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Posted on: Friday, 23 October 2009 by Rajiv Popat

It's Learning Time.

If you have read this blog more than once; you probably know; that as an highly opinionated individual; I tend to express my strong-opinions-weakly-held; rather openly; loudly and boldly.

What you may not know however; dear reader; is that for most of the posts that I write; I try to give a quite bit of time; effort and attention to see to it that as I express my strong opinions openly I do not end up sounding like my self-proclaimed-authority or end up posing as an expert on the craft of building software.

I have very little respect for experts and have no intentions on posing as one. Besides; self-proclaimed-experts shouting at the top of their voice are a dime a dozen and no-one cares about what they have to say anyways.

How I think of myself; as far as the field of programming is concerned; is pretty much on the same lines of how Jeff Atwood describes himself as a programmer:

I'll be the first to tell you that I am not an exceptional programmer. A competent programmer, yes. Always. On a good day, perhaps even a decent programmer. But I don't kid myself, either. I'll never be one of the best. But I have an ace up my sleeve that most don't: what I lack in talent, I make up in intensity.

When you think of yourself as someone who is nowhere close to being an exceptional programmer; coming out saying that you are going to start writing a series of technical posts with a different style of technical writing is hard and might even sound like stupidity.

In spite of that; in one of my earlier posts; I explained my gripes with technical writing and announced that every one in a while; I am going to be trying to indulge myself in some interesting fun filled technical writing on this blog. Technical Writing about developing better code that programmers and even managers who were once passionate about programming can enjoy and learn from.

As I mulishly work on trying to develop a writing style that does not doze you off to sleep while reading a technical article; and continue my research for some of the topics and articles I plan on writing about; here is one question that keeps coming back from people I know personally: 'Why?'

'No seriously; Pops' - people I know or work with have told me recently - 'There are tons of technical books on programming out there; why do you want to write another one?' --- or at-least they have said something to that effect.

On the face of it; the obvious reason; dear reader is that I am not hugely happy with the type of technical books that are being written out there and I want to make my humble contribution to the world of software development. The actual; blunt honest and selfish reasons for attempting to write a technical book; dear reader; are however; very different. They are:

  1. I want to write a book on the craft of building stuff; programming and coding better primarily because that is what I am interested in learning.
  2. I am a loud learner --- what that means is that I like to make a lot of noise when I learn something new.
  3. I have seen that I learn the most when share what I am learning with others and teach them what I just picked up.

Put simply; I learn best; when I learn like a teacher.

It's Teaching Time.

For the first couple of years of my career I happen to teach students who were taking their Bachelors in Information Technology. There were quite a few things I learnt and picked up during those days; ranging from giving presentations all the way to basic concepts used in software development and IT.

Most of it was quite valuable.

The first few months however; were not very present.

Here I was; fresh out of high school; picked after of multiple rounds of interviews; as I wondered what my first assignment was going to be.

It was to teach programming and IT lessons to a bunch of students doing their Bachelors in computer science.

Soon I found myself walking into classrooms with my huge ego when every once in a while; a student would just get on the white-board correct me or just prove me out right wrong; as I watched my ego float and sink to the ground.

After it happened a few times; though; I started turning shameless and started learning from my students.

That is when; dear reader; things got interesting and my growth chart; in terms of what I was learning; started shooting up.  That; dear reader; is also when I was able to keep a class full of students fully involved and connected with the topic. That is when we started having something that was close to 'fun'.

If there was one thing that part of my life taught me it was that the only way to teach something to anyone is by brining yourself on the same level ground as your students and walking the same learning path with them.

Put simply; I  realized that I teach best; when I teach like a student.

You Are Invited.

If you find the whole idea of learning like a teacher and teaching like a student confusing; all I can say is; like the rest of the software development world today it is supposed-to-be-confusing; in a very good way.  Michel Lopp describes this confusion much more articulately than me when nudging managers to write code in his book Managing Humans. He explains:

The simple fact is that well-defined roles in software development are fading.

User interface guys are doing what can only be called development in JavaScript and CSS. Developers are learning more about interaction design.

Everybody is talking to everybody else and they’re learning from each other’s mistakes, stealing each other’s code, and there is no reason that a manager shouldn’t be participating in this massive global cross-pollination information cluster-f@ck.

Michael's invitation of joining the massive global cross-pollination information cluster-f@ck is not just limited to nudging young and budding managers  to write code. Take the same idea further and it extends rather well to how the world in general and web in particular is shaping up.

While my early teaching days were painful and merciless on my ego; as I struggled to turn from a teacher into a student; the web today makes it possible for every single one of us to do that much more easily; and this dear reader; is precisely what I intend to do with these series of posts.

With my first book slowly starting to reach an end I will indulge in free-flying and writing about anything that is on my mind; but then every every once in a while; you might end up seeing articles here on how to build stuff better.

You might connect to some of these articles and find them useful if you are a developer; or a manager who was once passionate about development and still wants to remain technical; even if you do not code actively. The other possibility is that you might hate them; find that I am overly simplifying things and adding too much spice to serious technical topics. There might even be times where you might discover that I am talking about things I have no clue about.

As you read these articles; which might show up on this blog every other week or so; please do remember that this is me; teaching as I learn and learning as I teach.

Long story short; I am going to indulge in the act of doing some bathroom singing in a live concert again and you; dear reader; are invited to listen in.

This might be a yet another golden opportunity to come watch me make a fool of myself.

Wish me luck.

By the way; if you find me talking about something that is blatantly wrong; feel free to walk up to the white board; or use the comment field; shatter my ego and tell me how wrong I am. Enlighten me. I will thank you for it. Honest.