From zero to hero: a newbie’s guide to learning and building a reputation along the way

A friend of mine is a new IBM consultant who wants to learn more about and develop a reputation in social analytics. I thought I’d share some tips on how to learn and build a reputation along the way.

Pick your field carefully. Another mentor of mine said that emerging technologies offer the best opportunities. In a new field, it’s easier to not only catch up, but even distinguish yourself. In mature fields, it’s hard to compete with people who have years of experience. Even in mature fields, though, you might be able to find niches where things are rapidly changing.

Read. Read everything about that topic that you can get your hands on. Learn how to speed-read if you don’t already do so. Don’t worry about words you don’t understand or concepts that are too complex. Gradually, as you absorb more information, more of the things you’ve read will make sense to you.

Stay up to date. Find the key players in the space that you’re working on. Check out their blogs, their presentations, their tweets – whatever you can get that gives you more information. Set up searches and alerts so that you can find new material as it gets published.

Use bookmarks to organize your research. You’re going to immerse yourself in a flood of information. Use social bookmarking systems like Lotus Connections Bookmarks or Delicious to keep track of interesting things you’ve read, and to organize resources into your own categories. That way, when you need to find something again or if you want to send someone a link, you can quickly get it along with related resources.

Collect examples of ideas being been applied to real life. If you’re interested in Web 2.0 and financial services, you need to be able to tell stories about innovative companies and the results they’re seeing. If you’re interested in social analytics, find case studies where analytics has led to increased collaboration and productivity. Learn about pitfalls and challenges, too. There’s no substitute for experience, but awareness is a good start – and that can help you brainstorm opportunities for you to get involved.

Write notes and look for ways to explain ideas in simpler terms. Summarize what other people have said. Link to resources people might find useful. Share examples and the principles they demonstrate. Share your notes on a blog. Make presentations and volunteer to speak. This helps you understand a topic deeper and build the beginning of a reputation.

What can you write about? Write about what you’re learning and why. Write about the mistakes you made and how you solved them (or are trying to solve them!). Write about how you’re learning and from whom. Write about the resources out there. Write about the things you’re finding out. Write about the connections between your topic of interest and other things you know about. Write about what you want to learn next. There are plenty of things you can share, even as a beginner.

Experiment. Can you try things out yourself? Apply the ideas to your own life and share the results. As you build credibility, you might be able to convince your team to give a new practice a try. Share those results, too. Come up with ideas and try them out. Use these experiences to convince people to let you work on projects.

Volunteer and expand your responsibilities. Make sure your manager, your mentors, and your coworkers know what you’re interested in learning or doing. Volunteer to help with projects or presentations that need to be done. Ask your manager to help you structure a way to learn on the job.

Learn. Share what you’re learning along the way. Experiment. Volunteer and expand your responsibilities. You can go from being a newbie to being known in surprisingly little time, but you need to get out there and make things happen. Good luck!