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Creative IT Learning

By Phil Factor,

I reckon that the art of a successful career in IT lies in the ability to learn new skills and technologies. All the people in the profession that I admire have carried on learning even when they were supposed to be in a deck chair on the beach in Corfu.

If I'm right, and it is not just sheer brainpower that counts, but also tenacity, interest and retention, then how does one go about continuous learning and, more importantly, how should learning materials be presented? What if you seem to have a memory like a bucket with a hole in it? Could it be that to learn facts, you need them presented in a particular way?

Some people like video courses, others prefer structured and graded materials such as Stairways, which try to introduce concepts sequentially. For others, the only effective approach is to throw themselves in the deep-end, and learn by doing, as the adrenaline rushes through them. There are many people who like to approach an area of knowledge as if from a helicopter, just seeing the tops of the trees before descending slowly into the jungle of technological detail. Others don't feel at ease until they are flaying away at the darkness with a machete.

It would be wonderful for education if the same learning methods were effective for all of us, but they're not. I'd like to be able to say that all you need to do is to be certain of what best works for you, and get the appropriate learning materials. However, I can't because they may not yet exist; however, the internet is a great place for nurturing new approaches to learning, and I like the lateral thinking that sometimes happens.

One of my favorite IT books was done in cartoon form, and there have been several in the form of a comic strip. I really enjoyed the Manga Guide to Databases and the Manga Guide to Regression Analysis.

If all this still seems a bit...err…bookish, then there are some good wallcharts and cheat sheets to be had, such as the long-running SQL in one page or the SQL to Hive cheat sheet. I also like the idea of cheat sheets on coffee-mugs such as the Mug of Perl or the DatasSQL mug.

Learning-by-doing suits many people best, and it can be a lot of fun as long as you're clear on your objectives. Why not try creating and running a PostgreSQL server on your network based on a Raspbery Pi? It is just a matter of following instructions. When you've succeeded, reward yourself with SQL T-shirts and beermats.

I wish I'd had programmable Lego Mindstorms, such as a programmable banner printer, when I was learning programming, but heck, I'm tempted even now. To think of all the time that I wasted trying to make disk drives hum tunes!

On SQLServerCentral, Steve leads the way in providing a range of learning materials, including articles, quizzes, code samples, podcasts, webinars, stairways and cartoons. It has been a heroic effort over the years. Is there more that can be done to build the community of database professionals and find new ways to help them learn? If so, how can you help to make it happen?

Phil Factor.

 
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