How to learn one new thing well by complicating your life.

We're all well aware that we learn more thoroughly by doing than by observing. Trouble is, it takes effort to schedule the doing, especially when the going gets rough. What I do is add one little extra piece of doing to the going.

For the past several projects, computer-related or not, I've added a single new technique or technology that I want to learn into the mix. This complicates things, and often seems a terribly unwise idea as deadlines approach, but it forces me to learn that one new thing in as real a scenario as I'm able to concoct. The topic sinks in much better than had I simply "played" with it, or experimented around the edges.

For example, these are a few of the things I've taught myself recently.

  • For a small web-based application written in Django, I added in database migrations using the South tool.
  • While laying the baseboard moulding for the living room, I taught myself the coping method for inside corners.
  • When writing scripts for a research database, I used Mercurial for the first time to track changes in the code.
  • In creating on-line interactive exercises for Yukon College courses, I learned the Less language for CSS.
  • Rather than write custom ad-hoc code for those exercises, I decided to write all new exercise components as jQuery UI widgets.
  • While building a Python program to scrape websites, I wrote the code using a new IDE, PyCharm.
  • Many years ago, I built a wire-mesh box to protect our vegetable garden from furry beasts, and decided to incorporate half-lap joints with dowel fasteners. The thing has survived multiple summer thaws and winter freezings with nary an open or proud joint.

I would have completed all of these projects just as well without the added complexity, but probably wouldn't have taken the time to learn those new tools and skills separately. I now track each of my code projects through Mercurial, I use Less for all HTML work, and every one of my inside corners is coped.

And soon I'll be complicating my most important project to date: raising our baby boy in French. I've been practising for the past year in class, but now it's time for the doing. Bonne chance!

Archived Comments

  1. Kara on 20120608.Friday:
    Will you two (three) only speak French at home from now on?
  2. Dave on 20120608.Friday:
    Mais oui!
  3. Gord Bradshaw on 20120608.Friday:
    Kudos to you sir! Well played.
  4. Dave on 20120608.Friday:
  5. Carole on 20120609.Saturday:
    Kara: Bahahahaha. Here's the plan. I will speak nothing but French to Baby (as was always the case in my family anyway). Dave will make every effort possible to do the same. However, as much as we'd like it to be, it will not be a French-only household. Obviously Dave and I will try to increase the amount of French we use with each other, but I don't think it's realistic to do it all the time at this point. The more the better though! I have to admit we do speak more in French to each other since I'm pregnant than ever before. We just have to do it more.
  6. Dave on 20120609.Saturday:
    C'est ce qu'elle dit!