formal learning

I am considering going for Sun Certified Java Programmer – just trying to come off the inertia. My core competency in programming can be ascribed to Java, but I never studied it completely using a book or a proper training course. I am involved too less in actual software development these days and sometimes that frightens me to think that I would soon loose the authority/hold on whatever knowledge I have and become redundant. It is actually very difficult to start studying for something without expectation of any external reward.

Over time, I had tried to learn certain things on my own, mainly leisure stuff – went for guitar classes for two years while in college, tried to learn chess with text books etc. Programming should be learned by more practice than theory. One of my friends used to say that to learn keyboard (music), first you start hitting on the keys and learn for yourself what makes agreeable noises and then you will proceed to develop a sense of what feels good. It is like a baby tries to crawl, go on all fours, stand up holding something and tries to walk despite falling down. Then you can try to mimic popular songs all by yourself and when you get something right, it will give you tremendous satisfaction. After a certain level, I think it is better to start formal education to fill in the gaps. You would have made some headway into how all the pieces fit together and you can see how it makes more sense. I think what this gives is better perspective or “big picture”. It is like checking the map first and getting an idea about where you are going, which direction, what are the nearby towns instead of going by written directions. I used to like Maths a lot and while in pre-degree, I used to work out graduate Maths. There is more fun in learning this way – hack on your own and then later formalize the learning.

Initial progress will be slow and it will be frustrating, but you will have the sense of adventure and joy of discovering things for yourself. You can refer the documents and all-powerful-google if you get stuck, don’t try to figure out everything by yourself – intention is not to discover the language, but to learn it.

I think some things should not be learned in this manner even if you may learn something in the process of doing it – for example, surgeons won’t hack at bodies first, they must be read enough and watch somebody do it, attempt it on cadavers before even holding that scalpel. I hope this is the case though.

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