The Art of (Web) Learning

Posted on Thu, June 04, 2015 in Development Tips, by Jon Haarstad

When it comes to web design and its constantly changing landscape of formats, tools and procedures, the one thing that is paramount to staying in the game is to know HOW to stay in the game. The great advantage offered to us is that the source of our knowledge is no longer tied to a classroom in a building but is freely (or for a minimal fee) available to us using the very platform that we build upon.

Cue the “duh”.

A Journey

My personal journey which is shared by many in the full-time developer world is that my foray into web development didn’t happen in a classroom. For me it came out of a curiosity, which is one of the greatest traits a good web developer must have. I was working in the IT department of a law firm and the idea was proposed to have an intranet website built to replace the good ol’ employee handbook. With little to no previous experience in web development, I stuck out my neck and volunteered. Why? I was curious as to how I could make it work and the notion of learning something new didn’t scare me.

You could call it curiosity with a side dose of “can-do”.

And by “can-do” I’m referring to that sense that no matter how complex or formidable a new challenge may appear…you are able to approach it with a sense that although you may not know how it works now, as long as it is knowable, you have a confidence that you will figure it out.

Curiosity and can-do. If you have those two traits, you have a great head start. If you’re a newbie in web development or have already gotten your feet wet but feel that proverbial wall or ceiling and feel trapped…break it and get back to curiosity and can-do.

Now, with those two traits locked in your brain, it’s good to have a plan.

Have A Plan

I maintain a list that I make sure to review once a week and it has served me well to keep my abilities sharp and getting sharper. The one cautionary note with lists (at least for me) is that the longer the list, the less motivation I feel to even look at it, let alone actually do anything with it. So I try to keep my lists concise and I’ll frequently remove less important items to add others rather than just add more. Do what works best for you.

So, take a look at the current trends and note certain technologies you need to either start learning or need to expand your knowledge in. I like my lists to have priorities so you can either sort them in ascending order of importance or use a numbering system.

Put your list somewhere you can review on a regular basis. I use a combination of OmniFocus [ ] and Evernote [ ] to collect and organize this list. Block out time in your weekly calendar reserved purely for learning time. Small chunks are better than no chunks. Large unrealistic chunks are just as bad as no chunks. Make it routine and make it entirely doable.

To start (or continue), here are some of my go-to’s for learning, exploring and encountering new technologies and ideas that spark my curiosity for learning.

  1. Treehouse [ ] - This one involves that minimal fee reference I made earlier. This site is worth every penny (there are a few pennies involved…but pennies well spent).
  2. CSS-Tricks [ ] - so many good little snippets of knowledge to spur exploration of larger topics.
  3. Stack Overflow [ ] - a go-to resource for coding assistance is also an excellent source for learning about new/missing abilities in your own web development repertoire.

So many can-do’s out there. The challenge is pairing them down to manageable bits and getting started. Find your bit and dig in.

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