Senior Software Engineer at Zynga
Ontario, Ontario, Canada
I follow some subreddits for news and trends that I am interested in and you never know what interesting tangents can become hot topics. Additionally I read some online tech sites for new articles everyday and you can see what all the latest buzz is about. Some technologies that are developer related, can never hurt to make a mini project out of it. Even if you're not planning on shipping anything, it's always good to gain experience developing with a new framework or technology and understanding what tools are available to you in the future.
As for deciding what programs to use, its difficult to say at a first glance. It requires a bit of research to understand the pros and cons of each program against their competitors. For the more niche media creation applications like video editing or audio production, users tend to get very loyal and defensive of their preferred tools. Personally for audio production, I've started with FL Studio and eventually stuck with Reason. The skills and concepts you learn in one can be quite transferrable. In the end, it becomes how easy each software makes your task at hand. In a work setting though, your freedom may be limited due to licenses the company has, so it can never hurt to try out a demo to understand what you're getting into.