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Development Web Development

Worried about learning something new? Read on…


Image source – Flickr

A couple of years ago I was faced with a bit of a personal quandary.  I figured that, to progress further in my career I would likely need to learn some new technologies other than Office products and VBA and settled on web development.  After about ten years of using just the one technology I started to worry a little bit and even questioned my abilities to pick up stuff I hadn’t really looked at before..  Now that I’ve been at it for a while I wanted to quickly post answers to the questions I was asking myself then:-

What if I get stuck?

You will.  Google, however, is your friend.  I have no developer friends and very little in terms of a support network for general web development and design stuff, but I’ve coped pretty well.  There hasn’t been a single question I’ve had that I’ve not been able to get the answer for myself through search or posts on sites such as StackOverflow.  In addition to that, there are a whole host of sites and tutorials that can point you in the right direction.  Getting involved in social networking is also useful!  Find well known people who are experts in the field and follow them – you’ll be surprised just how much you can soak up just by reading their tweets/status updates and reading links they provide.

What if I don’t get it?

You will.  The best advice I can give here is that the best way to learn is by doing.  Just reading an article on jQuery, for example, won’t teach you enough to be able to use it. You need to practise, make mistakes, fix them, and then practise again.  The only way to successfully pick up anything new is to keep at it.  Don’t stress out if you keep forgetting things, just keep on going back and repeating what you’ve already done.  It’ll stick, eventually, I promise.

What if the new stuff I’m learning makes me forget stuff I already know?

I worried about this one a lot.  Being reasonably proficient in VBA, I worried that learning a new language like Javascript would confuse me.  I was concerned that I would get the two mixed up and somehow start writing one when I needed to write the other.  It never happened.   The basic answer to the question is this – It won’t, as long as you keep on working at it.  Like anything, if you stop doing something and don’t come back to it for some time you’re more than likely to become rusty at it.  I was good with Physics, Biology and Chemistry at school but there’s no chance I’d remember how to do even half that stuff now if I was asked, but that’s because I don’t use it any more.  Keeping on using the tools you’re already proficient with will make sure you don’t forget the stuff you already know.  The new knowledge won’t push it out of your brain – don’t worry.

But there’s so much to learn!!

Yep, there is..  In fact, there’s probably more to learn than your brain has capacity to take in.  Don’t stress about it though – you can only remember/absorb so much.  I would suggest starting with the basics and as you progress you can pick up the bits you think you’ll actually need to learn.  For web development, for example, start with HTML and basic CSS and then decide whether or not you need to learn CSS3 (you do) and jQuery/Javascript (you should).  There are a massive amount of libraries, frameworks and techniques to learn that you’ll probably never need.  If there are some that you need only once, don’t go crazy about learning them completely – just learn the bits you need to go on with.  There’s also nothing wrong with using or tailoring something somebody else has used and made available online.

Whilst this post relates mainly to web development, it applies to pretty much any new subject that you want to learn.  My main advice to you?  Go for it.  It can’t do any harm, and broadening your horizons also has the potential to open up many more possibilities in life and your career.

Until next time..  Comments as always are welcome.


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.

Things I've learned today

Things I’ve learned today

  • Sometimes being assertive can be useful, even if it is out of character.
  • Synaptics touchpad gestures are pretty cool on my new work laptop.
  • I’m getting a little too excited about the Big Brother evictions…
Things I've learned today

Things I’ve learned today

  • Sometimes you can spend an entire day worrying about things that aren’t going to happen.  And they don’t.  Time to stop worrying and live in the present.
  • That thing you’ve always wanted to do but somehow feels out of your grasp actually isn’t.  You’ve just got to put your mind to it and work on it and if you believe in yourself enough, it will happen.
  • Jeremy Kyle once had a pop at Robert Downey Jr for commenting on Lorraine Kelly’s boobs.  Not really a learning experience, but it made me chuckle.