Reassessing what to learn

I was pretty silent over the past few weeks not writing much here on this blog or elsewhere in the Cloud. The reason for this was that I took a deep dive into reporting options for food companies, especially surrounding the capabilities of the MS-PowerPivot plug-in for MS-Excel 2010. This deep dive triggered with me a reassessment of the things I want to learn and – which I don’t.


At the beginning of the year I announced my ambition to learn programming, today I am announcing that I will drop my efforts. The reason is not, that this is getting too complicated for me to comprehend, neither that I don’t see value in it. Actually quite the opposite, the classes so far taught me a lot about the basic principles of web application development, a core knowledge of web technologies, just enough to have intelligent conversations with others. Discontinuing now is not really a matter of giving up, it is the recognition of knowing what I wanted to know, and that the next step to take would take more than I am willing to give.

To get really good at any technology, you got to use it on a regular basis. Learning a programming language, regardless of which, is not really a matter of intelligence, I think anybody can do this. You need to use it day by day to become really good at it. I will not turn into a programmer; I will never have enough practice to become really good at it.

Technology shall help us to make our jobs more efficient. In my current role, I am what others may call a knowledge worker. I work with a lot of data residing in spreadsheets, databases, on the web and in other locations. I must admit, that the way I was working with the tools that are installed on my desktop, the tools that where my home in my day to day activities, especially the MS-Office Suite, was rudimentary at best. I changed that. I decided that I needed to learn more about the tools that I am using every day to make the things I need to get done faster.

Anybody that manages anything manages by numbers. Your ability to manage is largely limited by what you can do with the numbers that are provided to you. There is tremendous power in what Microsoft calls “personal BI” in which knowledge workers can learn pretty fast to mesh up numbers in large volumes, create reports they can analyze, slice and dice and even combine with freely available information from the web. They beauty of it is, that it is to some degree free of charge, you must have the most current Version of MS-Excel to get started, but the plugin is free. It gets you hooked pretty fast, once you see that you can process 10 Mio rows in MS-Excel with blistering speed in memory, you ask yourself how you could live without it. Microsoft learned also from previous mistakes, making this solution not only simple (let’s be honest, MDX and the old Analysis Services were anything but), but also really scalable and sharable. As they drag you in with the sexiness of these reporting tools, they will also charge additional bucks, licenses for additional SQL Server instances you want to run, licenses for Sharepoint Server and other things, so I guess at the end it is not really free. It is sort of the first fix that is free.


To stay on the topic though, the absolute greatest piece of it all is, that the Microsoft people create a tremendous amount of learning materials that you can access online and for free. My prime destinations for learning materials are:

http://channel9.msdn.com             (very technical)

and

http://www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com     (not quite as technical)

Both offer great educational content, especially via video. I download these videos in MP4, store them on my tablet and watch them in airports, hotel rooms and airplanes while travelling. I watched so far more than 200 of these videos across all kinds of topics. Reassessing what to learn was also partially triggered by the way the learning materials are presented to me. While http://www.codecademy.com provided a nice platform and interactive learning and coding, it was not available to me when I had availability – there is rarely internet on planes. In addition, videos are something that I can better learn from, I can replay important areas when I need them and it combines nice visuals with great Audio. My decision to switch was therefore not only based on the subject matter, but also in the way it is being presented to me.

This brings up my last point: Believe me when I say this, but I have not read a 100-page manual in probably 2 years. I mean, don’t even bother sending it to me. My attention span does not last that long to read some poorly written documentation that long. Since I am not reading these either, I have stopped creating these too. This does not mean that I don’t create learning content anymore, it just does mean that the content that I provide will not be in text – it is on video and I have made more than 50 that I share with my immediate community. It is not only that I reassessed what to learn – I reassessed how to teach as well.


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