RE: Personal development plan

Subject: RE: Personal development plan
From: "Jim Purcell" <jimpur -at- microsoft -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2001 17:37:33 -0800

Annette asks for guidance in writing a personal development plan. First
things first: I am assuming that by a personal development plan we are
not talking about your performance goals for the next review period.
Personal or professional development is generally longer term. It refers
to how you intend to grow professionally to reach your career goals, and
what steps you will take to get there. As such, it requires thinking
beyond your current project and your current job. When the current death
march is over, what do you see ahead--more of the same? A similar role
in something more technically challenging? A greater scope of influence
on the documentation strategy for the next version? Do you aspire to be
a technical lead or a manager? Is there an area where you currently feel
you are weak and would like to improve? This kind of thinking goes into
defining your goals.

Do not see a development plan as an annoying administrative burden, but
be grateful that your manager is giving you time to think seriously
about your future. This isn't altruism on your company's part, of
course--if you have worked there any time at all, they have invested
time and money in developing your skills, and they don't want to see
that investment walk out the door.

Lisa Miller and Bill Swallow offer some great advice. Read and heed.

Some of your goals will be achievable quite soon, and others may be
farther off. What do you intend to do to achieve them? Courses and
conferences and books are a staple of development plans, and rightly so,
but don't rely on them for the wrong things. If you want to learn XML
because your company is moving that way, taking a class or reading a
book makes sense. If your company is beginning to think about the
international market, a conference or seminar on globalization would be
a good use of your time and your company's money.

For more fundamental growth, establishing a mentoring relationship is
more useful. For example, if you feel you are a good copy editor and
would like to learn more about developmental editing, hook up with a dev
editor on your own team. If you have been writing reference
documentation and would like to move to something more conceptual,
working with a conceptual writer on your team will teach you a lot. You
may eventually want some classroom instruction to flesh out your
learning, but what you learn on the job will be critical.

Depending on where you work, your long-term goals need not tie you to
technical writing. Lots of technical writers aspire to program
management, marketing, or even product development. Not all of them make
it, but these are worthy goals and worth exploring if they interest you.
If your goal is to write a novel, your manager probably won't want to
hear about it. But if you are looking to make a greater contribution
within your company, even outside your current team, good managers will
foster that.

Eventually you will want to tie this long-term thinking to what you are
doing now. This gets you back to performance goals, but identifying
specific, practical jobs you can do that require more than what you're
doing now make the future more concrete. Think about what kind of
assignments you might take that will further your career. Ideally you
want something that is achievable but a stretch. If you want to take
more of a leadership role in your team, for example, maybe you will want
to be a mentor to somebody more junior or to take responsibility for
some piece of the documentation beyond what you write yourself.

You always want to be thinking ahead. As (probably) Yogi Berra said, if
you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere

Jim Purcell
jimpur -at- microsoft -dot- com
My opinions, not Microsoft's


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