Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Learning Things Backwards

Funny how when you're learning something out of school, you kind of learn it backwards.

Take javascript, for instance. Since I had learned nothing whatever about web technologies while I was in school, I had to learn javascript on the fly. Now, when you go to look for tutorials or educational materials about javascript online, what you get a lot of pointers toward is either really, really basic intros where they assume you don't know anything about programming (and thus aren't really worth looking at, even if you don't know the language they're using), or elaborate expositions on the subtle points of the language that long-time users might have been wondering about. There doesn't seem to be any happy middle ground on this, or if there is, it's hard to find (some of it does exist in books, I've found). The upshot of this is that I knew about javascript closures and various pros and cons of different ways of declaring functions and how values are stored before I knew about functions like getElementsByTagName. It also took me far too long to figure out what a div was (nobody ever says what a div is; you just sort of infer it after a while of reading code that has lots of them).

I guess it's the way of informal knowledge sharing. School tries to set up a nice order to teach you things in the "right" order, and books, being materials prepared by a stranger rather than something told to you by someone you know, have mostly the same setup. But when your friends tell you about, say, a foreign language, they skip past how to conjugate the verb "to be" and go straight to telling you profanities and how to describe what you did in the back seat last night.

After six and a half years of school, it took quite a while to get used to this ad hoc way of learning things, but I'm getting more into it, and I'd venture to guess this is a big component of that mysterious thing you gain from "experience." So, now, when they say "just include this file and you'll be able to use our library," I at least know what to ask: it's not the bit of how to use the library, it's where and how to include the file at all.

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