Teaching myself how to do something has always come from a desire to make, from building rudimentary websites in middle school, to building my own computers in college. Lots of trial and error, lots of searching the webs for bits and pieces of what I wanted to do.
There are advantages to this: I’m not afraid to try to make things I have no idea how to make. My Google-fu is strong. But there are disadvantages too: Almost everything I know how to do is a mish-mash-hodge-podge collection of things that I learned how to glue together in the right way.
So when I noticed the sudden surge in free online classes over the last couple of years, I jumped right on that crazy train. I took an Introduction to Databases class. I started working my way through CodeYear. Right now, in my copious free time, I’m working on five classes in 3 different programming languages:
- CodeYear with Robert Hernandez’s Learn Code for Journalism project
- Computing for Data Analysis
- Learn to Program: The Fundamentals
- An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python
- Introduction to Statistics
I have another list of classes I want to take, but haven’t started yet or I don’t have time for now.
This process I’m going through, of filling in the gaps in what I know, reminds me of this story:
A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks right to the top, rocks about 2″ diameter.
He then asked the students if the jar was full? They agreed that it was.
So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them in to the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The students laughed.
He asked his students again if the jar was full? They agreed that yes, it was.
The professor then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children – anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed.
“The pebbles are the other things in life that matter, but on a smaller scale. The pebbles represent things like your job, your house, your car.
“The sand is everything else. The small stuff.
“If you put the sand or the pebbles into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, material things, you will never have room for the things that are truly most important.
“Pay attention to the things that are critical in your life. Play with your children. Take your partner out dancing
“There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first — the things that really matter.
“Set your priorities. The rest is just pebbles and sand.”
I started out with sand. Now I have to go back and put the rocks and pebbles in. Good thing my mind isn’t a jar.
Sidenote: I haven’t been posting my notes/ideas/experiences from this recent batch of classes the way I did with Learn Python the Hard Way and the Intro to Databases course. I might (or might not) go back and write about the past few months’ worth of learning. But I will definitely be posting about these classes from here on out.