Personal Projects For Learning
One of the biggest struggles I’ve had is when learning something starts getting “stale”. It’s a bit like a relationship, you go from the fun and new “getting to know you” stage and eventually plateau into the “how was your day dear?” “grunt” “that’s nice dear” stage.
I plateaued with Perl a while back I think, I definitely didn’t learn anything (I’m still picking things up from the Perl Best Practices book I have), but I found the set of functionality that works for me for 99% of what I need, and that I can manhandle into working for the remaining 1%. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not a good one either, because I don’t have the drive to new things with it.
I don’t think I’m at that stage with Ruby yet, but I was thinking today on the treadmill about how to avoid that and how to keep things fresh and interesting. I figure that just like in photography, having a Personal Project is a great way to keep things fresh and interesting. I came up with a few ideas.
- A Code Sprint – They use the term “sprint” at my day job to mean a team that is concentrating on getting a new chunk of functionality or application out and done with minimul distraction. I figure that I can do the same thing, set up a new idea for a site or project and work on nothing but that in my personal coding time (never at the day job of course). This means when you’re done the initial fun stuff, database setup, object relationships, etc, you keep on going through the functionality, contact forms, logo, design, etc until it’s done. It doesn’t have to be huge or take a month of your time to do, just make sure you don’t sit down and say “you know, adding feature XYZ… I’m not feeling it, maybe I’ll just catch up on Lost some more” (this is my personal battle right now!)
- Learn a Class or Set of Functions Really, Really Well – Sure it’ll just be one class (Hash for example), or one set of functions (grep and array searching for example), and there’s probably no way to learn everything, but imagine the power to know that you have Hash under your belt, and that you know six ways till Sunday how to search arrays and similar objects, and the best practices and best idioms for it? And that next week you can choose another class or set of functions to learn.
- Answer X Questions A Day – The best way to learn I’ve found is to teach others. Even if you just know a little bit you can probably bumble your way into some knowledge, and in that way you both learn. Why not take on a question a day (or 5, or 10) on a forum like the StackOverflow ruby questions, or ruby reddit, or the ruby forums, and fully and completely, to the best of your ability, answer them. Even if you spend the whole day researching and come up with the same answer that 10 other people have already given, you end up with a greater understanding, and you get to help other people.
- Duplicate A Plugin – Sure you can just install Restful Authentication, or CanCan for Authorization, or activerecord symbolize, but why not learn what they are actually doing, and create that same core functionality “by hand”. No need to do every nuance of what the plugins do, but creating an auth(entication|orization) system by hand is a great challenge so you know what’s going on under the hood next time you rely on just running “script/plugin install….”
Those are some good suggestions, what do you other ruby and rails hackers do to learn more or keep yourself sharp?