As engineers, scientists, consultants, etc. we are frequently presented with complex problems in our daily lives. In fact, this is sometimes the only purpose of our work lives--to solve these problems for ourselves (and others) and probably more often than not we will sit down and think about the solution ourselves or perhaps discuss the problem with colleagues to bat around ideas for a solution. Perhaps when we get the problem refined to a particularly low level and we still don’t have a clear answer we might try researching, even asking around on the internet to find other people who might have encountered the same problem (all too often encountering this problem). But how often do we just go out to listen and learn from people in similar domains to discover things we may not encounter in our day to day life, but might translate to help solve problems we might face down the road?
We all have methods with which we learn new things. Sometimes people go with the flow, reading up on things that are immediately relevant. Sometimes people decide to branch out on their own by picking up and teaching themselves how to do something special that might not be relevant to what they do daily. Primary venues for this sort of additional learning have been things like conferences and user groups where individual presentations are prepared to cover interesting topics and attendees will pick and choose specific presentations that interest them. These are great venues to participate in and to learn from but can tend to be a bit too infrequent (not to mention stressful, cost-prohibitive, or cumbersome due to travel). Thankfully, the technological world around us is evolving making those infrequent meetups not as important as they once were. Now we have a flourishing community of websites, blogs, web meetings, and other such things all over the internet providing ample opportunities to read and participate not to mention social media to help spread those interesting items.
Through the internet, everyone has been given the opportunity share their knowledge, their stories of triumph and to provide new perspectives on everything around us. This knowledge sharing provides several great benefits, including learning new tricks for technologies we use, discover new methodologies which can help us work more efficiently or improve our output, or might just provide the necessary thought that could spark a new revelation for you. Imagine also the ability to combine efforts through information to enhance and push research further at a faster pace. If people were willing to share more little discoveries in their research, other people could take those and produce even larger discoveries without duplicate work that has already been done. Additionally, with everyone sharing, you have a greater ability to look into what is happening in other areas of your field, giving you new tools that can be re-purposed to solve different problems.
For example, about a year ago I started following a game development blog, http://altdevblogaday.com/, originally with an interest in discovering some information that could be helpful should I ever get around to actually learning some basic game development. However, over the past year I’ve realized something far more important (and obvious, I’m sure), Game developers are almost exactly like application developers! Now, obviously they would have to be but just because that is the case doesn’t mean I can throw everything down and use my JEE application skills to make a video game. The blog ranges in many topics, most of which are game specific as in graphics acceleration, shaders, console specific building, etc. (which I tend to skip over) but they have also covered many topics relevant to everybody such as agile practices, code reviews, marketing (your game), performance enhancements and others. Over all, providing some very good insights into many common practices within a related industry that could prove useful one day.
To finish up here I’d like to recommend some useful tools I have started to use on my iPad (also available on the iPhone), FlipBoard and Zite. These are applications which provide a personalized Magazine experience where they will present you with articles from around the web that match topics you may be interested in. These have been great for finding articles that may not normally have been on my radar. Please feel free to recommend other great places / tools to keep learning in the comments.
-Adam Swift, 5AM Solutions
Image courtesy of xkcd