Learning Something New.
May 31, 2011 Leave a comment
When was the last time you learned something new? Not some obscure fact, or about a new startup, or the name of the new girl in accounting, but a new skill. While I (and I assume others) like to believe that I am always learning, always improving my skills, constantly gaining new insight, the truth is, I haven’t set out to learn something new in far too long. Until this weekend.
The last time I really set out to learn something totally new from scratch was probably in grad school. Although I didn’t know much about being an account planner when I started my job at Digitas, there was no formal training. It was a lot of observing, then doing, getting feedback, making adjustments, doing some more, watching some more, getting more feedback, you get the picture. In fact, that’s still how it goes. And it’s working well. I’m a much better account planner now than I was 4 years ago. But there was no curriculum. No lesson plan. No list of core planner skills that I needed to cross off. And I think that even at the VP and SVP level, planners are always improving. Like any art, you can never really be done learning it.
But unlike planning, this weekend I set out to learn a new skill. I want to learn how to create iOS apps for iPhones and iPads. I don’t know much about coding in any language. In high school, I took a computer science class where we learned True Basic and made crude animations that would probably get you kicked out of school if you made them today. I didn’t try to program anything for about the next 6 years. In 2003 I started a different blog, the now defunct “Digital Me.” In the early days of blogging you had to know a few basic HTML commands in order to spruce up your writing. things like ‘<b> to make text bold or ‘<a href=> to insert a hyperlink. But other than that, I didn’t know programming code from Morse Code (which I also don’t know).
So I started in the most logical place, asking friends who develop apps where I should start. I found a couple resources:
I didn’t set out to write a review of these two resources. As one friend told me, it’s really up to how you like to learn. If you want to watch a series of lectures from a Stanford Professor, head to iTunes, it’s just like being in the class. If you want to go at a self-guided pace and learn by doing hands on, get the book and block off some time (I have spent most of my Memorial Day four-day weekend on it).
What I did want to write about was the excitement of learning something new. I am FAR from having learned how to develop apps. I’ve built six apps now (with the code and instruction provided in the book) and I barely know what I am doing. It’s a little bit like doing chemistry experiments with no knowledge of chemistry. I can follow the directions, add the sodium to the calcium in the prescribed amount and get the desired result. But do I have any better understanding of why it happens? Not yet.
Although unlike chemistry, I can read the code (even though I don’t really understand it) and start to make some sense of it. I think I just had a breakthrough before writing this. I was working on animation transitions from one screen to another and while most of the code is gobbledegook, some of it started to speak to me.
And this is when it gets exciting. Even though I am just copying code there are always little problems that I have to figure out. Maybe it’s a typo, or I accepted the wrong autofill or I just left out a word. But hunting through there, trying to find the differences and then finding it and all of a sudden TA-DA! the app works!
Too often in life (here is where I get preachy) people stop learning new things after they get out of school. They might advance job skills or improve sports performance, but most people stop acquiring new skills. And you can easily get bogged down with life, family, relationships, jobs, and everything else and forget how exhilarating it can be to learn something new and watch yourself grow.
I’ll probably never write the code for the next Foursquare app, but I’m really glad that I started off down this path. If I get nothing else out of it, I’ll have learned a little bit about apps and rediscovered my love of learning.