If I was looking in my history and wanted to find what made the biggest impact it would be the creation of a practice of learning. Creating a practice of learning is very simple, in concept, but extremely difficult in its actuality. In my own life there have been days where I study and learn for hours, and days when I physically get sick with the idea of learning anything. Regardless of those bad days when I learn nothing and the good days, there remains the practice of learning.
“Practice” isn’t a word taken lightly here, as its more around the musically talented fields than IT. Practice in these fields is the arduous amount of time spent doing scales, or performing pieces of music at half or even quarter tempo so its so slow that you can conceive of what your doing, what you should be doing, and where to go next. So eventually, once you are at tempo, you perform the piece as it should be played. This is where the practice is more in-tune to Learning, than simply studying for a test, or getting “better” at your career. For me I break up this practice in a couple ways, It starts with understanding your learning schema, then the subject to learn(this isn’t the first step btw), then when you want to dedicate yourself to learn. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants in this blog, as there are many on this subject that have impacted my life, but this perspective is what works for me, and may not fit 100% of what you should do. However, just starting and learning what fits is the whole point here. Don’t mimic me, find out what works for you. If mimicking works for you, that’s fine, do that then, but do what works.
How Do you Learn
Everything starts here. Understand thyself. Know what works for you. For instance, I and NOT a book reader. I learned this about myself when I had to read Dutch reformers for Seminary. Trying to conceive things from either badly translated books, or badly written will really tell you how bad you are at learning from books. Now this isn’t an excuse, and DOESN’T mean I hate reading. It just means that if I want to fully understand something RTFM doesn’t work for me(It definitely does for others). In my mind breaking down different learning schema are things like, Audible learning, Visual Learning, and Mental Learning. There are nuances with each and I’d suggest everyone dig into each to find out what really works for you. I’m a visual/audible learner, this means I learn best in class. I am present I listen and I try to ask questions. It’s where I thrive, but this isn’t for everyone. I know some that are mental learners, and these folks are those bookworms that read things and just get it from the reading. I envy these folks sooo much, because the amount of technical writing out there far outweighs the amount of visual, and audible learning. Plus its pretty obvious to say that books can be cheaper than classroom teaching. A book is around 50-100$ where a classroom is around 1k-5k$. Lots of nuances here again, but the point stands that those that learn in books are in a good place to practice learning.
What Can you Learn
Stop for a second and think about what you are good at. What makes you smile when you think of that one time you did that one thing that changed the organization, or the big play that changed the game, or that one thing that made people notice. Whatever it is, its a good indicator of what you are good at. Look at your resume, and see the biggest bullet points that make you think, “Wow, I forgot I did that.”
These are all great indicators of what you already know. This is important because growing from what you know leads you into new avenues for learning. For instance, someone that knows AI/ML solutions on-premises, can learn it in cloud. Someone that knows how to swing a bat, can swing a golf club. Someone that knows how to play piano can play guitar. Someone that knows English can read Spanish. Notice what I’m saying here. “Learning” starts with skills that can move from one thing to the next. Can a person that swings a bat swing a gold club? Not well. Especially, those that know how to read English when reading Spanish. Can you “read” it. Maybe… but you definitely don’t conceive of what you are saying, and you won’t do it well. This is where your learning starts. Its taking something that you know partially, and growing. I’m sure many a person takes a look at golf and thinks, “I’ll never learn that”, or someone looking to learn a new language thinks, “Man that’s a whole different thing.” to that I’d argue that your not starting from scratch but growing in something you already know. When you look at it from this perspective, things seem much more achievable, which in term they are if you put in the time to achieve them.
Now there are things that are completely different when learning them. I personally see Networking in IT as something I just don’t get. I know I can learn it eventually, but its something that I’d have to “start from scratch” to learn. Is it? Do you, dear reader, think its something from scratch? or do you think I know more about it than I think. This is where those “Ah Ha!” moments come from that bridge the “I’ll never learn that” to “I think I get it” and fundamentally shift the viewing of a topic to something that can be achieved. Again, this isn’t easy, and it takes time. Things that you desire always seem to take the most amount of time. There aren’t that many, “Get what you want and get it now” schemes that really work. So sometimes you got to just get after it and really make a determined promise to yourself that you will not give up on it till you know it.
When do you Learn
Here I want to bring up a couple points. First you are a sponge. In that you can only know so much. That amount of knowledge will take over other things in your life, such as recreational thinking, hobbies, etc. and vice versa. When you view your mind as a spunge it helps you understand the importance of what you are learning. Is it worth it to know all those sports things? It may be! It certainly helps having conversations with folks that are “sporty” and I’d say the same thing about current events, and culture. I am by no means saying stop doing things that are fun and only focus on boring things. That’s not how life works. I’m saying to not forget about the boring things, because the folks that know it and grow in it can fundamentally shift how the world works, and that person could be you.
What I am saying, is once you know how you learn, and what you want to learn, you then need to put it into practice and start learning it. Create a season of learning where for a quarter, or 6 months, or a year you focus in one area. That’s your learning season. During that time your periods of learning are focused in that area and its “sister topics” of different things. This keeps you focused, helps you to hone your skillsets, and also allows you to us different mental learning capabilities as you go through your periods of learning.
Periods of learnings, in my mind, are the hours, two hours, or however you set it up, of learning that you do in a regular cadence. This is the sitting down and starting up a new video of a topic, or reading a book on the topic etc. I’m one of those people that needs to set apart a time for doing it, or else I won’t do it. For me, I do it in the mornings. Before I start my day I dedicate some time to learn something new, then after my learning, I start my day with a jumpstarted mentality to achieve what I need to. Each day starts with what I want to learn, and what I want to achieve. This also allows me to grow in my career and impacts my job, my family life, and my friends as I am able to conceive of things a little easier and walk through topics. What time would work for you? Is it at the end of the day? Maybe the learning lunch hour? Everyone is different the main principle here is to find the best time and stick with it.
If you have had a hard time trying to keep up with my ramblings let me try to put this in the easiest terms possible. First, find out how you learn. Different people learn things differently. Find out what works for you, stick with it after you figure it out. Only stretch your learning technique on things that you are refreshing. In other words, if you learned everything about AWS CloudWatch, or Coding a function, or swinging a bat, or whatever. Learn it a different way(Not changing how you know it, but how you learn it). Next, find out the subject matter you want to learn. Understand that this is critical to your growth, but take baby steps. A bigger lift of knowledge requires more time, and more technique(and sometimes more preparation), but is not impossible. We all start somewhere. Finally, Set your seasons(Long Term) and periods(Short terms) of learning. Set aside a time, and stick with it. Even if the learning period isn’t as good as you would like, remember its the practice that matters, not the day. Its like every gym person knows, “The worst day at the gym is sometimes the best day to have gone.”