I remember my first day of college well.  I was 18 years old and wet behind the ears but I was eager to learn the skill sets necessary to succeed in the “real world.”  On my first day of orientation, after getting a roommate and a dorm room, I was instructed to go over to the student center and sign up for “web based services.”  I clearly remember standing in line and leaning over to the guy next to me and saying, “So, do you know if we need email AND the internet…are they different or do you think I can get away with just having one?”   Clearly, I had no idea what I was talking about.

Fast forward to 2009 – I am working at a web-based software company.   I spend the majority of my day interacting with customers on-line or via email.  I do my banking on-line, I read the “paper” on-line, and if I need to figure out how to get from “A” to “B”, you can be sure I don’t consult a map.  In a relatively short period of time, I went from not fully grasping the concept of the internet, to being totally reliant upon it in every aspect of my life.

The point I’m trying to make is that when most of us entered college to prepare for the future, our current occupations most likely didn’t even exist!    So, that begs the question: how can a person prepare for their future when they don’t know what technologies or industries will exist?  The answer: by being flexible, open minded, and learning from the experiences of others.

I attended a user conference the past two days that was put on by a partner of ours.  Like us, the company offers a web based application and service and thus, faces a lot of the same challenges we do.  While it was great to learn more about their product, what was most interesting for me was to learn about how they have dealt with the common challenges in our space.

In some cases they addressed problems in the same way we had.  In others, they had devised solutions and strategies we had not considered.  It was certainly reassuring to know that we were not alone in dealing with this set of problems; but more importantly, it was refreshing to learn about and consider the paths they had taken to address them.  Regardless of whether a path they had taken was a success or a failure – my group asked tons of questions.  We knew that there are valuable lessons to be learned in either case.  At times, we saw that they had failed with ideas we had considered for our own business – it was great feedback, and it gave us an opportunity to re-evaluate our strategies and learn from their mistakes without ever having made them ourselves.

The speed with which technology grows will not slow down – in fact, it will almost certainly increase exponentially.  We cannot predict where the future will take us, but it’s important to remember that if you are willing to learn from your peers, and are flexible and open minded about how you do business and address problems, you will learn to adapt and succeed in the future.  Technologies and jobs will change, but this flexible attitude should be a constant if you want to achieve success.

PS – Luckily I decided that I did in fact need both Email AND the internet!