How to prevent yourself from giving up on learning technology

As I commemorate almost a full year as a Learning Assistant of DQ, I decided to share my opinions on a topic I hold close to my heart :heart: - learning. Learning, as seen in the cover image is not easy. It is a winded journey, full of storms and trials. There are highs and lows, like a winded mountain path.

From what I observed in most people getting into technology and how the learn using various approaches, I consolidated the main reasons why I feel people give up learning technology (be it Data Science or other IT-related fields). Opinions expressed here are my own and so feel free to disagree with them. This is not a technical topic per se, but rather to help you better understand and cope with the common pitfalls when learning about technology in general. This was written with mostly the hat which i wear outside of DQ - with the mindset mainly of a cyber security student. :tophat:

Background

Industry 4.0 and Web 2.0 are now commonplace in the modern day society. Change brought about by technology is inevitable. You either except it and ride the “wave” or get consumed by the “wave” and lag behind.

Many would classify millennials and those born after the 20th century (that is, the 21st century) to be tech savvy. However, I would say many in this group fail to grasp the underlying concepts of the technology they are using, even it if has brought about convenience (probably due to the multiple layers of abstraction and the “can’t be bothered” mindset in not understanding what they are consuming).

I’m not saying that you need to understand every minute detail of each technology, but rather, not knowing even a little bit of the underlying components of the technology you are using may prove to be dangerous in some instances.

Software Developers and Computer Scientists often refer to this as the layer of abstraction that provides you without the hassle of knowing what is occurring “under the hood”.

Abstraction is the opposite of complexity which allows us to use something without having to know what is beneath, which usually are complex structures and concepts which are difficult and time-consuming to grasp.

The question to ask yourself to start the journey of learning

So what should I learn to remain relevant in society? Well, my simple answer would be to learn what you will use on a daily basis. Start small. Like how to troubleshoot a desktop app when there are issues. Learn how to adjust the settings, tweak features. Most categories of applications written nowadays usually have similar user interfaces, apps also are usually easy to understand and use.

Thereafter you can proceed to something bigger - help your relatives/family etc conduct troubleshooting, read about why and how a technology performs and behaves in a certain manner then teach others what you have learnt.

That being said, here are some reasons from my observations that I feel that demotivate others or make them give up learning technology entirely.

1. The “It will not happen to me” or the “don’t use tech that can be hacked into” mindset

These group of people are honestly, in my terms, fools. Technology is a tool. Yes, it is a double edged sword, it can be used for harm, or for good as a tool to enhance standards of living or make living easier and sometimes to gain employment to put food on the table, but not using them at all will just mean you are missing out!

Based on the argument raised in the title of this section, I would like to first address the group that think that nothing will happen to them, because (a) they will get hacked (eventually), and (b) one or more applications that they are using will definitely fail at some point. It is inevitable for tech to fail, just a matter of time.

Learning technology will give you a better sense of how to troubleshoot issues based on your understanding of how things work, how security is managed and if you are secure, how data is transferred etc. Then again, ignorance is not going to protect you from harm. The more you hide from it, the more it comes to find you (not to creep anyone out, just driving the point that tech is inevitable today and in the future :sweat_smile:)

Some questions to get your curiosity going: Is the data encrypted upon transit? Can the developer of the app still read your messages even though it is encrypted? It can also give you better ideas for managing your privacy. For example, you will be better informed about using security settings, or not patching the Windows/Mac/Linux operating systems when there’s a flawed update. How does learning this technology help me to solve real world data problems? (sorry my security student mindset is bombarding me at this point :rofl:)

Now I will address the second group, the over-paranoid. Technology is a tool that is bound to be broken into, as I mentioned earlier. If you are not using it, it is at your own loss. Many in this group usually have two or more devices, which is the only thing that I kinda agree with. One is for work and the other purposed for family or “personal life” (which is definitely more secure than having one I can assure you but a bit extreme IMHO).

Behaviour of this group of people

Some in this group even have minimal applications installed on their devices to reduce the attack surface, but may have inconveniences when they are required to transfer private information from their personal device to the secured device. However, then again the argument raised that any device connected to the Internet is at risk. So I would suggest to this group to just practice good cyber hygiene and have at least a decent firewall and antivirus protection installed and updated.

2. Start small, Google errors and doubts and remain accountable for your own learning

People freak out when they try to learn something completely new. They may want to build an application for fun, get started with watching YouTube tutorials, get stuck and then give up. So you could try to start small that may interest you and set realistic goals on your learning progress instead. Use DQ as a platform for both encouragement and accountability, even though #30daysofdq is over, continue to create a thread and update the mods/volunteers of your progress.

Many of my friends had trouble using certain software. Some of my peers often ask me to help them with a problem. Sometimes, I myself have unanswered questions I am tempted to ask my seniors and teachers. But before that, take a step back. Google it first. Google is your best friend. Its the most comprehensive search engine and has a giant repertoire of information and answers that may help solve your problems with learning technology.

Since techies are often kind, helpful and willing to share your knowledge, and the error message you are having was probably faced by someone else too. Why not find the answer first… save trouble and time!

Just the other day I asked my lecturer about an issue I was facing on some software. He asked me to Google it first. Less than 5 seconds later I could find the solution to my problem!

Sometimes as a volunteer, I often find answers of learners instantly by Googling their errors and wonder why they did not do so before asking… :roll_eyes: So I hope you could do yourself and us volunteers a favour by googling/searching for similar threads before asking your questions! (Thanks in advance :slightly_smiling_face: )

3. Dealing with Information Overload :open_book:

Personally I also face this. Everyone has a limited lifespan that is finite, with 24 hours a day and 365 days a year :alarm_clock:. It matters how we spend every second of our lives… or does it ⁇ We are not robots nor computers, we need rest and food, social engagement and emotional reassurance. Even so, computers and machines need to recharge, rest and cool from the heat generated lest they will overheat and become inoperable.

This has become a more unprecedented issue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic :microbe:. We are staying at home :derelict_house: more, limiting interaction and as a result, having entertain ourselves with information, which may in turn consume us if mismanaged (which I had a few times - leading to short periods of burnout).

Data growth is now exponential :chart_with_upwards_trend:. There are countless tutorials and often more than a hundred ways to solve a single problem. We need to filter through that and decide how we can use our limited time for and which to focus our energy and concentration on. Many people will just want to “download” (scan through) information rather than “process” (comprehend) it, instead of really dwelling on the material and extracting usable and actionable details.

However, many often say that the best way to learn is not just to “download” and “process” data but to teach someone else about it or even learning from your mistakes and experiences (thus I volunteer with Dataquest to recall and relearn tech skills). It is hard to be a jack of all trades and often, a better approach would be to tap on the experiences of yourself and others who might have been through the decision making process, instead of trying to learn everything, which will definitely take a longer time.

Often at times, I feel compelled to complete courses because of my goal of stand out from the rest of my peers with the knowledge gained but I find that I end up loosing interest halfway because there is really too much information. Paper Gratification is honestly too overrated in the 21st century. I think we should pay more attention to mental health, burnout and balance :balance_scale: in life - as the saying goes, too much of a good thing will become bad.

In those cases, just take short breaks from learning and instead you may choose to do some leisure reading or exercising which I think really helps in re-energizing oneself and perhaps changing your perspective, preparing you to re-immerse yourself in learning.

4. The problem with Instant Gratification

In this day and age, we expect everything to be instantaneous. We expect to be able to receive information, process it, get assessed on it and be rewarded immediately. But that is definitely not the case. We often get annoyed if we don’t get the rewards instantly, but the truth is that learning technology often takes lots and lots of time and effort.

Children in the “smartphone age” (myself included) play games that simulate the brain upon completing levels and earning rewards, resulting in decreased attention spans and irritant behaviour if the rewards aren’t given. This often leads to us not having truly meaningful learning experiences in our day-to-day lives as we are already accustomed to gratification and often give up on learning as we don’t see the instant benefits of doing so.

I learnt and experienced this on several occasions. The bulk of which was while studying for my O Levels (a secondary qualification), where I felt like giving up on several occasions - especially for my weaker subjects (almost even wanted to give up a subject altogether). Studying for that exam was like running a marathon, I had to pace myself and often wanted to skive, but I knew I needed to hold myself back to do well.

My advice to my 16-year-old self would be to have my long-term exam goals segmented into realistic and achievable short term goals and have little rewards along the way to motivate myself towards the final goal. I find this very true too in learning technology, since many of these are often complex, have many abstractions and take a really long time to understand and familiarize myself to decent levels of competency.

Indeed, working to overcome instant gratification is no easy feat. Technology has both made me irritated at some points when I don’t get instantly rewarded, but also imparted to me the knowledge that overcoming it is difficult, but not impossible. This applies in all aspects of life–schooling, gaming, working and learning.

5. Imposter Syndrome

I’m sure we all experienced this at some point in our lives, envious of others who do better than us and thinking we will “never get to that stage” and “not make the cut”. Such thoughts are unhealthy and I think we should get rid of them. We must know that even the pros started somewhere, were noobs at their craft at some point in time. But what differentiates experts and those who give up is the passion to master their craft and the amount of hard work, sweat, tears and time one is willing to put in for it.

So know that it’s okay to be a beginner, it’s ok to be bad at something. Even if you don’t see yourself moving, know that you are learning something new everyday (provided you put in the time and effort).

Conclusion

So I hope that I have provided some ways and suggestions that will help you continue learning technology or even anything else that you have found useful in your daily life. Perhaps take my advice with a pinch of salt and try it out in your daily life as you never know if this helps until you try it out.

I hope that this article has also broaden your perspectives on my views on this subject matter. If you have come this far, thank you so much for bearing with me!

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