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Secret Developer Career Weapon: Learning to Learn

So, let me ask you a question. When was the last time you learned something completely new? I’m interested to know. Leave a comment on the video link below and share the last time you learned something new and what it was.

Now, this site is focused on tech and development, so naturally, I’m talking about things like a new programming language, a new framework, a new platform, a new pattern, whatever it may be. But this also applies to things outside of programming.

I’m talking about the process and the importance of learning. And, more importantly, getting over the fear of learning a new thing.

Let me start by sharing one bit of knowledge that I picked up many years ago in this industry. What you know and the skills you have are important, but what’s far more important than that is learning how to learn quickly.

You probably already know this, but just in case you don’t, in the tech industry, the only constant is change. There are very few languages, frameworks, platforms, etc., that are popular now that even existed twenty years ago.

And I know, I’m OLD. Twenty years for some of you might be your entire life at this point, but that is kind of my point.

How long do you think you will be working in tech? Most careers of any type last 40+ years if you start after school and work until you are retirement age. During that length of time, you will likely see many generations of tech come and go.

What you are learning now and even what you will learn next will likely be obsolete by the time you have finished your career.

And that’s why the most important skill you need as someone in tech is the ability to learn. Learning quickly and adapting to change as tech changes are what will give you the competitive advantage to continue your career until you are old instead of becoming a relic and getting lapped by the newer generation of kids out of school.

So, how do you keep up? How do you learn fast?

The first step is overcoming resistance to change. If you are like me, you probably have an opinion on what is the “best” programming language and what is the “best” architecture. This is just human nature. As you continue to grow your skill set, you will find things you like. And in your opinion, the things you like will be the best.

And you know what? NONE of that matters! Seriously, your opinion is great, and you should always have a set of pros and cons for everything you like or dislike, but the tech industry swings like a pendulum, and the thing you like today just simply may not be popular tomorrow.

So, overcome your preferences. Overcome your fear of the unknown. Learn the stuff you like, and more importantly, learn the stuff that’s in demand even if you don’t like it. Even if you only learn it to know WHY you don’t like it.

The second step is honing your ability to learn.

Now I can’t tell you how to do this step by step because it’s different for everyone, but I can at least give you some pointers on how to get started.

Just like anything else in life, practice makes perfect. You need to practice learning quickly and efficiently. So here’s a challenge for you to get started: go and pick something new you want to learn but have no idea how it works. If you are a web developer, go make a mobile app. If you are a front-end developer, go learn a backend language that isn’t JavaScript.

Don’t cheat and pick something similar to what you already know. Go do something completely different. Doing this will be hard at first, but over time you will begin to learn the new skill.

But in this case, pay careful attention to how you are learning. What is the process you took that helped you learn the new thing the fastest? Remember, this isn’t an exercise in learning the new thing; it’s an exercise in learning how you learn the fastest.

Once you have it ironed out, try to learn a second new thing, but instead of randomly trying ways to learn it, use the same methods you know worked last time.

This is how you learn to learn, and it might be the most important skill you could ever develop as someone in tech.

Thanks for stopping by, and until next time, happy coding!