October 4, 2013 by Roman Ožana

An Important Lesson: Learn How to Learn

Learning how to learn is a fundamental lesson you need to learn as a web developer. Let’s face it, your education is never over. When you stop updating your skills and refuse to adopt new methods, it’s almost impossible to stay relevant.

Image via infed.org

In a previous post about essential web development skills every developer should have, we touched on the importance of self-education. We’d like to continue the discussion by exploring what you need to do in order to keep up with current best practices and technology.

What’s the big deal?

It might sound harsh, but developers that fail to make an effort to keep their skills up-to-date lack the professional hallmarks of a great developer.

We know it’s not an easy task. Web development (both front and back) is arguably one of the fastest changing areas of development, but this is all the more reason to make sure you continue growing as a professional.

This doesn’t necessarily apply to those who don’t know any better or how to improve their skill set, we’re talking about those who are simply unwilling, or too lazy, to learn.

When you stop learning, you stop improving (you might even start sliding backwards). It’s easy to look at your busy and over-scheduled life and tell yourself there’s not enough time to continue your education and keep tabs on what’s going on in your industry.

Plenty of people would share that sentiment with you, but here’s the cold hard truth: You can do it, you’re just choosing not to.

“I can’t” is a mindset!

We, as individuals, say a lot of things, but one of the most common phrases that holds us back is, “I can’t”.

It’s completely reasonable to feel overwhelmed at times, or even at loss at finding the next step. However, “I can’t” is often heavily colored by self-judgement. Telling yourself that something is impossible reinforces your own belief that it’s true.

Sometimes, we say “can’t” when we mean “don’t want”. It’s okay to not like something or not feel like doing something, but it’s important to realize that if you wanted to learn something, you could.

In terms of Web development training (actually really any education), something you can’t do is really just something you don’t know how to do yet.

Don’t let the Imposter Syndrome get you down

Jeffrey Way wrote a great piece for tuts+ premium that sums up this point. In it, he points out that many developers often feel inferior about their own work and progress. This negative self-evaluation even has a name: Imposter Syndrome.

Way’s quotes the following Wikipedia definition:

“The impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. “

It’s completely normal to compare yourself in this industry. There’s a lot of talented, passionate, and creative people out there – it’s impossible not to feel intimidated at times.

The important thing to remember is that everyone is in the same boat. We’re all learning new things every single day and our education is never completely finished because the industry we’re in is growing at such an incredibly fast pace.

One last piece of advice, don’t get discouraged by failure. You will fail. A lot. That’s not a bad thing!

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so there’s really no need to rush. Breaking down new techniques and technologies into smaller pieces will help you to slowly tackle your own task of self-education.

The right learning techniques will set you up for success

There’s a lot of different ways to learn more about web development. You can read books, articles, and blog posts. You can watch video tutorials or listen to podcasts. You can get inspired on Stack Overflow tips or participate in projects like TopCoder.

While it’s important to identify what style of learning works best for you as a developer, we’d also like to suggest a few more general techniques to up your learning ante.

  • Learn to be a good reader. Being a fast and thorough reader, allows you to get through more material and find out more about what’s going on in the industry. Tim Ferriss has some great tips for increasing your reading speed. 
  • Improve your memory. This will help you retain more of what you learn. Buffer Blog wrote a great post on the science of memory and memorization techniques. 
  • Set a schedule. Carve out time in your week that you can devote to studying. Don’t leave it up to chance or “when you’ve got time” – prioritize what’s important and make time. 
  • Self-evaluate. Set goals for yourself and measure your progress. Whether it’s self-testing or checking of a list you’ve made. Track yourself to see how far you’ve come.

Here’s some great resources to check out:

Learn the basics or brush up on a rusty language



Code School 




Resources and references 

How to Node

Mozilla Developer Network

Google Developers University Consortium

Javascript Weekly


Rails API Docs


Communities & Blogs


Stack Overflow

A List Apart


Smashing Magazine


Hacker News

If you’re into podcasts, Smashing Magazine did a great roundup of shows for designers and developers.

Did you find this useful?

Let us know if there are any more tips or resources we’ve missed in the comments below or on Facebook. Or, you can always tweet us @testomatocom.

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