Becoming pixelized — diving deeper into the digital coolture
I have been quite engaged in understanding as much as I can about the digital world. This space attracts because of the promise to use and value a whole-brain approach to solving problems, combining creative and analytical skills. From the Web Summit and other conferences, to local meetups, to training both online and offline, books and bookclubs, from interviews with people working in digital — I am leaving nothing with the potential to bring deeper insight left behind.
These tools and experiences have allowed me capture some of the key aspects of what is going on, and hopefully distill what is temporary from what is here to stay, which is a key component to choose where to focus attention and energy.
If you are trying to get a complete picture of the digital ecosystem yourself, these tools can be also useful to you.
These gatherings are a way to stay in touch with the latest trends and meet people that are interested in the same topics as you are. Since they are usually open to anyone, they are quite heterogeneous in the level of expertise with the topic of the various attendants — which makes it a safer environment to ask questions and also receiving an answer. I have also used meetups in my previous project and am quite happy with the fact that it as allowed many people to meet around a specific topic, that would not be possible otherwise.
One of the most popular platforms — that has pretty much given the name to these gatherings is Meetup, so you can browse to see what are the groups and events near you.
Training offline and online:
For someone with a natural thirst for knowledge as me I was happy to discover that hackers — in the good sense — and many people teaching programming were self-taught. They relied in a mesh of books and online tutorials, as their learning style required, to learn the trade, and they must have learnt it well because they became professionals and teachers. This as to do with the hacking mentality that later I will refer to in more detail. Coursera, edX — e-learning websites — are crowded with people devoting massive hours of learning, as I could experience in the multiple courses I have completed on these platforms.
Check if there is some course in the topic you are interested in and assess your time availability to devote to it realistically. Most of the courses are free, only requiring a fee in case you want a certificate. In case you are unsure of the content try a couple a lessons of that course before deciding if it is or not what you were looking for.
I have also attended to some workshops at General Assembly in London. Here there are different takeaways depending where you are on your learning. I have attended the Intro to Python Programming, which I felt that, since I had already devoted some time to the topic, didn’t add many new things, but that was good for someone that required a genuine introduction. The Product Manager Bootcamp was compressed in one day, and was good for an introduction to the topic as well.
Sometimes the value of offline courses also lies in the people that you meet. You can get access to real life stories and examples that help to complete the accurate picture of the context you are trying to build.
Conferences are the cherry on top of the cake, not only because they are usually fun and delicious to attend, but also because they deal with the more inspirational — pie in the sky aspects — of digital culture. One (very fortunate) trait of these conferences, at least big ones such as Web Summit or SXSW — that is happening at the time of writing — is the diversity of speakers from all walks of life. In these conferences the imaginary and frontiers between different disciplines imposed by the educational system that forces you to opt for one of the sides of the brain — are blurred and dispelled. I have watched via Facebook Live Stream an interview from people working in wearables — tech, athletes and authors, followed by another with a professor from UC Berkeley working on gene editing. By the way really appreciated the way she handled the questions from the host (clearly not an expert in DNA editing).
Don’t expect too much in terms of networking though. Most of the big conferences can be too chaotic, so if you haven’t arranged to meet someone previously chances are that you won’t get to meet people that much among the flurry of talks taking place.
Books and bookclubs:
Books are the one thing that is always available for you when you want to learn more — 24/7. You can read them practically everywhere and now with wyspersync between kindle and audiobooks the seamless transistion between audio and written word makes their content even more available — sometimes you cannot sit and read but you can listen, or vice-versa. By now I am at pretty good pace for completing my Goodreads challenge for 2017. Related to digital I have read Inevitable by Kevin Kelly, Women in Tech by Tarah Wheeler, The Social Organism by Michael J. Casey. In 2016 I had read the Amazon Way. One gives you insight into a future beyond your capacity of imagination, other insight into what goes on behind curtains, and the other explain the dynamics of what is happening now in a way that was not evident to you and others dissect corporate culture and how it translates to daily living. All in all if there is one aspect that you are curious about there will be a book about it, sometimes even narrated by the person who wrote it, which generated a kind of intimacy with some the thought leaders.
The best is if you are able to then discuss it with other people — in the 1st meeting of the Women in Tech Book Club in London I was testimony quite interesting exchanges on the topic being discussed from both practitioners and enthusiasts. We discussed the book Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil which talks about what happens behind the curtains of companies relying heavily on (sometimes faulty) algorithms and the impacts that has in everyone’s lives. Needless to say it was like pouring gasoline on the fire of our discussion. Such an interesting and relevant topic.
It is amazing the level of depth you can find online. Last week I found a blog on product management for a museum that described step by the step what was being changed and tested on their platform, leaving no secret untold. Gone are the days of presenting only a polished surface — nowadays problems are presented and participation invited.
For the specific topic you care about (programming, UX, product,etc) google for the top 5 bloggers writing in that area and for sure you will find relevant advice.
Also, if you are serious about deeply understanding the intricacies of what are the key issues on a topic you care about — why not jot a few notes and start writing yourself. Some advocate that you learn better when you are trying to explain your reasoning to others.
Beyond the specific role you are aiming at, interviews are a way to peek into the company’s corporate culture. From the way the process is managed, to the people selected to interview you, to the facilities where the interview takes place, all this speaks tons about the company. In some of the interviews you understand a bit about diversity by the panel of interviewers, understand the level of organisation by the the pace and frequency of communication and feedback in the process and many other things. Information is always incomplete but details can speak loud. So face interviews as an opportunity to learn more and more about the types of companies that operate in the digital ecosystem.
The hacking mindset — in terms of learning whatever you need to know and being self-reliant — is one of the aspects I like the most in the digital culture, but also the fact that many people are willing spend endless hours answering queries on forums such as Stack Overflow with the aim of assisting others. Kevin Kelly in his book the Inevitable briefly touched upon this when he mentioned the concept of “digital socialism”, that sometimes was not understood in a time were anything seems with the goal of immediate profit.
These are the traits that I select has being my favorites, but in such a diverse ecosystem there is space for other even opposite cultures and mindsets. I have met a startup company that after receiving some traction was becoming quite schizophrenic, part of its team was still from the early days but the other other half that was being recruited was from very well established companies — the second half was trying to get rid of the first half as soon as they could. This generated a feeling of old timers expropriating the creators of something new. It was kind of the opposite of what you read in Dan Lyons experience at HubSpot in the book Disrupted, while that didn’t see particularly cool too. So you have to come in with open eyes, and get rid of the prejudice that all startups have the characteristics that are most widely communicated and that all of them are good, fun and inspiring. Like everything in life some are and some aren’t.
If you are still feeling a bit lost, reach out. Would love to hear about other people doing a similar journey.