Why What Should I Learn Next Is The Wrong Question

21 Nov 2012

Instead, focus on what you want to accomplish.

I hear questions from web developers all the time, asking what language, framework, or CMS would be best to learn now that they're comfortable with the skills required for their job. Sure, there are natural progressions and building blocks used by school criteria, but for someone that isn't looking to just build a resume and instead is just looking to expand their skillset, learning can be so much more fun.

Let's say my goal was to create website that can afford fisherman a social network to tell their stories and post pictures. I only know basic HTML and CSS, and I find that Wordpress has a framework set up for me with great looking templates already made. I set up my website, it begins to grow, and my users request some features to be added to the site. I learn enough PHP to edit my Wordpress theme and add some plugins, and learn enough Javascript and jQuery to add some nice effects. Now as my site continues to expand, I upgrade to Drupal to add more social capability, and even later abandon CMSs' and switch to Ruby to add more scalability, all while continuing to learn more about HTML, CSS, Javascript, etc.

Throughout my journey of creating my fishing social site, I've learned Wordpress, Drupal, PHP, Javascript, jQuery, and Ruby. What is also important to note is that the learning wasn't merely theoretical, but I learned hands on how to build and fix my program along with common pitfalls and bugs to watch out for. That's a fairly strong and well rounded skillset for someone who just completed their first large project.

Of course, this should be supplemented with plenty of reading and lessons after realizing what you want to focus on. Really the only difference is to let your skills grow with your interests. It's a much more interesting and approach to learning and really helps in avoiding apathy.

If the tools you're using were educated choices, you will be benefit from learning to use them.