“Technology trends” is a pretty vague and generic term, but it’s still applicable to many peoples’ jobs. For example, a web developer should know about upcoming technology, even if their company isn’t using that tech yet. Keep up on trends also keeps developers or other technology fields aware of other techniques that might just make things easier for a company. Worst case scenario, it let’s you as an individual know what the rest of the world is doing in case you want to jump ship.
Here are some of the best ways to keep on top of technology in its ever-changing yet totally-interesting glory.
1) Read Digg, Slashdot, and other peer-submitted sites
Sites like digg and slashdot are (or used to be) somewhat unique, in that the content is user-generated. This let’s you know that the information is relevant to readers. Of course, this is only useful if you know the demographics of the readers, but come on. It’s digg and slashdot. You can probably make some fair assumptions here and be right on target.
Reading news stories submitted by your peers is a great way to track trends. You’ll see upcoming technology that’s interesting, and you’ll see criticisms of technology that doesn’t work. In fact you’ll see a lot of criticism, but that’s also very useful, so you’ll be aware of all the negatives of something before jumping into it.
EDIT: Thanks to xionon for pointing out that Reddit is one I forgot to mention, but it is actually much more developer oriented.
2) Check out traditional news sites
By traditional news I don’t necessarily mean CNN and BBC and Fox news and places like that. Although these can be useful tools to learn about technology, most of the time this would be useful only for existing or already on-its-way-out technology, or technology that would appeal to people on a larger scale. This is changing, of course, but that still does hold a bit of truth.
A more relevant technical “traditional news” site might be something more like engadget, or gizmodo. These are traditional because they aren’t peer-submitted, but have their own editorial process to screen content. As such you know that the content coming through is at the very least somewhat well-written, and has passed some sort of screening process related to content so you get what the site advertises.
Of course, it being April Fools Day, those sites are a bit of an exception right now, but usually that’s true!
3) Build a social network of developers and other technical people
Whether this is through AOL Instant Messenger, Gmail, Twitter/blogs, Facebook, Myspace, whatever, building a network of technically-minded friends will really help you keep on top of things. One of the most important – and most fun – aspects of technical work is swapping stories with people who can appreciate your horrible socially-crippling nerdiness and, god forbid, actually identify and respect your inner geek.
Social crutch aside, you can swap ideas, learn new techniques, and hear about technology solutions you’d never have encountered otherwise merely by having friends and talking to them once in a while.
4) Attend conferences
This might sound boring, but go to official conferences. You get free swag, you meet other professionals, and this is a great way to build your network.
Plus, free swag.
It can help you understand a new topic to listen to a speaker who is an expert on the topic, as well. To be fair, it can also confuse the hell out of you, so make sure you’re attending the RIGHT conferences!
5) Join usergroups
Joining a local usergroup (through meetups.com or whatever that site is, or just looking through Yahoo! groups, or Google groups for a tech group) can have many great effects. One of which is free pizza once a week. Another is that you get a group of people, usually wanting to focus on a specific, similar topic or goal. Think of it as a study group for adults.
That said, you might want to tell your girlfriend that you joined a bowling league. If she doesn’t like bowling, break up with her. It’s probably for the best.
One example is in my area, obviously the Boston area, there’s a usergroup that’s been meeting to go over .NET 2.0 and onwards training, in order to get Microsoft certification. Much easier to study when you have someone to ask questions, instead of reading a book, friendless and alone.
6) Ask coworkers
Kind of a lame one to end on, but asking coworkers is often forgotten by many tech people. Coworkers can often have nuggets of knowledge (if I ever write a book I am calling it Nuggets of Knowledge) buried in their brains much the same way a squirrel buries acorns for winter. Spring is here, and you want the acorns of their intelligence. Dig them up!