On Learning

Before I start, I apologize for not writing in the past almost two years. I’ve been on a pretty busy adventure and I promise to make up for it. This post will be one of the first of a series of posts not on technology itself but more on my thoughts about how to live in the world of technology.

The technology world only has one constant: change. In the past ten years though, change has accelerated at an incredible pace thanks to the Internet, crowd sourcing collaboration (aka open source) and an economic system that has allowed engineers to take risks. Even though this rapid change is amazing, it’s really hard to keep up with the rate of change but change we must.

Ever since I was a child I’ve been curious about things. I like to explore new things and learn about them. Either learning how to make computers do things, how to make a mercury thermometer or how wine is made. Reflecting about this topic I even found it interesting how I am more interested on the making-of movie add-ons than the movie. My curiosity is broad and has led me to continuously challenge myself to understand the world as a whole rather than its parts. We usually live in a bubble and learning things outside our bubble helps us be better every day.

The following are some tips that I hope can help you in your learning:

  • Be curious: we tend to gravitate to a specific area of interest. However, learning should not just be about a specific area it should be about everything around you. If you are not curious about other things, then you will not be able to connect things.
  • Ask Why: we take things for granted so often but we never ask why things are the way they are. The only way we can change things is if we question why.
  • Ask How: “how does this work?” will usually take you into a chain of discoveries. Learning how one thing works, will usually lead you to learning another thing, which will then take you to another. Follow the chain, it’s a learning journey not a race.

Now, learning is just part of the journey. Just learning is not enough. You can learn forever but don’t do anything with it. So here are a couple of things that help me materialize the learning:

  • Adapt: the worst thing you can do is believe “I am an [insert language] developer” or “I only work on X area”. I have seen countless of times when you are required to be flexible, either your product didn’t make it or your whole discipline goes away.
  • Think “how to”: so many times in my career I have heard (even I have said it) how we cannot do things. This is a huge blocker for you and others. It’s better to think how we can do something.

Now let me give you a concrete example. I love cooking and reading about cooking and recently I read “Letters to a Young Chef” by Michelin Star Chef Daniel Boulud. In this book, he helps aspiring chefs to understand the ruthless world of culinary and gives explicit tips on how to navigate it. I found some of these insights fascinating and some can apply directly to the technology world. The following are some of my favorite quotes (can you apply them to your situation?):

  • “People often make that mistake: they confuse skill in the kitchen with being a chef”
  • “Be careful of the trendy place with the supermodel waitress and so-so food. Look for a place where you can feel soul-in the food, in the people, in the room.”
  • “When you work in the kitchen of a great chef, chances are you’ll learn as much or more from the sous-chefs around you and for fellow cooks in training.”
  • “Building your ego is not part of the game… Do not take it personally. Respect the chef and always give more than expected. Become part of the team. This will deepen your technique, knowledge and relationships.”
  • “Lesson number one: always leave in a good note. If you sign on with somebody whom you look as a mentor, it is important to make the commitment to stay…”
  • “When you work with a great chef, your job is not to be creative but rather to interpret the creativity of the chef for whom you are working.”
  • “Work with a master. Learn to think like the master. And one day the master will have the confidence to ask you to move his work forward.”
  • “Experiencing other cuisines on their home territory is more important today,…, than it ever was.”
  • “When you become an executive chef, or chef-restaurateur, the first question you must ask yourself everyday is, Why would people choose my restaurant? … Does it pass the who cares test?”

I hope you found this useful and good luck in your everlasting learning journey.

Till next time,

-Alvaro

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One thought on “On Learning

  1. Pingback: On Risk Taking | Geek on record

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