• How Do You Learn Technology?

    My last post made me want to poll my readership of six people on how they learn technologies.

    We recently decided to put together a developer library at CFI. The point of this library is to support training new hires, and create a “required reading” list to promote career advancement through varying responsibilities. To get some ideas for the library, I polled our Web Development team for what they wanted.

    I was pretty surprised when most of the team said they wanted paper books. I had expected everybody to shoot for a Safari account. For some reason, I’ve had this perception that most newer developers like to learn from electronic source materials, but it seems like embossed, wafer-thin slices of tree bound by glue are still a favorite.

    Personally, I hate reading stuff online. I like copying sample code off the web, though. Seems like I’m not alone; O’Reilly has an approach for some of their books which allows developers 45 days to use the electronic copy on Safari while reading the physical book, so you get to have your cake and eat it too. Meanwhile, you’ll get to experience their online experience, and may even sign up for an account. Sheer marketing genious.

    And then there are CBTs. In my experience, most computer-based training programs are mediocre enough to make you want to poke your eyes out with a straightened metal clothes hanger, but I recently saw some very cool videos from Lynda.com on Flex 2. With good CBTs, it’s all about the presenter’s style and the material. They seem to have struck the magically delicate and elusive balance between short sessions, content, and pace.

    So, how do I learn, you might ask?

    Usually I buy a book on a technology first. I’ll peruse Amazon and look for decent books, heading over to the local book store to check it out. When I decide I want a book, I almost always want it immediately (as in, I’ll get in the car and go out to buy it as soon as I decide I want it), but I’m willing to wait a few days for it to arrive from the web if there’s huge price difference (which there usually is… damn you, Amazon, oh keeper of reasonably priced books :) ).

    I’ll usually read the book cover-to-cover before I try any of the code. I’m a fast reader, so I can usually achieve this before my eagerness to tinker with the code gets the best of me. I do this so that I can start coding in the technology without any unanswered questions; i.e., when I decide to knock out some code and I get stuck, I’ll remember where that item was covered in the book and will refer to it immediately. Then, I’ll code a small app in the technology; usually on a Saturday morning, which is when I’m most productive in my non-work career-oriented activities.

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