Reflections on learning
This past week I've been learning about the latest web development technologies. It all started with The Learning Curve podcast episode on Wordpress vs Static site Generators, which in turn came from the Roam FM podcast interview with Ali Abdaal, which in turn came from a conversation I had with Matt Mower about Roam Research. That's the first reflection. Nothing we learn comes in isolation.
Here I followed what seemed of interest. When I'm listening to something new it usually comes as a "referral" from somewhere else. If my interest is piqued I will take a quick note to check out what is on offer.
As a result I have a blog that's sitting on the most recent technologies which I'm much happier with.
Do I understand what the hell is going on under the hood? Not a chance. Though I understand enough to get to the end state I desired and I kept asking questions until I did. That's one of the hallmarks of a beginner. Asking questions and seeking help. Searching Google and forums to find the shared solutions of others who have walked this path before me had got me to where I am today. All the mechanics of the site are how I want them, and it's just some styling to go.
There is a trick to asking questions. You need to ask the right question in the right way, and be capable of filtering out the noise quickly. Here we get to some other levels of learning such as being competent or proficient (I'm going to grossly summarise the levels here, leaving more detail for other posts).
With regard to the website technologies I've moved to advanced beginner, knowing what I can touch and what I can't. If competent I'd be working much faster and making wholesale changes without the need for help from the outside. Not there yet.
I am however a proficient developer (hesitate to call myself expert, though in some estimations I would be) and that proficiency is what allows me to quickly adapt to a new development environment and make the right choices to get up to speed — even following my intuition at times.
It's interesting to reflect on the journey of learning and how multiple layers of skills and knowledge are in operation at the same time. None of us is static. I'd put good money that you now know more about Covid-19 than you did at the start of the year. What characterises a "learner" in my mind however is the willingness to walk into new domains of knowledge as a beginner. I personally find it wonderfully rewarding.
One final note. Learning for me is best when I'm developing knowledge about an area of interest. For most on the planet, a week of evenings spent digging around a new development platform would horrify them and rightly so. Learning is hard (impossible?) if you are not interested, no matter your level of existing expertise. There are many areas of my life where I'm an engaged and productive learner. They all add up to who I am today.