LearnWe’re All Self-Taught


Andrew Chalkley
writes on October 8, 2015

Humans, with our big brains, are built for one thing: learning. Having a brain like ours allows us to survive and adapt to many environments, including hostile ones. We’ve been to the depths of the ocean and to the surface of Earth’s natural satellite, the Moon. All because of our brains.

As babies, we were surrounded by an unfamiliar world, but we made sense of it. Our first words were ours. We figured out the language and grammar through listening to others. After much confusion, we began to understand. We applied it, not very well at first. But after countless hours of being immersed in the language of our caregivers and peers, we became proficient. Wanting to engage with the world around us drove us to skill acquisition. We were motivated and excited. It was a staggering effort on our part, but we got there. It was worth it.

In the tech industry, people are often classified as either “self-taught” or those who have been to University. But the truth is that no matter where you learn, you’re teaching yourself. You’re building a model in your mind of how things work. You’re creating a simulation of the complex technical systems in your mind. No one can do it for you.

The Motivation Factor

The truth of the matter is that in order to get anywhere in life, you’ve got to want to do it. Learning new things is hard. Really hard. You have to be all in. Sometimes you have to force yourself. If you moved to France, you’d have to learn French. In an English speaking country you’d need to exert more effort to get practice. It’s not impossible, though. But you have to be honest with yourself. You know your boundaries and limitations. How much do you want it?

The same goes for technology. The expectation by some is that watching a video, reading a blog post, taking a course or reading a simple definition is enough to understand something. But it takes way more than that, it takes your motivation and perseverance. Picking and prodding at the thing. Putting it in your mouth and chewing on it. Using it incorrectly, insanely and then competently. Have peers critique you. Work at it professionally, and then, you may have a real working model in your mind.

When learning technology, or anything for that matter, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Am I excited about this?”. If the answer is yes, then keep at it no matter how hard it feels. It gets easier. Scratch that, you get better at it. It’s still hard – you’re just better!

At Treehouse, we try to break down complex topics into as simple digestible form as possible. But for you to really understand it, and become competent at it, you need to watch people do the thing over and over again, try it over and over again. Make mistakes, make your brain hurt and know that whatever struggles you’re facing are normal and you’re not the first one. Make the code your own like those first words were your own.

I’ve been a life-long learner. I’ve always pushed myself to learn something new because of the opportunities it could afford me. I’ve learned many programming languages and frameworks. More recently I’ve been learning electronics. I’ve found, that being that baby again is the way I can learn things. I immerse myself in the language of the area I want to learn about. I listen to how people chain words together. I start to build a vocabulary, not a full understanding by any means. I get as much information from whatever source I can. Then, I could ask the questions. I knew what I needed to know. That makes all the difference.

While we want to guide every learner at Treehouse, the responsibility is on you to use that brain in this new strange world in order to reap the benefits of engaging with it.

Now, read this article again.


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4 Responses to “We’re All Self-Taught”

  1. Loved reading this article. When I signed up for treehouse I was motivated because I felt the professionalism and environment that was created. I worked hard at it for the first few months and I still come back every now and then. Just pause my subscription and come back when I’m ready to learn more!

  2. Mark Shiel on October 10, 2015 at 3:15 am said:

    This is great, thank you or writing this.

    I signed up to Treehouse and worked really hard for the first month, completing a couple of tracks and earning 12,250 points which excited me. But since then I have struggled to find my learning path and how to continue with it. This article explains this struggle and reaffirms my thinking, i just need to keep going and dive more deeply into the topics, redo the courses and retry the existing ideas and find ways to combine them in new ways all the while actually doing something with those skills and ideas and seeing what happens, it’s a messy process!

  3. This is great! Most of what I really “know how to do” doesn’t come from sitting in a classroom. It comes from hours and hours of hands on activities throughout my career. The truth at the heart of my Degrees is that they were a way to get a paper that stood behind what I was already learn (or had learned) on my own time. It was a bridge to allow me to transition what I did for fun into a career. Can you believe they pay me to write code (don’t tell them I would do it for less).

    Having said that I want to add this: Once I got to the graduate level – things changed on the education front. I’m now learning more theory and how to really make a higher level contribution. I believe that the things I’m working on now really are helpful in focusing my thinking and what I’m able to produce. Still, that is only possible because of the stuff I learned on my own and with friends.

  4. This is a great explanation of a concept that has defined my life. If you push your-self you become a ‘better you’ and this allows you to understand the next thing that much easier. I think the more tools you can strap to your utility belt the better you will be in all aspects of your life.

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