IBM has started releasing a new set of offerings they are calling "Skill kits" built on their Toolkit for Custom and Reusable Solution Information. The kits themselves are packages of reference information their developers have identified as being valuable to a given topic. This content is then assembled into a single package for easy consumption via a mini web server that runs locally on your machine. When I've been working in a new language or dealing with part of a language I haven't used in a long time, I go straight to the web and search for what I need. After years of doing this, I'm pretty good at getting to what I need quickly but the fact that I'm searching the open web has a few main drawbacks:
- It's not topic specific. Even keying in on terms to help limit the results, irrelevant information leaks in.
- It's not vetted. Most of the time answers you find will get solve the issue, but they may be a poor way to do it. The result could be as simply as a process running slower than it needs to, or something more severe like opening up a security hole.
- It may not be up to date. Technology moves fast. The answer you find that worked for version 1.0 may not work or cause issues in the 1.1 release.
- Only a partial solution may be presented. Problems in programming often involve multiple step solutions. It may take cross referencing several potential solutions and assembling various parts from each to get to the answer of a related but distinct problem.
The Skill Kits idea avoids the first two issues completely and if you have the proper version, the third issue dissolves as well. The last issue about only partial solutions being available will depend on the depth of the kit that is assembled. Once it hits a certain level, even if it doesn't have specific answers, it will provide the framework for developing the answer.
Right now, there is only one kit listed: Project Zero WebSphere sMash skill kit, but I expect there will be at least a few more on the way. Of course, it wouldn't have to be limited to programming. Just about any topic could be put into the framework. Even though there is very little difference between these kits and a really good reference/tutorial site, I love the idea. Of course, this could also be the basis for building a system like Trinity used in The Matrix to learn how to fly a Huey by downloading flight skills directly into her brain. Just gotta figure out where to plug in the wires.