Learning new things and self-improvement are important aspects of personal and professional development. Engaging in continuous learning helps individuals acquire new skills and knowledge, broaden their perspectives, and stay current in their fields. Additionally, self-improvement can lead to increased confidence and better satisfaction in everything.
In this article, we’ve brought some ideas on learning new things and self-improvement from our recent interview with AHM Modasser Billah, who works as a senior backend developer at Doist. In the interview, Mr. Modasser offers some excellent insights into personal development and learning, which I believe if you apply them in your life can help you accelerate your personal growth and learning.
This is an excerpt from our interview with Mr. Modasser, you can read the full interview here.
Put what you learn to work
"I used to do this in the past — setting objectives for months/quarters, doing OKRs, etc. I had read that somewhere and tried that out. I don't do that anymore.
When I was like recovering from my surgeries, I did a lot of courses on Coursera. I was looking into machine learning and stuff. It is hard to get ML jobs abroad from here. When I was trying, there weren't many opportunities, there aren't many opportunities yet, in Bangladesh. So I had to switch back to regular development work.
At one point, I realized that I don't retain much of what I learn. Then I moved towards what I call 'just-in-time learning'. You pick up something that you need at work. I only pick up new technology when I need to work with it. That learning sticks with you and helps. There are a lot of things to learn but learning is not useful if you don't retain it."
Learning things that last is also super useful
"At some point, I told myself that I'm going to learn things as needed, in terms of basic technologies, or how certain thing works and I'm going to focus more on learning things that don't change that often. For example, engineering practices, engineering management, documentation things like that are always relevant. I keep learning about these things that don’t change much.
In general, I'm a reader. I follow several blogs. I follow your blog. I’m a long-time Farnam Street reader. I follow a few newsletters. I read Paul Graham. I love his essays. I wish I could write like him someday. Then I have books that I want to read. I follow recommendations from my colleagues and mentors.
I try to generally be open about what I read. It doesn't always have to be related to my work. I think if you keep learning and reading a lot, it helps you in unexpected ways. In terms of reading, my approach is: just read whatever you want to read. The practice of reading in itself is beneficial. In terms of work, if I were to suggest software engineering, then I'd say if it's related to a specific technology like you want to learn Docker, you want to learn about AWS, only pick things and only learn things that you're going to work with. Otherwise, AWS has 52 services. I did a certification at one point, and it's mostly useless. That doesn't work well, and you forget things that you don't practice. You can't practice things if it's not related to your work or your side projects.
Instead of just picking up things, try to learn about things that don't change, how teams work, how you get to senior roles, how to write better, and how to make your code more readable, these skills are important. There are good books on these topics. And things in architecture, how to maintain a legacy code base. It's also the philosophy of software, if I may say that, these things are more useful as you grow in your career."
"I think we need to look at the world differently because it's a complex and adaptive system. If you look at the trend, the generation before our fathers, came from agricultural backgrounds, and then they studied, and most of those who studied went into government jobs and things like that. And a lot of people in our generation are still trying to imitate that. But that's not where the advantage lies in our generation. The analogy of adaptive systems is that: you see there is heavy traffic on the road. You try to avoid it and take a different road. But everyone else is also opting for the alternative route now. Eventually, that road also gets clogged. It means the most effective path is always changing.
You need to be on the lookout for what's on its way up. Not something that's at the peak because something that is on the peak is going to come down sooner than you are going to reach there. You see that, for example, with subject choices in universities. This has happened with electrical engineering. Electrical was the first choice when we were getting into BUET but by the time we graduated, CSE slots ran out first as CS jobs were paying more. Because the software was taking over the world. This is something I think people need to look out for. Don't just follow what worked before, because it's constantly changing. We need to adapt."
Avoid the obvious, have an inner scorecard
"The biggest lesson I have learned is that most things that matter in life are not glamorous. Especially in a country like ours, you need to have something that Farnam Street calls an “inner scorecard”. I need to know what I'm doing. I need to have a decision process so that when people are talking about my choices, or it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to be, I can look back, and review how I came to the decision, and I can be okay with it. It didn't go as planned, but I'm okay with it.
I think people now tend to question themselves a lot and are less focused and determined to figure things out. So I would say that's one of the biggest things that you should have your inner scorecard of how to see life and make decisions and not be influenced by what others are doing or talking about. Because it's again quoting from Farnam Street that if you're reading what everyone else is reading, you'd be thinking what everyone else is thinking and in complex adaptive systems, it doesn't work."
Hardships are part of life, don’t overthink about hardships
"In terms of managing adversity, my approach has always been not to give it too much significance. Hardships are a part of life. To be honest, we are the privileged class in Bangladesh. So I shouldn't be complaining too much. I just wanted to keep doing the right thing and look for innovative ways, how I can get out of it or get to a better position. I don't think I can offer a lot of meaningful insight here. As they say, it is what it is.
I see this a lot in our culture that people blame everything outside their control. These things happen. But it doesn't help your growth when you are blaming everyone else. There will always be things going against you, but you can try to do things that help you and gives you a sense of control and a sense that things are improving and that you can improve. That's what matters. In the end, it's not in your hand. You do your part and pray."
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