I am very much a self-taught learner. My preferred learning style is to sit down with the subject at hand, a relevant task, a stack of reference manuals, and plenty of time to just hack my way through until I figure it out. I learn best through the process of trial and error, but I have to have a starting point, which is the reason why I require a specific task to accomplish.
I learned how to write in HTML(hypertext markup language) because I wanted to build my own web page. With the help of internet references and an HTML(hypertext markup language) book, I was able to build my first web site. Granted, it was pretty garish – it had every bell and whistle I could write code for, but I wanted to try everything out. My design sense has matured quite a bit more over the years, and you’ll find that most of my web sites are now much more sensible and a lot less blinding to look at.
I learned how to code in C during my brief sojourn in engineering, and again, I learned best when I was able to get back to my dorm room, sit down at my computer with my textbook, and hack my way through the code to complete each project. I’ve since forgotten pretty much everything I learned from lack of use, but I’m sure that I could probably pick it up pretty quickly again. I’m finding that most programming languages are very similar.
I learned how to use the SPSS statistical software during my graduate assistantship; I needed to be able to crunch some numbers and produce useful conclusions from it, and so many hours were spent just learning how the program handles data. It figures, though, that my favorite way to produce programs was not the point-and-click process but rather through the syntax editor and hardcoding the commands. Can you say ‘geek?’
Now, my job requires me to learn some new software in order to complete some of my projects. I have been working extensively in SPSS’s big brother SAS, which has no point-and-click interface. So, I have been forced to work in the code itself. Not a problem, right? That’s true, insofar as I love working with the code and seeing what the software is actually doing. The trouble comes in when I discover that SAS handles data much differently than does SPSS. My entire morning was spent just in trying to figure out how to get SAS to read from an existing data set without overwriting it with a blank one first. The solution was in figuring how SAS works with libraries, and now I have a very useable, workable program.
I could have asked for help and probably found the solution much more quickly than I did, but I prefer to solve problems myself. For one thing, it is much more satisfying to determine a solution on my own, but for another, I learn better by figuring things out for myself (hence, the reason why I thought I might make a good engineer). All the headache and aggravation of the first half of my day paid off when I was able to solve the problem. And now I’ll remember how to ‘fix’ it should it ever occur again. I’m just a very hands-on learner.
I love my job.