Learning in the open

I write this blog to publicly show that I’m learning new things. Learning in the open.

Why do I learn in the open?

Learning in the open has worked out for me with several purposes.

I show future employers that I have a known interest in a topic that’s not part of my employment history.

Exploring and previewing a topic that I don’t have an opportunity to at work is much less of a commitment than changing roles or jobs to experience that topic.

I document a variety of knowledge or code snippets for my future reference.

I get to write down my journey for my own benefit. Being able to look back and to see how much further I have gone is quite validating as a measure. Just as interesting is seeing something I wrote that I now disagree with. Seeing my past arguments for a viewpoint is vastly more informative than purely a statement of change.

If I’m learning in the open and writing about it on my blog or open sourcing something, odds are very strong that I enjoy that. I’m not particularly willing to spend off-hours on something that I don’t enjoy. Keeping a good balance is imperative for me to keep working at my job well, consistently, and methodically.

What do I learn in the open?

I learn what I have an interest in so long as I enjoy it. It’s that simple and unspecific.

Some key differences in what I learn at work and do at my job that I am unlikely to learn about in the open are these:

  • Expensive enterprise software from work is not something that I will pay for myself.
  • Large, multi-team, complex software systems are unlikely to be something that I will build and create a situation for on my own time. Although that kind of environment brings about all sorts of organizational and of technical problems that are very interesting.
  • Proprietary systems or anything touching business practices is off limits. I’m not going to reveal confidential information.

How do I learn in the open?

A large difference in how I learn at work or how I learn in the open is the methodology thereof.

At work, I do my best to be much more rigorous in all aspects of evaluation, development, verification, deployment, and operation. At work, I am committing to stakeholders and to teammates that my work is something to trust and that the proposals are viable with minimal risk. I do make mistakes, and then I try to prevent those mistakes ever happening again.

At home, I am learning and doing whatever strikes my fancy with much less consideration of the complete picture. Spending a lot less dedicated time makes a big difference as well since learning tends to be less reinforced, and many things in the learning area can change with any gaps in time spent.

If software is a product of constraints, then so is how I learn in the open.

Where do I learn in the open?

  • This blog
  • Conference and local meetup talks
  • Open source software
  • Community events

This blog is by far the most common place where I learn in the open. It’s the easiest place because it’s the written word that can be written and published at any time.

Conference and meetup talks are fun times. I was actively speaking for a space of about two years. Pretty much always in easy driving range from home. Talks have been the most hit or miss. Sometimes I do really well, other times I feel like I don’t. Depends on the audience, the venue, the topic, and all that. I can’t predict success.

Open source software can be pretty fun to resolve a bug that was affecting me. Perhaps, though, I think improving documentation on something that tripped me up has been the most I’ve done by volume.

Community events have definitely lessened over the past year. I hope that will come back.

What is the risk to learning in the open?

Publicly being wrong I suppose. I’ve been told that it’s a liability if a poor impression is given. I rather feel like I’m repeating what other people have told me in this section.

If it’s a potential future employer that sees a poor first impression, fair enough I guess. I don’t know if I have made poor first impressions when a conference talk wasn’t effective. I have also made good first impressions. I don’t know what to say really. My viewpoint is that if your purpose is prepping for that next job, a conference talk is still a positive option. Personally, I get so nervous about job interviews because of the stakes involved that I almost always mess up. I’d like to think it’s easier to make a first impression sooner and more frequent than job interviews. That’s one basis for career networking.

I’m picking out conference talks because it’s a very visible medium where a group of people stare at you for a while. Or they stare at their phones if they lose interest. Also, it’s a common reason I kept hearing when I was trying to find speakers for a past tech user group I once ran.

Blogging and conference speaking and generally being open about where I am in my knowledge and in my career can be viewed as a liability. Anyone can look at me and fact-check my knowledge.

Personally, I’m ok with being wrong every once in a while here.

Is learning in the open self-advertising?

Yes, learning in the open is self-advertising. Own it and be your absolute best. It’s a good thing.

I am learning in the open because I’m showing my journey.

Any arbitrary topic chosen has many people more knowledgeable than I am. I have no illusions of advertising as an expert. What I am showing is a progression of my own knowledge. I’m not claiming to know the most. I’m just showing what I know or what I don’t know.

I am much more than just a software developer able to write a single programming language. I am a human being that brings with me a wide variety of experience that is unique. Everyone brings that. What I’m showing is hopefully a more complete picture than just a single tutorial or a how-to article.

Show your journey if you’d like to.