Learning new things?

Earlier today I posted this on twitter:-

I thought I’d write a quick post about it, as since I posted it got me thinking about learning new things.

If you ever decide to learn about something new, especially an unfamiliar technology, everything can seem confusing and bewildering.  Try something for me – go to Stackoverflow.com and pick a subject that you know nothing or very little about – here’s a list of questions about the Ruby programming language, for example.  All gobbledygook?  I thought so (unless you’re an expert in Ruby already and reading this, then choose something else, OK?)

Once you start learning that new thing and new knowledge starts sticking to your brain, the questions start to make more sense, and if you’re lucky you’ll eventually come across one that you know the answer to, and that gets quite exciting.  Over time, more and more learning means you get to answer more and more questions and then, one day, the penny drops and things change completely.  Somebody posts an answer to a question and you find that you completely disagree with it and need to make your voice heard.  

At this point two things happen – you either make a fool of yourself by getting the wrong end of the stick, or you nail it completely and look like an expert on the subject.  Either way is good – if you do the first, you learn from your mistakes.  If your conflicting opinion is correct however, you come to the realisation that you are starting to know your stuff.  That is the point when the hard work of studying and learning starts to come to fruition.

I would seriously advocate using something like stackoverflow or Experts Exchange regularly to test your knowledge in new fields.  They not only present new ideas to you that you might not have read up on in the past, but provide different contexts and situations for you to apply your new knowledge to, and when you do get to the point where you start to successfully answer questions correctly, things get much more interesting and satisfying.  You’re also helping others learn in the same way, too, and that contribution is noteworthy.

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