I recently had the distinct pleasure of meeting up with Mary Jo Foley in Vancouver during TechDays as she was our guest on a special edition of the AlignIT Manager Tech Talk series. She’s put together this guest post for the blog on what you need to know as an IT manager and shared her tips on how best to keep up to date. Enjoy!

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After having the opportunity to talk with a number of IT managers in Vancouver during Tech Days in November, I came to a few realizations.

What Canadian techies want to know is not so very different from what U.S. techies do. And like their U.S. counterparts, Canadian IT professionals want to know how they can find reliable, timely information that will help them do their jobs better.

Ruth Morton, a Microsoft Tech Evangelist and host of the AlignIT IT Manager Podcast Series, is the one who got me thinking about the "how" question last week, when she asked me to give IT managers some ideas for staying abreast about what's going on at Microsoft.

The way I -- a full-time Microsoft watcher -- stay up-to-date about IT matters is a multi-pronged process:

  • Make sure to watch and listen closely for information about new products and directional shifts. Remember when former Server and Tools Chief Bob Muglia said over a year ago that Microsoft's strategy with Silverlight had "shifted"? That was key for IT managers who were thinking about the extent to which to bet on Silverlight, Microsoft's rich-media plug-in and development tool. Some may have opted to consider other options, including HTML5, JavaScript and CSS, for certain new dev projects.
  • Be on the look out for roadmaps. This is where Microsoft conferences and blog posts can be handy. At certain shows, Microsoft execs may be more willing to flash a roadmap slide during an in-depth talk. And every once in a while, teams decide they can share more information via blog posts. (Subscribing to favorite blogs via RSS, while no longer, "trendy," can help you make sure not to miss the occasional roadmap post.)
  • Filter, filter, filter. There are more technology blogs cropping up every day. But not all blogs (or bloggers) are created equal. Look for blogs and authors who seem to be clued in and who have a good accuracy track record. While it's easy to be caught up in the latest hot rumor on TechMeme, remember that there's pressure like never before on journalists and bloggers to get clicks. Volume doesn't equal quality; rumors aren't the same as well-sourced reports.
  • Don't be afraid to use social media to ask questions. It's next-to-impossible to be an expert on every new technology. But the Web is full of experts in particular domains. Ask questions using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social-media channels and you'll quickly find a number of subject-matter experts willing to share what they know. I've had good success gathering timely information via Twitter on everything from System Center, to Windows 8. A quick Twitter exchange often leads to email address sharing, allowing more in-depth, private conversations.

Next year, 2012, is going to be one of Microsoft's biggest launch years in the company's history. If the tipsters and roadmaps are right, Microsoft will be delivering SQL Server 2012, System Center 2012, Windows 8, Office "15," Visual Studio 2012, new versions of Dynamics CRM and ERP -- and cloud complements to all of these products -- before the year is over. Keeping up with all the coming changes can be a full-time job (and is, for me). Being smart about staying current with the latest tech trends is more important than ever.

Bonus Links

mjfAbout Mary Jo

Mary Jo Foley has been a tech journalist for more than 25 years. She has worked for a variety of tech publications and Web sites, including PCWeek/eWeek, CRN and ZDNet. She is the editor of the "All About Microsoft" blog on ZDNet, and the author of the book "Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era" (John Wiley & Sons). She also is the co-host of the Windows Weekly show on the TWiT network and a frequent commentator and speaker on all things Microsoft-related on TV, radio, podcasts and at industry events.