Learning Between the Lines

Think back to when you were in middle school. You would come home from school, toss your bulky backpack in the corner, and plunge towards the kitchen for some post-schoolwork snacks after a long day. Do you remember your mom asking — “what did you learn today?” Or what about your [consistently thorough] answer of “nothing”? Well, you lied. You lied to your mom many times. You should call her up and apologize, and I will tell you why.

It is virtually impossible to not learn something new every day. Nothing is repetitive, but let’s not get too scientific. The point is… there is always at least one part of your day that is different — whether you have a new pen or a new job. The issue is that we do not always notice what we are learning, or we don’t look into it deeply enough. Well, during my internship this past summer, I decided to keep track of the “top five things I learned” every day. At the end of my internship, I had over three hundred and three new things stored in my brain to annoy people with. Here are some of the most important things I learned.

Rule number one, kids, don’t listen to your teachers. Just kidding. However, you need to speak up more. Just because you aren’t as wise as some others doesn’t mean that you have nothing to bring to the table. If you have an idea, you need to share it. If you have an opinion or critic, you need to share that too (sparingly). I have had many idiotic ideas. Most of the time, I knew they were idiotic. Did I care? Yes, but, I still shared them. If you hold back, you’re denying others the privilege of knowledge and access to expansive thinking. Don’t be that guy.

Next up on the list: keep up. Forgive me for bringing up that obnoxious phrase that your gym teacher screamed while you panted through the “mile run” in high school. Technology is that annoying kid who always finished the run first. It is quick, ruthless, and will leave you in the dust if you don’t keep up. This means that you must read news about technology, see what new products are available, how it is affecting our economy and society, etc. If you want to build an app, you better know what apps have been built. If you need to complete a task that seems near impossible, I bet there is a technological golden ticket waiting to solve all of your problems. Do some digging and don’t put down the shovel.

When I first started learning about programming, I would read plenty, but never practice. I was digging my own grave. Here’s what I took away: programming is hard. Yes, that is subjective. But, my point is, you need to struggle at something to get better. Again, this is not news to you. But, when you are sitting at your desk, starting at a screen, about five seconds from throwing your laptop at the wall (I speak from experience), just stop. Take a deep breath and, by all means, put down that expensive machinery in your hands. If there is one key piece of advice I have when it comes to learning, it is that you need to practice. Actually doing something is completely different than watching someone do it or reading about it.

Since you’re learning so much, go ahead and brush up your finance skills while you’re at it. You need to know your numbers. No one wants to be the clueless coworker who can’t contribute to the conversation due to their financial-illiteracy. Take a finance class, learn your financial terms, learn how it works with a business and how it ties in with the national and global economy. If you can learn the basic concepts of finance, you will not only save yourself headaches from “adulting” in the future, but will also look smarter than all of your coworkers… and that should be motivation enough.

Okay, enough business. Let’s keep this tech-thing going, shall we? When it comes to technology, there is no gray area. In the words of the wise Katy Perry, “you’re hot then you’re cold, you’re yes then you’re no… it’s black and it’s white”. In other words, a computer says “yes” and “no”, but never says “maybe”. A computer can do almost anything if you clearly tell it what the steps are. In every industry, soft skills are important, but in technology, hard skills are especially important. If you don’t know your stuff, and don’t have the skills needed, you cannot do your job; there is no way around that. So, if you want a technical role, be like a computer and absorb as much knowledge as possible.

The last thing that I want to mention is more informational than consultative. Throughout my internship, and across almost every tech news channel, the focus was: mobile, mobile, mobile. Our banks, stores, browsers, calendars, and almost everything else is moving into our hands — literally and figuratively. As more companies transition to our quick, “on-the-go” lifestyle, we will see the use of desktops and laptops decline. Just look at the amount of smart-watches and smart-glasses getting attention now. Imagine in ten years. The other day, I heard someone complain about opening their laptop since they’d have to go through “all the work” of logging in. Webster’s Dictionary is going to need to redefine the word, “work”, pretty soon if this becomes common.

So, at the end of my internship, I stood up in front of my bosses and told them what I just told you (with just a tad less sarcasm). They seemed to agree with all of my points, or they could have just been nice to me. Whichever it was, I can promise you that I am only sharing what I have heard countless times from various people, so it would not be a bad idea to consider this advice. At least, now, you can say that you have not learned “nothing”.