When you're in college December and May are the big "What do I want to do with my life?" points, but once you're out in the real world January takes over this timeslot. Of course, if you really care about your career and life goals you'll be pondering this question continuously, or at least at regular intervals all year long. But the changing of the guard, as it were, to a new year seems to be the most popular time to review your life and make a change. At Microsoft this is only exacerbated by the need to write your mid-year focused-on-your-career review.

There are no end of books, bloggers, and speakers out there just itching to suck up your time and money as they espous their particular point of view. Two authors I have found consistently helpful in my own contemplations are Curt Rosengren and Steve Pavlina.

Curt, as I've mentioned before, is a fount of wisdom when it comes to figuring out what exactly it is you really want to do when you grow up. His blog at http://www.curtrosengren.typepad.com is always worth reading. Now Curt is available offline as well in the form of a free-to-download-from-his-blog e-book summarizing his philosophy; if that and his blog aren't enough he's also selling a second e-book that delves much further into the details.

You may know Steve from his past writings about all things programming at http://www.dexterity.com/articles. Recently he's switched from writing computer games to motivational speaking. His blog and articles at http://www.stevepavlina.com/ continue his tradition of being informative and useful.

If you need some light (ha ha) reading during breaks from all this heavy thinking, Apress has posted a free e-book about the design and development of SharpDevelop at http://www.apress.com/free/index.html. I haven't started in on it yet but I find how-we-built-it always spark a lightbulb or two.

If you want to get some coding practice in but don't have a project in mind, Dave's Coding Katas at http://www.pragprog.com/pragdave/Practices/Kata and the weekly TopCoder contests at http://www.topcoder.com have lots of ideas to get you started. Learning a new programming language is another good way to jumpstart your brain; it's Haskell (http://www.haskell.org) for me this year.


*** Comments, questions, feedback? Want a fun job on a great team? Send two coding samples and an explanation of why you chose them, and of course your resume, to me at michhu at microsoft dot com. I need a tester and my team needs program managers. Great coding skills required for all positions.