Richard Hart

Head of Something @ Somewhere
Kent, UK

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Learning how to Learn

The best developers I have worked with have all been incredible in self-directed learning. And yet, a typical pattern that I see more junior developers get stuck on is not knowing what to learn to progress their skills as a developer.

I spend a lot of time reading, whether blog posts or books, watching talks or listening to podcasts. I have never found myself short of topics to look into more or things to try out. So when I try to picture how someone can feel stuck, I struggle to see where that obstacle is coming from. 

There could be many reasons at play here. A more benign reason being fear and uncertainty: “There are so many things I could learn. What if I pick the wrong one?”. To that, I say start anywhere and see where it takes you. This approach then takes you on a “just in time” approach to learning, where, as you get deeper down the rabbit hole, the topics you need to learn change depending on where you end up. Whereas a more serious reason would be that the individual feels it’s not their responsibility: “My manager should tell me what to learn”. I could see how this way of thinking could be born out of schooling or bootcamps where we are told what to learn. So the responsibility for one’s development has been abdicated. 

Self-directed learning is a skill but an important one for anyone looking to get ahead. For those that struggle, my advice is to jump in. It doesn’t matter where and it doesn’t matter how. Pick up a book. Watch a video. Listen to a podcast. But no matter what, put as much of it into action as you can and link the dots. Every step you take will lead to the next, and that next step may require you to change course, but that’s okay, as now you’re learning.