like reading fantasies, you need a passion for your career, you can develop a passion for your career by working hard and enjoying the hard work instead of going around looking for a job that fits some newfound, temporary passion. See to understand my passion thing – user4926 Feb 24 '13 at 4:00

Diversify your learning

I believe learning should not be like how a not-too-informed investor trying to maximize profit in stock market. He/she may only dump all the capital in the most potentially lucrative stock and then feel all the fear of "having made a wrong choice." Instead, learning should be optimized and diversified. No usual people can only learn one thing for 100% of the time and not bored to death. You'd need to get out from this paradox of choice before you can feel better about your learning time investment.

A book read is a book read, the things you have learned (and more importantly, assimilated into your preexisting knowledge base) cannot be taken away. Depth is certainly important, but don't overlook the occasional serendipity sparked by knowledge across multiple areas. Who knows someday you wouldn't be able to make learning software easier by recasting it as a fantasy story? And who knows if a software you write to analyze the text structure of your favorite fantasy books will not be applicable in other areas? Knowledge should not be in different silos, they should be mixed, and variety is certainly good.

I don't know much about software industry, but I'd think perhaps using 40-50% study time just to keep up with the ever-advancing trend and technology in software, 30-40% to expand into relevant fields that would facilitate your work in upcoming 3-5 years, and 20% just to learn anything that interests you. This should be a good starting point and you can calibrate that as you go along.

For the 40-50%, you probably know what those materials are. For the 30-40%, feel free to pick 2-3 of them as a starter. And if any of them seems not too relevant but interesting, allocate it to the 20% category. Meanwhile, set small attainable goals (just by simply adding a couple extra lines in your diary to document how much you read/done) so that you can see your achievement. Don't ever feel guilty about not learning the most, most, most important thing. The fact is, that thing can change day by day, narrowing it down wastes more energy than learning a couple more less important but useful things. And the difference? In the latter case you have still learned something, it the first scenario? Nothing but a lot of frustration.

Put external structure to your learning

Reading is certainly good, but it should not be the only format of self-learning. For learners who struggle to find motivation, incorporate other formats, people and organizations into your learning. Join a class, write a blog, listen to a podcast, post questions online, get onto a project, identify a mentor, etc... try to make your learning interactive, to keep it fun and to avoid procrastination.

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You say you "lose motivation after studying some of it as I realize that I should have been reading something else"

This sounds like the root of the problem.

Why do you decide that what you have been studying is not the right subject? Does it become boring? Or too challenging?

A lot of success comes from picking a route and sticking with it - if you have no initial guidance as to which route to take it may not matter, but you need to decide to keep putting in the effort if you want to get past that slump which usually follows the initial rush of learning a new topic.

My guidance would be to choose a topic based on your interest, possible opportunities it provides, long term viability etc. and then work towards becoming successful in that topic. It shouldn't really matter what it is, but it does help if you enjoy it :-)

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Another way of handling this is to try a more managerial position, and try a business analyst role, and decide if you prefer them to your current role. Some companies allow you to do this kind of role shifts.

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You appear to be overwhelmed by choice and options. What you need is a little discipline. You could perhaps step back, identify some of the things you want to do, prioritise them and then focus on them in order. I realise this is hard to do when we are bombarded with all the amazing things we could be doing (Coursera and Open Courseware are my particular weaknesses).

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Obviously you must decide what your priorities are first. After deciding that you should pursue the goals you've set up.

Also note that some of things you need to learn, you can learn while working at a new job. That is often the best way of learning: hands-on experience. Often you need not be a proven expert to work with something; many companies are willing to hire ambitious people who have shown they are good at learning.

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You need to decide what you want to learn first.

How to do that depends on factors we don't know–but might include examining your own personal interests, your job interests, your current (or future) job expectations (which is often quite different than what you care about), and so on.

Now you weight those factors, balancing often-competing concerns: what must you know? What would you like to know? What might be helpful to know? What direction do you wish to take?

Then you attach emotional weight to your decision. How will learning Xyz benefit me? Now? In the future? During the process? Without emotional weight, decisions are often frivoluous and ephemeral.

Weight provides momentum, motivation, and a need to learn, rather than a light-weight desire.

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