Posts Tagged “learning”

The Deep Productivity Seminar

Yesterday I attended the Nicholas Bate’s Deep Productivity seminar in Oxford. It was a great chance to meet a fellow and much respected blogger and at the same use the course to gather up all the important bits about productivity.

The venue of the seminar was in the Magdalen College School. It was unlike any school I’ve ever visited and is also the oldest school that I’ve ever been in. If you like Harry Potter you will love this place.

I arrived a bit early being just around the corner for accommodation. I got speaking to Nicholas and a few other attendees to the seminar and then the hard work began at 9am.

The seminar was extremely valuable and it was a good opportunity to re-visit some strategies to help stay focused and productive. I also walked away with a number of books from Nicholas that have been added to the top of the reading list.

So what did I get from this seminar then?

Well, the whole point of this wasn’t to learn something new. I’m a big fan of Nicholas Bate’s blog and his material so I was already familiar with a number of strategies, but where I previously got this information over a long period of time, the seminar provided the opportunity to consolidate all of this information into a single form that I could digest more easily and refresh my brain.

It was also a great opportunity to meet Nicholas and other attendees.

All in it was a great investment of my time and I hope that it can yield some great results in the weeks, months and years to come.

Thank you Nicholas for putting on a superb event and it was great to finally meet you good sir!

For the attendees, I’ve managed to go my first 24 hours without bread as my first actionable item. Started yesterday during the seminar (thanks for the nudge NB) and made it to this morning by having cereal and a smoothie rather than toast. Yay!

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Always Be Learning From Experiences

Learning tends to come from acquiring the knowledge of topics that we’re not familiar with. This is why as kids we all went to school. At a young age we have limited knowledge of how to read, write and count. Through years of education and study we eventually acquire enough knowledge to allow us to learn and understand each of these topics. We can specialise in this new found knowledge by going to college or university or moving into the workplace and getting a job.

What about what we already know?

There I was this morning setting up a new database for an application I’ve been working on for a client when I noticed that the application’s scripts to setup the database wouldn’t run due to a dependency on data in the database that was always assumed to be there. Simply put, I couldn’t create the database from these scripts.

So my knowledge of the application has changed and I have learned something new. What I have learned isn’t a new topic, just a tiny part of a topic I already know. My experience with the database scripts has taught me that basing the build process of the database on data that is already assumed to be there is wrong.

While we tend to seek out to learn from new topics, we forget that we can also learn from experiences. At time we might think that the knowledge we have is correct, but it’s only through experiences that we find out whether it is correct or not. In this case I have raised my concerns with the client about the build scripts for the database and proposed a solution to correct it in the future.

Always be learning. Whether it’s from new topics we know nothing of or by fine tuning the knowledge we have through experiences.

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Less Listening, More Learning

Podcasts and screencasts can eat up a lot of time. I’ve started to see a swing towards listening to podcasts and watching screencasts and less time spent putting what I get from them into practice.

For the last year I’ve been a healthy listener of a variety of podcasts. They are centered around software development, programming and freelancing. Every week I listen to about five or six different episodes on these topics. While they’re entertaining to listen to, I’m starting to see that I’m not getting as much value from them. Sure there’s sometimes a glimmer of programming language knowledge that you didn’t know about, but is it worth putting in a good half hour of your time for that one little morsel of knowledge?

Then there’s the screencasts. I had a few of these going last year, again on the topic of software development. Screencasts definitely need more of your time as you can’t watch them when you’re out on the bike or in the car, they need you to both listen and watch. In terms of getting time to watch these, I simply didn’t have the time available. And then every few weeks I would simply declare screencast redundancy and remove them from my list to watch.

Since removing these from my list of intakes I’m seeing more of a move towards reading online, books and RSS feeds. They can be more easily consumed on the go and using smaller blocks of time. This in turn has allowed me to spend a bit more time learning those things that I only listened to in podcasts or watched in screencasts.

Learning isn’t simply about consuming as much information about the topic that you’re interested in, you need time to apply what you have consumed and seeing if you can in fact you use it correctly. I hope to be doing that a lot more this year and re-address the balance of learning.

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Mastery takes time

Yesterday I mentioned I was embarking on a last attempt to master a different text editor. If I’m to succeed at this, then one truth I must face is that this will take time, just like mastering any new skill does.

I always find that learning something new starts out to be fun. I have a clear goal in mind of what I want the end goal to be and with that in mind I start. Whether it’s a new programming language or an application, those first few days are where my positiveness is at a high. After a few days though, the stumbling blocks kick in. I don’t feel as productive as I did before. Even though I know I’m in unfamilair terroritory, I start to wonder if this is in fact the right time to be learning something new. A few days further on and I’ve only mastered a small subset of this new topic or skill. Questioning myself again, I throw in the towel and abandon the learning process. I’ve done this so many times in the past.

The recurring mistake I’ve made in the past is forgetting that learning takes time. Mastery takes even longer.

For the moment I’m content to simply learn Vim. This means getting to a stage where for most of my day I can write and manipulate code without resorting to looking up keyboard shortcuts. Finding files, finding text in files, managing files in different panes, navigating a file, search and replacing within a file and basic text manipulation represent groups of keyboard shortcuts that I need to learn in order to use Vim effectively. I’ve given myself a month to learn most of these shortcuts. After a month I should be able to assess what I can and can’t do in Vim. For all the things I can’t do, these will become the focus for the next month of using Vim. Repeating this process for six months will evenutally get me to the place where I want to be. To have mastered Vim.

Learning can take hours or days, but true mastery can take weeks, months, even years depending on what you want to master. This is the key to successful learning and mastery, you need to put the time in.

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Learning

As a web developer I tend to focus on the back end of the implementation of web sites and applications. It’s what I do and what I am good at, however I’m not shy to put together a basic front end design for a website if I have to. However that’s where my skills start to dwindle. I understand all the concepts of front end design and I know enough best practices to get by but I lack the confidence and knowledge to really put out a professional design.

There’s always the argument for professionals as to whether they should generalise or specialise. I would like to specialise in a couple of web frameworks that use my favourite programming language, however the web and the technology that is used by it and on it is increasing daily. Which is why I want to generalise on these fringe technologies.

I’m starting to consider expanding my skills by signing up to Treehouse for some online learning in web design, building iOS applications and Wordpress.

As a web developer you should be familiar with the building blocks that make up a web page and how it can be styled but this can only get you so far. I’ve worked on this basic knowledge for a long time now, but now I want to take my work to a higher level of quality which is why I’m looking towards learning more about web design.

Mobile applications are everywhere. There’s simply no getting away from them. Most online services and products have a mobile application to connect to their service, and while I prefer the idea of using websites on my smartphone, there is a place where native applications definitely excel. As a first learning exercise I am going to start building an iOS application for my Journalong product this year. Journalong works well on my iPhone but I want less in the interface of Journalong when it’s used on the go. I just want to write and save it to my journal. It will be a good initial project to start on with Jouralong.Finally there’s Wordpress. Like or not, Wordpress is still the king of blogging platforms. It’s been a success story on the Internet form the early years and today there is such a vibrant community of Wordpress designers and developers that have formed as a result of the success of the open source blogging platform. Why am I interested in Wordpress? Curiosity really. I want to know how difficult it is to pick up Wordpress from a developers point of view and implement a small website with it.

I would like to say that the current range of content management systems offered in the Rails community are better, but the truth is that Wordpress is so much easier to work. If a client approached me and asked what blogging platform would I recommend then I would have to say Wordpress.

At the end of the day taking care of your career is something that everyone needs to do. If I can improve my career with a few new skills then why not. After all, it should improve my appeal to clients as a web developer with a more rounded set of knowledge on not just web development but also the technology that makes use of the web.

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Always be learning

One of Patrick Rhone’s latest posts is his list of tools for daily learning. Patrick’s list is a great place to start for daily learning and I’m glad to see that there’s a couple of tools there that I use myself. I’ve never considered them as learning tools but that’s what they are really. Tools for discovering new things and learning.

My take on it is to always be learning. Never stop learning.

My first exposure to computer programming came when I was about ten when my Granpa bought an Atari 800XL. Right from the moment he got it, he immersed himself in programming books and magazines. As a kid you wouldn’t give it any thought, but now when I think back I think it was amazing that given my Granpa’s age, he was still learning on a daily basis.

This way of thinking that you should always be learning is something I’ve tried to do for the last few years, but along the way I usually forget things. I’ve learned the hard way that I need to keep a journal for such things so that I can review it at a later date.

My daily learning comes in the form of technical things like programming languages, web frameworks and other web development related topics. I’ve also read up on topics like decision making, writing and of course I’m reading through the Aubrey-Maturin series, which his made me much more knowledgeable of 19th century naval warfare.

The benefits of daily learning are just that. Daily learning. Being that bit more wiser on a daily basis. I’ll never stop reading, writing, learning and discovering new things. Having a blog to write about my learning experiences when I’m in my seventies? I hope so.

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