How I Learn New Stuff

So here I am, a brand spanking new blog and a head full of web developer stories, I’m not a massive fan of the “top 100 Christmas jQuery plugins” type posts, so I’m going to keep it personal and subjective on the topic of learning.

It’s fair to say we work in one of the most fast paced industries going, whether you’re a developer or designer keeping up with the latest and greatest techniques is very important, so in the next few minutes I am going to give you an insight into how I learn, and I’d love to hear your comments on how you learn new stuff too.

Learn by Teaching Others

I’m a big believer in helping others to help yourself, in school I discovered you learn 90% of what you teach, which is handy because this is one of my favourite ways of learning. Helping others in the web bubble usually means devoting some time to a forum or Q&A site, my prefered hunting ground is Stack Overflow, where I ask many questions and answer many more.

My rational with Q&A sites is that when you answer a question you:

  1. Solve the problem and cement your own knowledge a bit
  2. Solve the problem but learn a bit by researching the sollution
  3. Get it completely wrong and look like an idiot, but the communinty will very quickly show you why you’re wrong, and this is a great way of learning too

One word of warning though, trolls exist on even the best Q&A forums, don’t waste too much time or effort trying to help those who don’t want to be helped, it’s a two way street.

Go to Conferences

I’m the first to acknowledge that cost of learning by going to conferences can be a bit steep, but for me there’s fewer better ways to learn when you need a good dose of inspiration.

I’ve been working as a web developer for just over two years now, and have never really been able to afford the larger conferences such as FOWA or FOWD put on by Carsonified, but should this be an excuse?

There are plenty of regional conferences that cost a lot less than the big shows yet offer just as much with regard to content. For students or those just getting into the indusrty these still may be out of reach, however if you get an oppurtinty to go to one of the events think very hard before turning it down.

The first two conference I went to were the FOWA and FOWD tour events in 2008, both at the Watershed in Bristol and both under £60, bargain! With talks from Simon Bruzonni, Paul Boag, Dan Rubin, Elliot Jay Stocks and more, who could argue with the quality of the speakers.

Since then I’ve also been to Web Dev Conf 2010 of which set me back less than £30 and provided such names as Anna Debenham, John O Nolan, Mark Bolton, Elliott Kember and Gav and Dan from Aardman, as well as some other talented people such as Rob Hawkes (creator of time wasting game Rawkets).

Up next is New Adventures in January 2011, where my wallet will be hit a bit more, but for less than £80 to get through the door to these speakers I’m not complaining.

The point is conferences don’t have to be mega expensive, I find them a great format for sharing enthsiasm I cannot really get from articles or tweets, that said if conferences aren’t your bag…

Get Some Friends

One of the problems I have sometimes is lack of motivation, not that I don’t love what I do but after a full day of banging my head against my keyboard sometimes I’m not in the mood to read the article I faved on Twitter earlier that week.

However having a bi-weekly meetup with some geeky friends over a drink of any description is a pretty good way of getting into a discussion about the weeks work, that project your working on or your career progression. I’ve learnt a great deal from bouncing ideas off of my friends, and had some pretty inspirating conversatons that have made me make descions to positvely enhance my career.

Learn by Doing

I’m not a very theoretical person, when I was a kid I learnt how to fix computers by breaking them, funnily enough this didn’t please my Mum, everytime I got a clip round the ear I knew that I had cocked up.

Needless to say I’d prefer to be getting my hands dirty rather than reading a book any day of the week, forget the theory and get stuck in, if something blows up put it down to experience.

Once you have learnt by your mistakes don’t forget to tell people how you got on, sharing this information not only helps others but helps cement your own knowledge.

Remember that setting up a safe working environment means you can go totally nuts, so how about trying something you’re really bad at, nobody will care if you mess up and you might just conqour one of those difficult items on your to do list.

What Have I Missed?

Lots of things no doubt, but like I said these are some of the ways I like to learn new stuff aside from the usually Twitter / RSS articles etc. I’d really love to hear your methods of learning, don’t by shy… leave me a comment!