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  • Ian Wells

Striving to learn – not by studying – by doing



I am traditionally schooled.

I used to think that, if I wanted to learn something new, I would take a course on it – go back to school, go to night school, whatever.

I followed this approach all through primary school, high school, university, graduate school and and my early days in industry.

Books not such a great way to learn

How much of this do I remember? Not much.

What do I remember? I remember physics experiments I did in high school. I remember my Master thesis and getting my test data analyzed and gleaning conclusions.  I remember writing computer programs to score sailboat regattas, and inventing  a program in Fortran, before spreadsheets ( I called Table) that in my nostalgic dreams, could have become the first spreadsheet program. I remember taking a Dale Carnegie course where every week every week we gave a talk about what new things we pushed ourselves that week. I remember projects.  I remember taking a Stanford course where each lesson was building real code in AWS.I noticed our own kids really learned when they gave their monthly presentation to other home schooled kids.  I remember learning to sail and whitewater canoe, not from theory, but trying it and getting wet – very wet.

In short, what I remember I learned is what I DID not what I studied.

I have heard of innovative high school programs where the teacher gives the problems out for homework and then teaches the lesson afterwards – after the students have struggled with the problem. This makes perfect sense to me.

I have done a lot of tech hiring in today’s world. I have learned not to look grades ( except  I have a anti-preference for students who get all A’s – why didn’t they spend time on other things besides exams???), I look for applicants who have actually done something.

Advice for job applicants: And today its easier than ever to make things and demonstrate them and show them off. Show me an app you have made, show me a web page you have done,  show me  an event you have run or a group you have organized. Show me your initiative and show me the results.

What I have learned – and I did not learn this in a course – is that doing  is the first step to learning.  Doing is learning.  Studying is the last step.

Don’t get me wrong. Courses can be great. But they are soon forgotten unless preceded by actually trying to get something done.

Students who have struggled at a problem, know the right questions to ask when they take the course about it. Then you deeply understand *why* this is being taught. Because you have struggled and the course becomes a help, and not forgotten.

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