Learning – A Lesson For Life

Let’s take a small step out of the technical realm for a bit, and take a look at the IT Community in general. IT is an ever-changing field that’s constantly evolving as new technologies come to the fore for faster performance, more storage, and better ways to do things than before. If you want to succeed in IT, not only do you have to learn new ways of doing things on a constant basis, but you’ve got to have a good learning mentality in general. That lesson applies to more than just IT – it applies to life as well.

A couple of evenings ago, I was working through another engineer’s JavaScript-ing issue on one of the websites I administer. Yep – JavaScript. What’s funny about this is that I don’t know an ounce of JavaScript code; I’m a network engineer and not a programmer, and I don’t claim to know how to program at all. Thing is, when you’re a small business owner and you don’t have anyone to escalate issues to (since you’re the sole line of defense when problems arise), you’re often forced to figure things out on your own.

While it took a while, since I had to find several manuals on JavaScript, how button/ID classes work and how method calls between files work, I was eventually able to figure the issue out after a couple hours’ time. The moral of the story is that I’ve developed the ability over time to learn how to do pretty much anything with enough commitment and time invested, and it’s an ability that’s fueling most of my life’s adventures.

I’m a little surprised at how many people in IT today don’t read manuals, don’t read documentation, and have difficulty doing a simple Internet search to try and find the answers they’re looking for. You’ll also notice that the majority of those people are doing Level 1 tech support, and haven’t advanced their career in IT any further than that; the reason is that they couldn’t survive in a more technical role because they can’t adaptively learn. I don’t mean to put anyone down, but a lack of learning can only hinder your life, not move it forward.

Here’s a few tips that I’ve picked up on over the years to help with learning, not just in IT, but also with most other aspects of life. This might serve as a good reminder for most readers, and might have the fortune of pointing a few people in the right direction for moving their dreams forward:

  1. Never stop. None of us have reached that legendary pinnacle yet where we know everything and can solve every issue that we confront using nothing more than knowledge and intuition. Just like sharks – keep swimming, or you suffocate.
  2. People naturally learn at a different paces for different things. If we’re being honest, some people pick up on some things naturally faster than others. IT is naturally my forte, but it’s not for many other people. Some people learned car mechanics much faster than I did, in the same way that others picked up on cooking faster than myself. It’s also true that there are people in my career path that learn IT stuff faster than I do. Don’t get discouraged over this, since there’s ways to accommodate for it, by either spending more time to learn yourself, or finding a different learning method that you can more easily pick up on.
  3. Reading is a means of great gain. While many people would say that they learn more easily from hands-on experience rather than reading documentation, I’ve got news for you! 99.9% of people in the world are the same way! It’s simply a hurdle you’re going to have to overcome over time, through greater diligence in reading, removing distractions, or simply quieting your mind to help understand better (God knows, I need as much help here as I can get…). When you consider that classroom or real-world experience often costs a great deal more money to put yourself through than reading manuals, you start to realize how much time and money you’ll save once you get this nailed down. That’s a good enough reason for me!
  4. Internet searches go hand-in-hand with great keyword selection. It’s one thing to look something up in an internet search engine. It’s another thing to actually find what you’re after. Keep your searches concise, and remove keywords you don’t need that are otherwise cluttering up the database query. Looking for “replacing text in vi” brings up completely different results than “i need to replace text in vi ermahgerd please help me”.
  5. Big puzzles are comprised of many small pieces. There’s a lot of learning hurdles that seem huge, but are actually composed of a number of much smaller hurdles all bundled together. Many things take months or even years to master, and the journey to get there takes a single learning session at a time. Don’t get disappointed that you’re not getting where you want to go – you ARE getting there, you’re taking things a piece at a time.
  6. Believe in yourself. Get a good understanding of your own potential. While many people are really quick to recognize their limitations, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, what many people fail to recognize are ways to slowly mitigate or outright overcome their limitations over time. Nearly everyone can do virtually anything conceivably if they put you mind to it and dedicate enough time and effort. Really believe that – because it’s true!

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a long ways to go throughout the course of my life to get to the knowledge and ability level that I want to be at. I know that I’ll get there at some point in the next 20 years for IT because I can see the trend in my personal growth and learning moving in that direction at the rate I want it to move, and am doing what I can to take my development a piece at a time going forward.

Going back to the bigger picture of life, people who don’t adaptively learn new things will be paying money throughout the rest of their life to people that do. Learning is a game we can all pick up to play, and the prize for winning is a prize you can reap over and over again.

Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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