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Learning Isn't A List of Items Your Can Check Off

Published 4/17/2020

If you had to define learning to an engineer, you'd probably mention some type of fact memorization and functions to perform a task. In today's episode, we're talking about information gathering and better ways to learn a new skill.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone, thank you so much for listening to Developer Teabefore we get started with today's episode. I wanted to give you a quick update. You may have noticed that we didn't keep our normal 3 episode cadence this week and additionally we will be airing Dan Heath's episodes, the interview with Dan Heath next week rather than this week. The reason for that is because on Sunday night a tornado touched down very close to my neighborhood. We had minimal damage at our home but our neighborhood was totally rocked. We lost power, we lost internet for here at my house for a little over a day and we were prepared for much longer than that. Unfortunately for the city of Chattanooga not everyone was. So we took a little bit of time to recuperate from that. Now we are back with more episodes. We are safe, we are very fortunate here at my home. Of course this is perhaps one of the hardest times to be hit with a natural disaster when we are already in essentially a quarantined environment, people are staying home and avoiding contact with others. So there are a lot of people in Tennessee and specifically here in Chattanooga that were affected by these terrible storms. So I wanted to give you a very quick brief invitation if you would like to help the folks who were affected by this terrible storm. Here around my hometown you can do that by donating to the tornado relief fund. That's the community foundation of Greater Chattanooga, cfgc.org slash tornado relief fund. The tornado relief fund is all separated by dashes. I will spare you the spelling of all that. cfgc.org slash tornado relief fund separated by dashes. Now let's jump in to today's episode of Developer Tea. We are addicted to knowledge or at least we're addicted to the illusion of knowledge, the feeling that we have some certainty, some fact, some progress towards knowing more, knowing more practical things about the world, but also more intangible things. At today's episode I hope to inspire you towards a different perspective on learning and seeing the world through a pair of eyes that is primed for better learning. My name is Jonathan Cutrelly listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in your careers. If you had to define what learning means to you as an engineer, as a human, you would probably define it as some kind of mix of remembering facts and then understanding some procedure that uses those facts, some active function that you can perform that relies on those facts and to be able to be performed properly. And I'm not here to tell you that you're wrong and necessarily because learning is indeed the exploration of the unknown at its fundamental core, the ability to be exposed to new information and navigate your way through it. But the improper way to think about learning is as if there is some library of knowledge that we can work our way through. And that once you've checked off a box, then you can move on to the next subject. We're kind of primed to think this way because of school. We go through certain courses and once we've achieved that course, once we've passed it, then we file that away as knowledge that we've gained. We continue forward. Instead, in today's episode, I'm going to challenge you to think about learning not as knowledge that you gained that you've filed away in your library for later recall. But instead, I want you to think about your learning process as the state of your mind at an even point in time as you're exposed to this new stimulus, one stimulus after another and how you approach the next one. As we said on a very recent episode of this show, the vast amount of knowledge that is available and we can call knowledge data, we can call it information, we can call it things that make any kind of sense at all or that could make sense at all. The vast amount of that is inaccessible to us. It's physically inaccessible, but it's also philosophically inaccessible. And we become addicted to knowledge because it's important to have knowledge to be able to survive. It's also important in the social hierarchy to know what's going on, to be able to be trusted. And the leaders of a given group are typically emerging because they know something that others don't. You can imagine our ancestors, Paleolithic ancestors or whatever period you want to pick, that the leader of a given group might be the one that knows where good hunting is or knows where water might be. This is one of many signals that provides positive ranking in a social order. We don't live in a time where our knowledge should put us in a particular social ranking because so much of that knowledge that we otherwise would be able to gain as humans, where is the good hunting or where is the water. We can Google very quickly. And to compare our knowledge from back when our ancestors were alive to now is, of course, we've vastly outpaced them in terms of access to the knowledge that people have. And so learning has changed with the way that that knowledge is shareable, the accessibility of all of this canonical knowledge. And so we have all these facts at our fingertips and even still the vast majority of those facts are not available to us. And so how can we define learning in this environment? If we know that access and recall to the information that we want to have, it's available to us, it's available to everyone. It kind of evens the playing field out for that old version of learning. So what exactly does it mean to learn in this information age? That's what we're going to talk about right after we talk about today's sponsor, Linode. Today's episode is sponsored by Linode. I'm going to go off script here for a moment because Linode has been a sponsor of the show for a very long time. And it shows something about Linode that you'll find in their products as well. They are embedded in the developer community because they are made of developers. Linode has open source projects you can find them on GitHub. The cloud manager is an open source single page app that gets updated very regularly. They have like a Python CLI. They have a version for API. So the tooling is obviously mature beyond that. Linode also provides a world class hardware, you know, SSD, native SSD storage. You get a root access to a Linode Linux server for $5 a month. That's their nano plan. And Linode is providing $20 worth of credit for new customers right now. You can find that at linode.com slash Developer Teause the code Developer Tea 2020. By the way, they have really high end plans too. You can get a dedicated physical CPU core or you could do GPU if you're if you need something like AI processing or something like that. Go and check it out. Head over to linode.com slash Developer Teause the code Developer Tea 2020 at checkout. Thanks again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode. So we are addicted to having knowledge or at least people perceiving that we have knowledge. And so it's easy for us to convince ourselves that we are certain. That's what today's episode is about that we're convincing ourselves that we are not just smart. That's that's probably not an accurate depiction. But rather that we have a certain lock on knowledge on a specific set of knowledge that we've checked the box and we've kind of put that knowledge into our long term storage. We've got it. We've got it available. And this is perpetuated as we've already mentioned in the earlier part of this episode. This perspective is either reflected or perpetuated or both by the education system that most of us have grown up under. And so we earn degrees and we earn grades and we pass courses and all of this kind of adds to our pedigree and it adds to our CV. And we can imagine that we have this illusion of a library of knowledge that we're carrying around with us rather than the more accurate depiction of knowledge which is this constant function of our brains. Our brains don't operate in a vacuum. We don't have a brain and knowledge. There's not a separate location for that knowledge. The knowledge is embedded in the functions of our brain. And when you start to think about this reality we know that our brains are experiencing new information all the time but because our brains are not separated from that knowledge our experiences with new information are fundamentally connected with that information itself. The more information that we experience the more our experiences are changed. So what does this mean for us as developers and as humans? Well really what it means what it boils down to is that the certainty that we believe we have is essentially an echo. It's an echo of all of the experiences that we've had before and it's a seeking of that reward that we were talking about earlier. The addiction that we have to being able to be perceived as though we have all of this knowledge. Now, none of this is necessarily conducive to learning. None of this is conducive to gathering more information per se or becoming more functional with that information or improving the state of our mind, improving our ability to think well. In fact, it kind of impedes that process because as we become more and more certain and more and more overconfident in our own knowledge we close out the possibility of learning new things. So I have a simple heuristic for you to use going forward and this is what I'll leave you with in today's episode. If we think about the most rapid learning period in our lives, it's immediately clear that that period is our early lives. In particular, the first 10 or so years of our lives. What we also notice about these years of our lives is that we're incredibly curious and we don't have much self-awareness or guilt about not knowing something. This acceptance of our lack of knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge through questioning and wondering. This is a better heuristic for learning. And in fact, you can find many quotes from some of the most prolific learners of all time, people like Albert Einstein, where they talk about their childlike mindset or the ability to see the world or the universe or whatever topic they're looking at through the lens of wonder and curiosity rather than the lens of pure understanding. I encourage you to cultivate your curiosity in whatever way you find productive. We can talk about those ways more on a future episode of Developer Tea. But for now, thank you so much for listening to today's episode. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Linode, head over to Linode.com slash Developer Teato get started today, use the code Developer Tea2020. That's Developer Tea 2020 for $20 worth of credit at checkout. Today's episode, like every other episode, is a part of the spec network, head over to spec.fm. Today's episode was also produced by Sarah Jackson. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and until next time, enjoy your tea.