September 24, 2004
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Once I graduated from college,
it was an easy decision to not return. Since I wasn’t
programming-inclined, there wasn’t much to be gained from getting
a Masters or Doctorate in Computer Science. Instead, I went off and joined
the big world of business and have arrived at where I am today. This is
not to say, though, that I have stopped learning. Instead I have spent
my years learning about topics that interested me, developing my own personalized
advanced degree. While it may not hold the cache of a MA or Ph.D, it certainly
has helped to develop a decent career and an interesting life.
Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic
Thoughts of school have been in my mind lately, as my wife recently completed
her Master’s program and has just started her Ph.D classes. Early
in this process, she thought it might be interesting to get me enrolled
for a Master’s so we could do it together. I, however, demurred.
Over the years I have grown less tolerant of office and school politics
and knew that I didn’t really have the correct mindset to become
a student again. I have always felt more comfortable learning by reading
or seeking out experts for one-on-one consultation.
The nature of my education struck me the other night, as I sat on the
sofa diving into yet another stack of books from the library. As I sat
reading, I was reminded of some of the best aspects of my college days.
I loved reading interesting new material and adding large chunks of knowledge
in one sitting. It was almost like I was back in the floor lounge of my
undergraduate dorm again, so filled with knowledge I could almost feel
it. While there is certainly a place for higher education in everyone’s
life, this self-directed education could be the most important tool in
building your career. If you haven’t thought out it lately, you
would be wise to include some “school time” as part of every
Books, books, books…and the Internet
The way I go about expanding my education is a bit haphazard, but it exposes
me to a wide variety of thought. First, whenever I come across a book
that sounds interesting, I add it to my journal and request it from my
local library. These books can be about anything. On the night discussed
above, the books were about organization (Ready for Anything by David
Allen, `) , the science of collective thinking (The Wisdom of Crowds,
http://tinyurl.com/62lvs) and the
development and use of prototypes in business (Serious Play, http://tinyurl.com/5yxzx).
Sometimes my tastes turn to architecture, interior design and gardening.
At other times, the books in my stack are histories of Michelangelo (http://tinyurl.com/6eh4f),
Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence (http://tinyurl.com/6wous)
or an author relating his journey following the yearly migration of the
striped bass from Maine to the Carolina coast (http://tinyurl.com/423d2).
My only rule is…if it interests me, pick it up. This has led to
some big developments over the years. You can be surprised at the thoughts
books can raise about your current life, business and career. Inspiration
can be found in the oddest of places and by reading a variety of books,
you can increase your chances of developing new directions in your life.
Secondly, I make great use of the Internet, not just for researching computer
and technology-related ideas, but for anything that interests me. Another
page in my journal is labeled “Research”. Here I note items
that I want to look up on the Internet (and the library) when I have more
time. Lately, this has included Baye’s Theorem and the Bayesian
Filtering used to combat SPAM email (http://tinyurl.com/45oov),
shade plants for the garden, science fair projects for my son, design
and architecture concepts like those in Christopher Alexander’s
A Pattern Language (http://tinyurl.com/5ajg6)
and Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House (http://tinyurl.com/3lt3x).
Keeping these lists of books and research items means that you will always
have something to think about, something to research, something to generate
new ideas. It insures that whenever you have the opportunity for some
“school time” in your day, you will have a ready list of “classes”
to attend. All you have to do it show up on a regular basis. I know, for
me, this is infinitely easier than rising for that 8 AM Theater History
Class way back when.
If you want to continue improving your career, it is important to remember
that the world is your classroom. There are more interesting books, web
sites, concepts and theories than you will ever have time to discover
in your life, but seeking out those things that interest you – and
applying what you have learned whenever you can – can be just as
useful as an advanced degree. In some cases, especially when it comes
to high-tech work, it can produce results far beyond those of a graduate
degree because the education you gain is specialized and customized to
you, your interests and your career.
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