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What Will You Do for Free in 2013?

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What Will You Do for Free in 2013?

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The most frequent conversation I had this year was with colleagues who asked for advice on their "career path". How should they stay motivated? How do they take on new or bigger responsibility? How do they earn more money?

A year ago, I wrote that people looking to advance their career should have at least one (if not a few) projects that they do for "free". Something outside their day-to-day work that lets them explore new skills or new ways to address challenges in a new market. It's not an easy thing to do, as we all live busy lives, but I continue to believe it's critical for anyone wanting to have greater control over their career and their future.

I thought it would be useful to highlight a few examples of people doing things for "free" that not only helped them learn new things, but opened new opportunities for their "career paths".

  • Chris Hoff (@beaker) started the DefCon Kids camp to encourage kids to question the world around them and hack machines to explore their ideas. Chris is someone I truly admire for the amount of time he gives back (both public and behind the scenes) to others. 
  • Josh Atwell (@Josh_Atwell) and others ran the vBrownBag program, bringing community-generated content to IT professionals around the world. Josh used that public exposure to become part of the "Roving Reporter" program for Cisco social media, allowing him to get exposed to more that his behind-the-scenes role in Cisco IT.
  • Simon Seagrave (@Kiwi_Si) learned how to use the prototyping tool called "EaSynth ForeUI" to create realistic, interactive demonstrations and prototypes of new technologies. We were able to use that technology to build a live, interactive demo that was used by EMC CMO Jeremy Burton (@jburton) in his Oracle OpenWorld keynote, but could also be used for a broad range of technology demonstrations.
  • Aaron Delp (@aarondelp) took feedback from our podcast listeners and transitioned about 40% of the show to have open-source technology or business models as a focus. He has since transitioned his full-time job to be focused on the open-source Cloudstack project for Citrix.
For me personally, I'm proud of two "free" projects this year. One was this series of whiteboard videos that forced me to focus on both the business and technology side of cloud computing. The other was an idea and business model that I research (and released), called "Cloud Garage Labs", which is focused on the lack of skills IT professionals need to run the next-generation of cloud computing platforms.

Many people use blogging as their free project, as it supports their knowledge gathering and the growth of their personal brand. I'm completely in support of this activity. But I'd challenge people to stretch themselves beyond that in 2013. Learn a new skill. Learn a new way to network/interact with a community. Learn a new media platform.  The cost is minimal (usually less than $500, and often less than $100) and there are plenty of people that are willing to partner with you. For example, both The Cloudcast (.net) and Packet Pushers are open to partnering with people looking to create their own technology distribution channel.

Do you have any noteworthy "free" projects in 2012? If so, tell me about them in the comments.

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