How to be a better techie in 2009

In 2009, this could be you.... Cure cancer, run that three-minute mile, save the whales...

In 2009, this could be you.
... Cure cancer, run that three-minute mile, save the whales... remember when your New Years Resolutions were downright triumphant? These days, they sound a whole lot more sober: "I hope I'll have a job in January," said one reader. "Contract work with no benefits is all I see out there," commented another. World peace, anyone?

Yet the Web is full of advice for IT professionals on how they can be become better, more hireable pros. Not all of it is realistic, though it sure beats "cross your fingers and hope your job is still there after vacation". Here are some of my favorites, and the things I would bank on getting you the furthest in the new year.

1. Pay attention to where the hiring is.

We all get caught up in our work. We all bear down for months and even years at a time on one all-encompassing project or another -- this is a good thing -- but the danger is in looking up and seeing that the field around you has changed. Keeping your eye on the "prize" so to speak -- where the hiring is still taking place, even in a downturn -- is essential for continued career success.

So where is this mythical hiring surge? It depends on who you ask, of course. Some people, such as Read Write Web's Jobwire, point to the growing use of community managers and new media specialists and that developers are still being hired at twice the pace of sales and marketing folks. Others put their money on SAP, .Net and help desk support. But all agree that even in a downturn, there will be small pockets of growth.

2. Keep your skills current.

Advising tech pros to keep their skills current may be advice as old as time, but it doesn't change the fact that if you're still boasting skills at the top of your IT resume that haven't been a central focus of enterprise organizations in years, or worse, a decade, you're going to have a harder time selling yourself for a promotion or to a new company.

It's not something to put off, either. "Any IT Pro knows that keeping up with the latest technology is a career key. Make it easy on yourself by reading technology news and subscribing to various newsletters and technology magazines. If you keep up consistently, you can't be overwhelmed by falling behind," explained Kristin Clifford at CompTIA.

3. Be a documenting fiend.

Most IT departments are a place where the cowboys still roam -- the "cowboy" being the guy that everyone in the department depends on because he or she knows how to run things. Productivity can hinge on them, and dangerously so.

But this is now an age of standardized processes -- things like CMMI and ITIL are more popular than ever -- and documentation is at the core of this. Being someone who is organized and keeps track of what they've done, even if your boss doesn't require it, will mean that you can always reference your work so that your successes can be repeatable. If this is where IT is going, you want to be there first. Heck, you might even like it.

4. Stay curious

If the thought of devoting any time or energy to expanding your creative horizons or embracing something new or different sounds ridiculous to you, you may very well be spending too much time at the office. Which is exactly the kind of place -- with its repeated tasks, beige color scheme and endless rows of cubicle walls -- that can drain the curiosity that drew you to technology in the first place.

But this doesn't mean that the workplace cannot be a place where you try new things in 2009. Whether it's new technologies or simply something you wanted to learn more about, but never thought you could, showing the initiative and asking -- taking advantage of any and all opportunities to learn -- could make a daunting year and a sober economic environment a little more fun.

5. Step away from the technology once in a while

Every so often, a poll -- polls that are no doubt unscientific bordering on superfluous -- comes out that shows just how frightening some of our technology addictions have become. A recent one sponsored by Intel found that nearly half of women would rather go without sex for two weeks than give up the Internet for that long, a sentiment shared by 30 percent of men. Have our technology addictions gone too far?

I'll save that question for others to philosophize over, but in the meanwhile, it's hard to argue that shutting down the laptop once in a while to go experience the world outside of it can do wonders for your frame of mind -- not to mention your creative energy when you return.