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Three Habits of Great Learners

Published 7/11/2016

In today's episode, I talk about three habits of great learners that you can adopt into your own habit system today.

Today's episode is sponsored by WooCommerce! WooCommerce is customizable eCommerce built on WordPress, and is powering 30% of all online stores. Use the code "developertea" to get 25% off at WooCommerce.com now!

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I'm going to be talking to you about the habits of good students. Three things you can start doing today to become a better learner. We are always going to be students. This has become a theme of the show over the course of the last year and a half and we can talk about it three times a week and it still doesn't get old. We're talking about learning today. Today's episode is sponsored by a brand new sponsor Wu Commerce. Wu Commerce is customizable e-commerce built on WordPress. We will talk more about what Wu Commerce has to offer to Developer Tealisteners later on in today's episode but I want to jump straight into our content first the habits of a student. Specifically three different habits that I want to share with you today that I think are going to be very easy first of all for you to adopt into your life and into your daily work but they're also going to be incredibly impactful in the way you see your job, the way you see learning. It's kind of an amazing thing that we think especially if you haven't been doing this very long you think that learning is something that you do primarily in school or perhaps something you do as a child or maybe you're learning the language and then once you get a job using the language then you're no longer learning but that couldn't be further from the truth. The most powerful thing you can do with your life each and every day is focus on learning. Becoming a great learner in the tech industry isn't just a fad or a catchphrase it is what makes you relevant and higher a bull in this industry. It's what gets you hired. It can also be what gets you fired if you ignore it long enough. If you get passed up by knowledge that you should be gaining along the way because you decided that you're going to stop learning then you may lose your job. I'm not trying to scare you off. I'm trying to inspire you to adopt learning as an everyday habit. I don't have to harp on this long because the signs of this are everywhere. If you aren't learning you will lose your footing in software development because the whole industry will change faster and faster every day. I want to share with you some of the habits of great learners. The leaders of any industry have these habits under their belt. There's a lot to learn from these and this is only one piece of the puzzle but these are three things you can start doing today. You can actually go and practically implement today to change the way your brain works when you are at your job when you're actually working. This is about integrating learning into your working process. Let's jump straight into this first tip here. The first habit of a great learner. Great learners take notes. Great learners take notes. When you're taking notes what does it mean to take notes? I like to take notes handwritten on a legal pad. I like for this legal pad basically to be trash paper, to be easily discarded if I wanted to. I don't like to pay a lot for my notebooks. I like to use something that's cheap. The reason I like to use something that's cheap is because I don't want to be afraid to write on it. I don't want to be afraid to rip it out and throw it away and start back over. There's another important facet of a paper notebook and that is that it's not digital. Now this is not something that you necessarily have to adopt. I want for you to decide how you take notes best but I like taking notes on physical paper by writing because I can easily draw. There's quite a bit of science to suggest that we remember things better when we spatially organize them. In other words, if I create my notes on the page and I put different parts of the notes on one part of the page and then I put different parts of the notes on another part of the page and perhaps I draw some kind of little doodle next to the notes. Whatever it is doesn't matter what it is. I'm going to learn and retain that information better than if it was all presented to me in a linear fashion. The reason for this is simple. Our brains remember spatial things much better than we remember linear things. If you think about your childhood home, we've talked about this on the show in the past, if you think about your childhood home, you can probably remember where your room was. In fact, you can probably remember where 100 or 200 or 300 different items in your house where they were. But if you tried to recite 100 or 200 or 300 names of, let's say, kids that you went to elementary school with, well, that's going to be a little bit harder, right? Because that information isn't presented spatially to you. It's presented in a different way. And this technique is used over and over by people who compete in memory championships. So that's one of the reasons we got a little bit off topic there. That's one of the reasons why I like to use paper and pen to take my notes is because I like to organize things in non-linear fashion. I also like to be able to draw charts. I like to be able to draw diagrams. I like to be able to connect things with lines that I otherwise be a little bit difficult, a little bit clunky to do that on my computer. Now, if you have a tablet, you can do something similar on a tablet. I also like to remove the context away from the screen, which is mostly just a preference. But I find that it helps me a little bit more if I'm actually active in this process. In other words, if my hand is moving, I'm activating a different process than if I'm typing. I'm activating a little bit of a different process than if I'm using a mouse. So it changes the way that I'm interacting with the information, even if it's just that small amount. And again, you can use a tablet. You can draw on a tablet. You can use whatever note taking app it is that you use on your tablet and have some similar outcomes with that. But whether it's placebo or some other reason, I found that when I take notes on paper, they tend to be more effective than when I take notes with some other kind of digital format. So that's habit number one of great learners. Take notes. Take notes. It's impossible to remember everything that you're hearing. It's impossible to digest the things that you are learning without actually getting them out of your brain in some way. Taking notes forces you to reformulate the information that you're taking into your brain and it brings it back out. So that later on in the future, you can look at what you learned. It's like a historical picture of the learning process at work. That's what notes do for you. So start taking notes. I can almost guarantee you that you will see an immediate difference in the way that you think if you start taking notes. I have two more habits to share with you today. But first, I want to talk about today's sponsor, Wu Commerce. Their brand new sponsor, Welcome to the spec family and Wu Commerce. We are so glad to have you. Wu Commerce launched in 2011. It was acquired by automatic last year and it's now fully developed and supported by a distributed and global team. It powers over 30% of all online stores and is the world's most popular e-commerce platform. It's built on WordPress and it's open source and it's fully customizable. Unlike with out of the box solutions, you can build a unique store to suit specific business needs. You do not have limits. That's the whole idea of open source. Wu Commerce supports selling physical products and digital downloads, subscriptions, membership service and accommodation bookings, ticketing and integrates with major payment gateways and e-commerce service providers like PayPal, Stripe, the Postal Service and Royal Mail as well as hundreds of local services. It is free to set up with no monthly fees and there is a guided install for setup with Wu Commerce, you own your data forever. I don't know if you've heard of these guys automatic but they created a little tool called WordPress. So for automatic to acquire Wu Commerce, it's a pretty big vote in the right direction if you are using WordPress and you need a commerce solution. The Wu Commerce is your first option. Go and check it out, WuCommerce.com and when you get there, use the code Developer Tea. That is a promo code that gets you 25% off on WuCommerce.com Developer Tea, all one word 25% off at WuCommerce.com. Of course, that link and that code can be found in the show notes at spec.fm. Thank you so much to WuCommerce and welcome to the spec family. So we're talking about the habits of a student or better put, the habits of a great learner. How do you become a better learner? That's what you're here listening to this episode. That's why you're here listening to this episode. That's why you listen to Developer Tea is to become a better learner because to become a better programmer, you must become a better learner. That's how all this fits together. We said number one, the first habit that I wanted to share with you today, great learners take notes. Number two, great learners dissect systems. Great learners dissect systems. I'll give you an example. The other day, I was working with a coworker and we were working with some legacy code and somebody had put in their PHP, they put the string with the word true in it. When some of you might see where this is going, I looked around and I found a string with the word false in it. And we all know that true and false are Boolean values in pretty much every language you can write true or you can write false. This isn't across the board, but most languages, you can write those without any quotations. They are in a string. They're just a fundamental type. So I saw that this was kind of a weird thing to see in the code. It was a string that said true and a string that said false. Now before we go any further, let me just say that is a bad idea. Don't write the string false, especially the string false, but don't write the string true either and expect that those values are going to be reliable versions of Boolean values. But I wanted to check to see what PHP would do when I casted false, the string false to a Boolean value. So I opened the interactive shell and I casted the string false to a Boolean value and of course it returned true. Some languages that would not necessarily occur. Some languages that value would return false if you cast the string false to Boolean value, it would evaluate that and say, oh, well, I know what you meant. I know that you meant false. Once again, this is a bad idea. Do not use the string true or false. But in any case, I didn't stop there. And this is where dissecting the system comes into play because if you're just looking to solve a problem, if you're only looking to figure something small out, then you would stop at learning that PHP cast the string false to a true Boolean. But if you wanted to learn about the way that PHP casts different values, then you keep on going. So I checked maybe five or 10 others, like an empty string, for example, I checked an empty string, I checked a string with a space in it. I checked the number zero. I checked, you know, obviously the the bear words true and false. I checked the null identifier. I checked all these different things in PHP to see what it would cast them to. Now, if you are working on a project and you come across something that you don't fully understand, the great student sees this as an opportunity. Your obstacles in your work life are always learning opportunities. If you're taking notes, as I told you to do in the first point, if you're taking notes now, write that down every obstacle you face, anytime you don't understand something, that's an obstacle. Any of those obstacles that you face, those are learning opportunities. And when you have a learning opportunity, you can either learn the minimum amount or you can learn as much as possible in that learning opportunity. In learning as much as possible means dissecting the system that you're learning about. Now, there's a realistic amount of dissecting that will occur and then there's an unrealistic amount. I didn't check every letter in the alphabet to see what would happen if I cast those letters to a Boolean value in PHP. I learned a lot with just a little bit more effort. Hopefully by now, all of you have heard of the Pareto principle, but the idea is that 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of the effort. And that's the rule that I want you to use when you're dissecting a system, when you're digging in and learning a little bit deeper than just the surface level, when you have a bug in your software, which you will probably today, when you have a bug in your software, dig in a little bit deeper. And I want you to use that 20% effort to get the 80% benefit. I want you to focus on learning the most important parts of that system, dissecting the most important parts of that system. If you go crazy on this, if you dissect the whole thing, then yes, you will learn a lot. But eventually there are diminishing returns. There are edge cases that you start learning about that aren't really going to be super helpful in the long run. So this is an over generalized way of saying, don't just solve your single problem. Learn about the system that your problem is working within. Don't just solve that problem, but understand the system and why the problem occurred. Follow it back to its roots. So once the second habit that great learners always employ, that is they dissect the system. They understand the underlying principles about why something occurs, not just that it does or does not occur, given certain circumstances. So habit number one, take notes, habit number two, dissect systems and habit number three, great learners teach what they have learned. You do not have to have a developer working under your management to become a teacher. In fact, you don't even have to teach other people to become a teacher. That sounds a little bit crazy, doesn't it? You don't have to teach anyone to teach someone. But the reality here is that it's not about the receiving end in this process. It's about your preparation and your understanding of material in order to teach it. If you think about it, what I do with Developer Tea is I talk into a mic. Now I do have people on the other end of this. There are thousands of you who are listening right now. But if you think about the actual reality, I am in a room talking into a mic and no one can hear me. But here's the amazing thing. And this is the thing that I want you to capture. Again, if you're taking notes, write this down. The work that I do to create these episodes is just as helpful to my learning as it is to the people who hear the episodes. The process of teaching is also the process of learning. Let me say that again. The process of formulating content or formulating something into coherent thoughts and words that you can communicate to another person in a way that they now have that knowledge, that learning process for them is fundamentally connected to the teaching process for you. Think about it this way. For you to be ready to teach something, you have to have learned that thing thoroughly. And the process of teaching, and more specifically, the process of preparing to teach, will outline where you are weak on a given subject, where your knowledge is weak on a given subject. And preparing to teach that subject will require that you fix the areas where you're weak. So you'll see that the great learners in any field, they eventually end up teaching in some way or another. Whether that's through some kind of media outlet or maybe they write a book or maybe they actually become a professor, they end up teaching. Now, for you to start teaching, you don't have to have someone listening. Take the same rubber duck that you use for rubber duck debugging and start rubber duck teaching. Start teaching content to yourself. And the amazing thing is this will increase your authority in your given field, especially if you capture what you are learning and what you're teaching. If you can teach other people through, let's say, a blog, something as simple as that, that can be incredibly valuable. You don't have to have thousands of readers or millions of readers for that to be valuable. That's just as valuable to you as the writer as it is to the reader. So running back through the habits of a great learner. Number one, great learners, take notes. Number two, great learners, dissect systems. And number three, great learners teach what they have learned. I hope you adopt each and every one of these habits into your own career, into your own habit system. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again to today's sponsor, WooCommerce, brand new sponsor to Developer Tea. Go to WooCommerce.com and use the code Developer Teaat checkout to get 25% off. WooCommerce is the customizable e-commerce system built on top of WordPress. Check it out WooCommerce.com. Thank you so much for listening. Make sure you subscribe so that you don't miss out on any future episodes of Developer Tea. And until next time, enjoy your tea.