How does this continuous learning thing work?

So here’s the thing, no matter how you learned software development, either in a degree program, through self-reaching, or by using a bootcamp-style program; one big risk is that what you learned yesterday isn’t necessarily going to help you tomorrow.

Tech is consistently changing. In fact, even just skills in general fall away. According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, the half life of a skill is five years. That’s it. If you don’t keep learning and growing, your skills will continue to reduce over the years.

The solution is continuous learning. It’s a fancy phrase, you probably hear it around in Agile groups or fancy business seminars. But what does it mean for you, and how can it help you level up your game?

I want to share a framework to think about how you approach continuous learning, as well as some tips on what kinds of resources you can use and some methods to encourage yourself to keep at it!

4 E’s of Continuous Learning

The framework I want to share is the 4 E’s of Continuous Learning: Education, Experience, Exposure, and Environment.

Education is most commonly what you think of when think about learning. This is a discrete event and it a starts and stops. It’s your online courses, tutorials, YouTube videos, etc. This is definitely an essential part of continuous learning, routinely reading or watching new materials that will expose you to other points or view or new technologies. But continuous learning is not just about traditional forms of education.

Experience is what happens over the course of your regular working hours. Are you investigating a new potential technology for the company? Trying to figure out how you all can implement a CI/CD pipeline to make your deployments easier?

If you aren’t having opportunities to learn while doing your work, try to look for new projects where you can volunteer to investigate something or take charge or a project that is a bit outside your normal wheelhouse. This allows your learning to be more than just watching or reading, but really getting your hands dirty.

Exposure is about the relationships on which you learn. Do you routinely discuss what you are learning with your co-workers? Do you have other friends in the tech industry that work at different companies? What about engaging with other developers on Tech Twitter or having a mentor?

These are all ways that you get exposed to learning in a different way. That’s because we are relational people and our brain is hardwired to retain information presented by others. By ensuring that you have routine exposure to others’ thoughts and ideas in the tech industry through personal relationships, you are learning even when you don’t realize it!

Environment is the final form of learning. Over time you work with different technologies at work. Maybe your company is using JavaScript and they decide to do a migration to TypeScript? The tools and technologies that you interact with during your job creates the environment for your learning. Do you use CI/CD? What is the tech stack at your job? What software is used for version control, BitBucket, GitHub, GitLab, or some homegrown monstrosity?

If there are teams or projects that use tech you don’t get to experience in your normal job, see if there is an opportunity to shift into those projects, even for a short time. If your company isn’t consistently moving its tech stack and platform forward, you could be falling behind the industry. If you have been at your job long enough that you are no longer learning from the environment, and your company doesn’t seem to be progressing, it may be time to look for another job.

Many ways to learn

As you can tell, there are so many ways to learn. Traditional education, Experience in your daily work, Exposure to different people and ideas and the Environment in which you operate. These pieces all work together to ensure that you are consistently and consistently learning. If most of these avenues aren’t actually providing new learning, then you’ll likely stagnate.

So how do you ensure you have a healthy dose of learning? There’s many ways but here’s some suggestions.

6 Tips for Learning Resources

  1. Read a tech article daily. Use Twitter, Matter or Daily.Dev. Even just reading a single interesting article every work day will only take a couple of minutes but it will guarantee exposure to new ideas.
  2. Read 4-6 books a year. Make sure you mix up the topics. some topics could be: languages, frameworks, agile methodologies. Include a book from a parallel field like UX design or project management. Also include books on what they refer to as soft skills.
  3. Take a course once a year. Something like Epic React or CSS for JS.
  4. You learn better when you teach. So teach something routinely, either in person at meetups, on your blog or on YouTube. The great part is that people give you feedback which ends up being more exposure.
  5. Build yourself a professional network of peers using Twitter or LinkedIn. Build relationships, understand what they are doing at their companies.
  6. Get yourself a mentor. Either ask someone that you know of, or use a resource like ADPList or MentorCruise.

5 ways to motivate yourself

It’s easy to procrastinate or forget to incorporate learning regularly. So I have some suggest methods to keep yourself on track.

  1. Create a learning calendar.
    Plan out what topics or things you want to learn each month. By giving themes to a month of learning it helps you focus and allows the resources to build on each other. CSS September, anyone? If you do time-blocking, make sure you actually have a set time in your time-blocks for each day.

  2. Choose your learning materials and sources wisely.
    Anyone can record a video or post a tweet thread. What is their background, what makes them trust worthy? The higher quality the content you’re consuming, the more you’ll get out of it and the more you’ll want to continue.

  3. Gamify the learning progress.
    Rewarding yourself for every completed book or course will subconsciously motivate you to keep learning.

  4. Get a mentor, like I mentioned earlier.
    There can be an over-emphasis on courses and videos with everything we have available on the internet. To really grow you need someone more experienced that can give guidance and career advice. Mentors can offer encouragement and instill confidence in a way that a course can’t.

  5. Participate in learning groups.
    The power of community in learning is immeasurable. Why do universities and bootcamps all teach in classes or cohorts? More than just learning it is the collective sharing of ideas and perspectives that leads to continuous learning and growth. So find some type of community to talk in. A book club, Twitter space, or Discord server.

Just keep learning

If you remember one thing from this email it’s this: if we aren’t learning, we’re stagnating. That’s a phrase I’ve had on my resume for years, because I believe it. I’ve had a huge personal focus on learning throughout the entire career... really, my entire life. Your mind is like water, if sits too long, it smells. But if you keep it running, you have a nice refreshing stream.