Junk Drawer Logo Junk Drawer

For all those little papers scattered across your desk

Learning is not (usually) time wasted

D. Ben Knoble on 09 Jul 2021 in Blog

Way back in January, YouTube subjected me to an advertisement from Exam Labs. What follows is a direct quote: “Looking for a job in tech? Don’t waste hundreds of hours learning.”

Exam Labs, if you read this—you do technology a disservice. You need only examine the recent cyber attacks and the various flaws in our technology to understand that solving problems without adequate understanding ends in disaster.

I have no idea what your business model is (I have not linked to you or visited your website—I do not wish to give you undeserved web points in the form of traffic). I suspect, based on the quote and name, that it does your clients a disservice. Depriving anyone of the opportunity to learn is a disservice.

Assuming you charge a fee to pass exams (be they certifying or collegiate), you do society a disservice. Money cannot buy skill, cannot buy expertise, cannot build technology. Sending the message that money can buy a job reinforces structures built only in the name of inequity.

Learning is a crucial technology skill

If you disagree with this header, well, I cannot see why. When was the last time you sat down to work with a piece of technology and learned nothing in the process? When did you last use a new piece of technology without learning about it?

It should be obvious that learning is a crucial skill in all jobs—in all of life, really. I won’t belabor this point.

Becoming an expert does not mean you stop learning. Invention and discovery are educational activities. Expertise often means you know how to learn quickly in a domain (in addition to being able to sift through and connect relevant bits of information). Expertise in one domain often translates to others; expertise in learning always translates.

The hundreds of hours Exam Labs (falsely) equated with learning are hundreds of hours spent becoming an expert in anything (see, for example, The Art of Learning by Joshua Waitzkin). Developing a skill takes time.

How else will you acquire fundamental technology skills?

Most jobs are in technology these days. Most of us learn on the job—we have to. That is the nature of adapting to fluid situations, the nature of solving problems, the nature of creative human beings.

“On the job” is not a good time to learn the fundamentals unless the job is “trainee” or “student” or similar.

You may be hired for your strengths in a core business domain. You are very likely to be hired for your fundamental skills and ability to learn the core business domain. There you may apply your fundamental skills alongside your unique skills.

Not everything is Google-able

Yes, I know StackOverflow exists. I help people solve problems on affiliated sites almost daily. I cannot often Google the answer to the question. Even when I can, the results invariably mean I have to combine separate pieces of knowledge into a cohesive whole. This requires learning those pieces.

Ever tried to solve a problem before? Did you first study the problem, or dive in with no knowledge of it? (Most of us have probably done both.) Which approach lead to a better solution (for some definition of better)?

Learning looks different for everyone

I’m not suggesting that we all get 4-year degrees in Computer Science (how elitist that would be). Nor am I suggesting we all get 4-year degrees! Education does not need to mean various lower schools to high school to college. How many of our passions are self-taught, self-discovered?

Experimentation is a form of learning I practice regularly. Using something breeds intimate knowledge of it.

No learning, however, is not learning. Shortcut learning is often not learning (or at least, not learning the right skills).

Learning does not equal hundreds of hours

Learning something adjacent to my expertise is often a matter of minutes or a few hours.

Learning something completely new to me can range from days to a lifetime.

This false equivalence suggests that learning, because it requires so much time, must be a waste. This is only fallacious. Plenty of things (sleep, hobbies, cleaning, conversation) require large amounts of time—they are not a waste.

Admittedly, one does not become a black belt in mere days.

I don’t want to work with anyone who always skips learning

And why should I? The habit of skipped learning is arrogant: it says, “I know everything I need.”

I must emphasize that skipped school is not always skipped learning: it may be learning a different trade, a different way. Early Americans had time off school for the harvest (or at least, so I was taught—I find it hard to rely on my education of American History in the details).

I must also emphasize that skipping learning occasionally is acceptable. For example: A new feature in a framework you’ve mastered may not be relevant to you immediately. Skip it and get the job done. (You may want to revisit it later, though.) It is the habit that says, “Learning is beneath me” that I find deplorable.

Do not skip the fundamentals. They are so-called for a reason. One does not build a tower on sand.

Do not skip the problem. One does not solve the unknown.


Categories: Blog

Load Comments
Previous Next
Back to posts