No, I’m not talking about spending your entire life jumping from one major to another so you don’t have to graduate. When I say, “Be an eternal student.”, I am advising you to keep learning throughout your life both actively and passively. Don’t let opportunities pass you by. Just because you don’t need to know something right now doesn’t mean that it won’t come in handy later.
One question I get from many people is how I know all of the things I do. I tell them that I just pick it up as I go. Growing up, I was surrounded by mechanics, electricians, carpenters, and other tradesmen. If they needed help, or were helping me, I paid attention and picked up some tricks from them that help me around the house today. With my career, it’s been a bit different. Until recently, I didn’t have a lot of computer people around to talk to so I had spend a lot of time tinkering on my own and doing research. I learned a lot of ways not to do things; I learned some bad habits; and I gained some excellent insight into how our magical toys work from the ground up.
Aside from the hands-on/trial and error approach, I have also invested a significant amount of time reading, watching videos, and taking courses on various topics. Usually I try to focus on things I am either actively working on or expect to in the near future, but sometimes I throw in something brand new or just plain fun to keep me excited about learning. Recently I did this by taking all of the courses in the Docker Path on Pluralsight.com. While I started the courses for fun, I quickly found that what I was learning could be implemented in my current projects, which was an added bonus since I get to practice what I learned and improve my working environment.
It has been experiences like that and some unpleasant bills, replacing things I didn’t know how to fix, that helped me realize the importance of not growing stale or letting my aptitude for learning atrophy because I already know how to do my job. I was also lucky to have grown up around other perpetual students who gave me a solid understanding of how to acquire knowledge. I have found that the keys to learning are very simple:
- Find something you are curious about or need to learn.
- Gather resources that cover the topic.
- Talk to people who already do or know what you need.
- Read books and articles about the topic.
- Watch videos about it.
- Look for someone teaching a course that you can sign up for.
- Experiment on your own.
- Do something with what you have learned.
- Complete a project using what you learned.
- Share what you learned with someone else.
- Appreciate yourself for learning something.
If that sounds easy, that’s because it is most of the time. I use this approach in my daily life for everything from plumbing to performance testing applications. Granted I will never be a master plumber (it just isn’t my calling) but I also don’t need to call one when I need to unclog a drain or replace a faucet. When it comes to computers and software, there is always something new to learn regardless of your level of mastery. This is part of the reason it is important to be an eternal student. If being armed with new tools and ideas isn’t enough to fuel your desire to learn, remember that once you stop growing you begin to become stale and obsolete. Don’t let your potential sit idle. Take the time and spend the effort to find out exactly what you are capable of. You might even find out that you can do anything you set your mind to.
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education – Mark Twain