No matter how senior the title, we have to keep learning.
As of this writing I hold a Sr. Software Developer position for a prominent company in the VFX/Animation industry. I have a great grasp of development fundamentals and there is a good swath of topics that I would consider myself an expert in. I have helped architect and program multiple applications used by thousands of users around the globe with a variety of languages and technologies.
Myself, along with a great team, have helped position the company to handle multiple pipelines, projects, and challenges of this fast paced industry.
With myself built up like that, let’s knock me down a peg or two.
A recent interaction on Stack Overflow — a developer Q&A platform — has reminded me that, even after spending years dedicating myself to the craft, there is still an insurmountable mountain of learning in front of me.
For this specific incident, I was schooled by someone with a much better understanding of a topic that I believed I had a grasp of. With a few short words and concise description however, I was proven dead wrong and had to admit my ignorance.
In these moments of humility the feeling of inferiority infects us all.
For those of us in positions of leadership and/or architecture it can be, more often than not, hard to see where we need improvement. It can be harder still to admit that to our peers.
It’s vital that we understand there will always be more to learn. You should accept that of your superiors, your peers, your subordinates, and everyone else in the entire universe.
This is a phrase to describe the feeling of understanding what you don’t have an understanding of.
I know that the materials required to make dish soap are unknown to me. I have no clue what goes into it.
Of course, after writing that, I did look up one concoction:
Water, sodium lauryl sulfate (plant-derived cleaning agent), glycerin (plant-derived foam stabilizer), lauramine oxide (plant-based cleaning agent), caprylyl/myristyl glucoside (plant-derived cleaning agent), magnesium chloride (mineral-based viscosity modifier), citric acid (plant-derived pH adjuster), and benzisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone (synthetic preservatives).
So now its slightly more known to me. But that exercise presented me with Unknown Unknowns. Things I didn’t know I didn’t know. How many times have you used benzisothiazolinone in casual conversation?
Learning By Process
Converting these unknowns in to knowns is part of the learning process. Getting a fundamental grasp on a concept is the act of wading through the unknowns, piece by piece until most, until as many of it’s components are Known Knowns as possible.
Remember that, for the vast majority of topics, there are people who have spent their entire lives studying and trying to eek out every last inch of knowledge from something that you’ve only touched on for your project needs.
When humbled with new information, use it as a drive. Accept it and then move on.
Put it All Together
- We know we have things to learn
- Be mindful of those who are in the process of learning — at least those who want to learn
- We should be constantly humbled by the fact that others have a better understanding than we do about any given topic and that’s a good thing!
- Admitting that you have things to learn is never a bad thing, even if you have some esteemed position
- While the mountain of knowledge can never be toppled, it should give you drive that there will always be another challenge to push yourself
Go forth and learn!