Learning to learn

As I write this, I’m waiting (literally, waiting on hold) to give a webinar for Swiss Testing Night. It’s a twenty minute presentation – which I love (see my last post for another twenty minute presentation from me. I would love to see a test conference filled with nothing but 20-30 minute presentations someday (and would probably even help organize if someone were willing to really do it).

But this post isn’t about conferences, it’s about learning. These days, I’m a bit obsessed with ideas and learning, and can’t help look for patterns of learning in nearly everything I do. It’s intern season at Microsoft, and we have a few dozen eager young faces floating around the hallways making great things happen. As part of their experience here, the interns are invited to a weekly lecture series on a variety of topics – including a talk from me later this summer. I haven’t settled on a topic yet, but I expect it will be something along the lines of how what you learn at university probably won’t help you in the real world – the point being that the bits of facts and knowledge will help, but knowing how to learn is the most critical knowledge one can gain at university. I’ll find some ways to make sure the message works without sounding too much like a crazy old man, but we’ll see what happens.

Yesterday, I had a great visit with a computer science student at a university in Georgia, and I had a wonderful conversation on this same topic I’m on the alumni board for the school of Arts and Humanities at my alma mater (Central Washington University). Last  week, the chair of the music department emailed me (we’ve met once before) and asked me if I could talk to his son (the CS major mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph). They came over yesterday for a quick visit and chat. Over lunch, and during our tour, we talked a lot about the power of learning, systems thinking, and critical thinking. I’ve interviewed MIT grads who could practically recite a textbook, but couldn’t think – so it was great to talk to this kid studying computer science at a liberal arts school who seemed to already have a grasp of how he fits into the real-world.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth stating again. Programming is easy – especially with the languages available today. What’s really hard is implementing the right program, or writing code to solve the problem in the right way. This is true for applications as much as for test automation – and you need to use your brain and learning skills to have a chance for success.


  1. Nice speech Alan!
    Also liked to fire some question at you, maybe another time. Have fun with your Swiss army knife!
    Regards, serve

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