Tag Archives: Business

Be An Eternal Student

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:

  1. Find something you are curious about or need to learn.
  2. Gather resources that cover the topic.
    1. Talk to people who already do or know what you need.
    2. Read books and articles about the topic.
    3. Watch videos about it.
    4. Look for someone teaching a course that you can sign up for.
    5. Experiment on your own.
  3. Do something with what you have learned.
    1. Complete a project using what you learned.
    2. Share what you learned with someone else.
  4. Appreciate yourself for learning something.
  5. Repeat.

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

The Modern Sword of Damocles: The Fear of Unemployment in a Hostile Economy

Originally published April, 8th 2013

The Sword of Damocles was once an anecdote illuminating the dangers and concerns faced by  rulers and other powerful individuals who were often thought to live a life of ease.  The sword was suspended above the throne of Dionysius by a single strand of hair from a horse’s tail while Damocles sat in Dionysius’s place. Damocles quickly realized the precarious nature of sitting in a seat of power along with the fear that accompanies it. Currently, the Sword of Damocles has come to represent a more common anxiety or general fear felt by anyone with “something hanging over their head.”

Within the current economy, the most fearsome weapon faced by people is unemployment. The fear of losing one’s job often leads to employees compromising opinions, remaining silent, or generally not taking the kinds of chances that often lead to growth, both individual and corporate. Instead of bold, happy employees, most companies have engendered a workforce of meek employees who fear rather than respect management. They often scurry to complete their assigned tasks hoping to escape notice rather than risk the judgement that comes with being seen.

Interestingly, this culture has brought about numerous career advisors who, for a fee, will teach anyone how to be successful. These snake-oil-salesmen prey upon the meek by promising them empowerment and showing them how to face their fears and take chances. They encourage employees to step up and be heard by management. In essence, they simply tell the employees to do the very things that companies have either crushed out of them or that will place them in jeopardy.

For this culture to truly be changed, the ideals and actions of management need to be modified. Executives need to be willing to listen to their employees rather than insist that the company align behind their egos. They need to help their employees to feel secure in their positions, even if they choose to offer an opposing view. Managers should encourage discussion and understanding of situations rather than dictating to their employees. If they did, they might learn that there is a better way to accomplish things. If not, the employee should have a better understanding of why things are done a particular way, aside from “management said so”, and will feel better for having been heard out.

It may sound like a fairytale, but there are companies who are attempting to create a positive culture by making changes from the top down. Unfortunately, they need to overcome the momentum (and inertia) created by the more prominent business practices. For example, a manager from a typical company needs to adapt to remembering that his employees are people rather than assets and expenses on a spreadsheet. Alternately, an employee faced with this type of change in environment will usually think it is too good to be true. This employee will require encouragement and consistent support in order to adapt, which is another skill most managers would need to acquire.

Dealing with a culture of fear and insecurity is no easy task and despite what the professional professional-makers claim, it can’t be fixed by any one individual. It will take many people on all levels to move out of their comfort zones to correct the course of our society and begin building a better future. Until that happens, we will all have a sword hanging over our heads.