Regardless of our skills or experience, we all need great coaches (mentors). It's the fastest way and often the only way to achieve our professional goals.
Consider this part two of the Fastest Way to Learn.
It's amazing how we can fool ourselves into thinking that we can learn everything on our own and expect to be great practitioners. Mind you, I say this as one of those guys who sincerely believed this. I thought I could knock down any project of any size and be successful… WRONG.
The reason this is not true can be explained via analogy.
Let's say your friend Joe is the smartest guy you know. Joe decides he wants to become a plumber. So Joe goes to Amazon.com and purchases the best plumbing guides ever published. Joe studies those guides. Joe goes further and aces the written exams testing his knowledge. My question: Would you want Joe doing the plumbing in your new home? No way. Joe needs the practical application of this knowledge by doing actual jobs. Joe's fastest path to get this knowledge is to serve as an apprentice to a master plumber.
The same is true for an IT architect / specialist. Not only do you need the book knowledge, you need the practical application of this knowledge. Studying the latest technologies / methodologies until you're blue in the face will not get you there. This knowledge comes by doing actual IT projects through their full life cycle (see previous post). Only then, does that great knowledge actually 'cook-in.'
Here is the great multiplier: You must serve and apprentice under an accomplished IT architect / specialist on those projects. There simply is no faster way to reach the highest levels of our profession. Be aware that those who forge on without a mentor usually fail to realize their potential as a professional.
On a personal note, cherish your apprenticeship and learn all you can. After a year or so, your mentor will be long gone, and you'll be the technical lead remembering the good ol' days when someone else had all the headaches.
Lesson learned: To realize your potential as a professional, serve and apprentice under an accomplished IT architect / specialist.