How to Learn New Skills

Learning new skills, especially non-technical ones, is the greatest fun of all. Most companies would have better morale if they understood how much this motivates programmers.

Humans learn by doing. Book-reading and class-taking are useful. But could you have any respect for a programmer who had never written a program? To learn any skill, you have to put yourself in a forgiving position where you can exercise that skill. When learning a new programming language, try to do a small project in it before you have to do a large project. When learning to manage a software project, try to manage a small one first.

A good mentor is no replacement for doing things yourself, but is a lot better than a book. What can you offer a potential mentor in exchange for their knowledge? At a minimum, you should offer to study hard so their time won't be wasted.

Try to get your boss to let you have formal training, but understand that it is often not much better than the same amount of time spent simply playing with the new skill you want to learn. It is, however, easier to ask for training than playtime in our imperfect world, even though a lot of formal training is just sleeping through lectures waiting for the dinner party.

If you lead people, understand how they learn and assist them by assigning them projects that are the right size and that exercise skills they are interested in. Don't forget that the most important skills for a programmer are not the technical ones. Give your people a chance to play and practice courage, honesty, and communication.

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