A while ago I’ve posted my thoughts about the implications of work experience demands; to put it briefly, work experience does not guarantee qualification, as this experience follows the business agenda of the company where you work, which may be repetitive, random, and probably insufficient. At the same time, home experience, which can happen in a systematic manner, away from such influence, is rarely considered. In any case, it is hard to measure a kind of knowledge that often changes fast. The lack of such measures leads the industry to sometimes adopt esoteric means to assess qualification.

While we cannot change the industry, we can change ourselves, and by change I mean making sure we are actually qualified for the job we do, instead of resting on our laurels of experience. You may be hired for the experience you have, but you want to deliver all the knowledge you have acquired, even if you never had the chance to use it in any of the companies you worked on. How do we gain experience without working on a specific project? Education, of course! The training of pianists offers a very convenient analogy on this matter.

As a pianist myself, I would never be able to imagine how would I ever be able to perform without training. I would not be able to do sight-reading either: most of what I play has a reasonable complexity and requires a thoughtful interpretation. But programming and playing piano are very different when it comes to performance: while piano players are able to train hours, weeks or months for a few hours of performance, programmers are expected to learn on the job – hence the over-appreciation of experience. To make things just a little more difficult, the only time programmers have to fully concentrate on their training is their free time (no wonder you have to love what you do to stay on this business).

I do love what I do. I do love to study what I use at work to perform more than I train, but there’s a problem: I’m not willing to lead a monomaniac lifestyle, I do not want to use all my scarce free time to train for work. I need to rest and take care of my health to keep doing what I love to do. The inevitable corollary: my training must be very efficient. Do I find very efficient training available? Definitely not. Most of the technical books seem to expect a very passive kind of reader: I never find lists of exercises in many of the famous books from O’Reilly or Manning. Lists of exercises should be the rule, not the exception. It still amazes me how authors without teaching skills are allowed to publish technical books in a field where professionals are so devoid of training. We are left in the cold to learn erratically. We are supposed to train like monomaniacs. We are supposed to err on the job.

This entry was posted by on Friday, March 21st, 2008 at 7:33 pm and is filed under IT. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “The training we lack”

  1. It’s interesting that you complain about books not having exercises… while I’m not a devoted reader of computer-related books, over the years I have leaned toward preferring books *without* exercises.

    I always find the exercises were not written for me, but for some other reader. Plus, it seems that books with exercises are too didactic. Using an anology, when I buy a grammar, I look for the ones with no exercises. If I want exercises, I will find my own way of practicing, like reading texts on the web or talking to people on Skype.

    *Examples*, on the other hand, are always welcome (especially in programming). An example may save a not-so-clear paragraph or chapter from being incomprehensible.

  2. Adiel,

    Your preferred way to learn is what I and everybody else is doing, after all, we don’t have much of a choice. Advanced technical books with good didactics and exercises are so rare that when they are released it often results in great acclaim for their authors (like Kathy Sierra).

    I really don’t like the idea of having myself to create the exercises from which my skills depend: at the time I’m learning, it’s unlikely I’m going to foresee the challenges to which I’m gonna be exposed at work, hence the need for exercises created by someone with a higher degree of expertise. Moreover, technical difficulties oftentimes unfold in a way these books do not predict, or mention in a way that is far too theoretic.


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