Illustration of gears and lightbulbs surrounding coding

Learning About Learning

Before I began web-development work a few years ago,  I was a graphic designer in the print world. I wanted to make the transition from print design to web development, but I wasn’t sure how. No matter how much I read on the subject, it just wasn’t clicking for me. The “aha” moment came when I realized I had to unlearn how I was retaining information, and relearn how to digest it over the long haul. Here are three methods I used:

Find your sweet spot

We all learn differently and there is no “right” way to learn something new. Some people can learn new concepts by reading a book on the subject. On the other hand, I learn best by observing and repeating a task (and often laughingly refer to my methods as “monkey see, monkey do”). Because I don’t retain new information from written forms well, for many years I remained frustrated that I wasn’t getting it when I read articles and books about writing code. Visual components for concepts are key to my own understanding, which results from years focusing on art and graphics. As it turns out, I wasn’t getting it the best way for me because concepts in written form are too abstract. Once I studied how HTML, PHP and CSS work together to form a website in a visual fashion, the concepts became tangible and I began to understand these new languages and how they function.

Find a mentor

Chances are, someone in your community has blazed the trail you’re on and often these people are eager to share their knowledge. In my own case, a friend had made the transition from graphic design to web development, and needed help with his expanding workload. As a bonus, he was ready, willing and able to pay me to apprentice. His belief in me, my desire to learn and the ability to earn income was a powerful triple punch to my career transition.

Like-minded people who are on a lifelong learning path can be found in most communities. And even if you don’t know these people in real life, websites like meetup.com are especially valuable for bringing novices and seasoned professionals together in educational settings both virtual and real.

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, find another room.”

I contribute my web-development skills to a Nashville-centric website for which I receive no monetary compensation. I do, however, get paid in knowledge which makes the experience valuable to me. Participating allows me to work with several local developers who have more DevOps (an intersection of software development and information technology operations) knowledge than I possess, given that most of my work involves front-end development. I’ve learned a great deal merely by sitting in on and observing their discussions about servers, hosting and security best practices. Here at my Parthenon day job, my co-worker and lead developer has a wider breadth of knowledge and more experience than me writing code. I learn something new and valuable almost every day from working alongside him. Because I am surrounded by people who have more knowledge than I do, I benefit from the intellectual generosity and experience of others when it comes to teaching me their skills.

One of our core values at Parthenon is “never stop learning.” Technology is a continuous path of understanding, and it often can be challenging to keep up with the never-ending flood of information at our fingertips. We can learn unlimited skills from a variety of sources, if we know where to look and also how to tailor our educational endeavors to our own strengths.

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