Gang up with self-learning

Posted: December 1, 2011 in Seeds
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Apart from profit, one of the most obvious differences between university and working world is the concept of learning. When I was a student my job was exactly studying. I had to attend classes, pass exams and no more. These are the minimal requirements to be a student. Sure, I’ve always been curious, I’ve studied different things on my own, delving into what I found more interesting. I call this process self-learning (the correct term should be self-study but I prefer to make evident the process of learning, not just the act of studying). I also consider self-learning whatever one does on her own to improve her knowledge about some topics (for example, working on some projects or writing code to experience a library). I think that the job of a student is not complete without self-learning. To tell the truth, I think we can always learn, independently of what kind of  job we do.

What happens when one gets a degree and starts working?

Some people forget their origins, their basics. They leave learning behind  and don’t consider that they have all the means to improve their knowledge and proficiency.

Why?

Weariness? Lack of time?

Maybe, but often behind the time and the weariness lie the lack of will and the scarcity of interest. The habit of a guaranteed and steady job inhibits tons and tons of books, classes and notes studied few years before. I can’t believe that some people blow over just because they deem their “official” studies completed.

When I started working I got disorientated. What about studying?! Gee, I love studying and trying new technologies. Where is the time to do that?! Luckily my team is prone to training and we allocate (sorry for this term, just a professional bias!) slots of time for that. But what about other things I want to learn and (personal) projects I’d like to work on?

Self-learning is the answer. However I forget to remind another essential term without which it would be difficult to really learn: planning. You need a plan. You need to find time to learn. You require a sort of schedule.

One moment. Sorry, I’m unforgivable. I forget another fundamental thing without which it would be impossible to learn: will. If you don’t want to learn then give up and don’t waste time.

If you really feel like learning then keep in mind:

  • What to study and which level you want to reach (e.g. template metaprogramming master, guru of gardening, wizard of cooking, …);
  • Sources of knowledge you have (e.g. books, blogs, classes, …);
  • When you can study (e.g. in the underground going to work, in the shopping center while your wife is drying up your credit card, …);
  • When/Why re-schedule your learning plan (e.g. new C++ standard is out, you want to impress your collegues at speaking chinese, …).

Some tips/ideas if you want to learn something but you can’t decide what or you have too many topics in your list. Consider things that:

  • make you happy;
  • can increase your self-esteem;
  • can make a positive/good impact on your job;
  • can make a positive/good impact on other projects you’re working on;
  • can help you to decide among other things you planned (a sort of feasibility study);
  • can improve your proficiency at doing whatever important (job, social relations, …) you lack in;
  • you just can’t not think about;
  • are hard, if you need a challenge;
  • are little (e.g. a short blog post) or easy but their value can be big.

I said you need a plan. Maybe this is the hardest job to do. Try to analyze your days and find time. You can’t do a plan without time, it’s impossible. Everybody can find time, just if they really want to. Some examples from my life:

  • Officially, I start working at 9 AM. I go to work at 8.20-30 to study something.
  • Almost all week-ends I spend about 5 hours travelling by train. It’s not so bad reading books and writing code on board!
  • Generally during the week, I spend some time after 9 PM for projects or technical experiments/trials.
  • Some months ago, I went to work by underground and I was used to study every day during trips (about 40 minutes, in all).

You can think that the quality of study of some of these examples is very poor (noise, stress, discomfort, …). Indeed, I grasp these situations and I keep the quality high thanks to the habit and the practice. This is extremely common and I know a bunch of people that study in the most unusual circumstances! This improves attention span and sort of stress management skills.

How to make a plan? Good question. I just know I have one! I use sticky notes to group, for example, books, projects and technologies. I try to prioritize, by following, more or less, the guidelines I wrote above. If I find something interesting, I consider to schedule it. It’s important to have moments to evaluate what to change, add, eliminate and hold as done; furthermore, it’s basic to understand when to change priority to some elements.

Self-learning should be part of our life. Surely, we learn by working but other times we need to do it on our own. We have to be prepared to change our plan quickly, focusing on priorities and making the most of our time!

Don’t stop learning! Hold the interest!

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