Our Obsession with the Culture of Doing

2 min read · Posted on: Mar 26, 2010 · Print this page

You cannot learn to swim by reading a book…
You cannot learn to drive by reading a book…
You cannot learn to code by reading a book…

You can only learn these things by practice.

Boy reading in the grass - Copyright flickr.com/photos/norby/

But are reading books a waste of time? Absolutely not. Learning by doing will only get you so far as in perfecting something you already know. For instance, if you know the basics of operating a car, in due time, you can move around comfortably. This does not mean that you can take very good care of the car or understand traffic rules. Most of us learn these things through friends or a driving instructor.

But books offer a much more reliable and insightful information (say a simple automobile service kit). They are usually written by experts in their respective fields. They have years of wisdom to back what they have written. Interestingly, this is not just applicable to non-fiction but also in fiction. Be it reading about the mathematical ingenuity of a symbologist or the experiences of hitch-hiking in a romantic Scottish highlands, the written word enriches your experiences with many lifetimes that you haven’t lived yourself.

Similarly, programmers jump to ‘on the job trainings’ and claim to have acquired expertise based on the years of experience they’ve spent on a technology. It is quite debatable on what they have mastered. They might be able to get something working but it will be a far cry from an elegant or a well-designed solution. Reading does wonders in acquainting one with the best practices of a technology area. Indeed, the well-read ones are quite easy to spot too.

The culture of doing is as important as the culture of learning. Both go hand-in-hand. But the emphasis must not shift purely to doing as it shows tangible results. The results must in itself demonstrate the depth of learning. Often, opening the bonnet solves the problem rather than kicking the tires.

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Arun Ravindran

Arun is the author of "Django Design Patterns and Best Practices". Works as a Product Manager at Google. Avid open source enthusiast. Keen on Python. Loves to help people learn technology. Find out more about Arun on the about page.

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