Source

Learning something new? Start by going to the source. Learn the fundamentals there, then use third-party sources as needed.

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I’d like to share with you a tip that I’ve found useful, whenever I’m trying to learn about or understand something new:

Go to the source!

For example, when trying to learn about a new software framework, which I was recently, rather than Googling and opening up third-party websites (e.g. people blogging about the framework, Twitter posts about it, etc), I found it much more useful to go directly to the official website of that framework.

I think this could useful for many things apart from software, of course.

For example, if I were trying to emigrate to a particular country, and wanted to know about the requirements and procedures, I would probably be better off starting with the official immigration website of the government of that country. Sure, online forums, blogs, chatrooms, etc. could supplement my knowledge. But the most important, reliable, factual and up-to-date information would be that given by the source – in the case, the government itself.

Going to the primary source is a really good first step to take in learning about anything new, because it gives you a solid, usually internally-consistent, grounding in that thing. (This can be useful strategically, in determining whether the thing in question even matters or applies to you.) Once your mind has that solid grounding, it’s easier to then know where to shop around, and what parts to shop for, when you start to supplement your knowledge with third-party materials (e.g. your blogs, forums, etc).

One of the problems I’ve encountered with relying too much on third-party sources is that you can get caught up in their agendas. That is, the solutions, frameworks, etc. that they propose may be geared toward some product or service that they’re trying to sell, or a view that they’re interested in pushing. These aren’t necessarily opposed to your interests, but they’re not necessarily where you want to start, when trying to fundamentally understand the thing in question, and decide what relationship you want to have with it.

For example, someone who’s blogging about BitCoin might have their own take on it, which is aligned with what they’re trying to sell or do, for example, a payments service. Their take on the world isn’t necessarily not good for you, but you might want to start out by going to a more primary source of information about BitCoin, such as the official BitCoin website, to understand how BitCoin actually works. Then your judgement is less likely to be clouded by what a particular payments provider wants you to think. Once you have this foundation of knowledge on BitCoin, you’re in a better position to choose a payments provider (if you even need one). You’re in a better position to know how to judge a provider, how to differentiate between competing providers, what metrics to use in doing so, etc.

BitCoin is just an example. I’m sure you can think of something else you’re trying to learn. If it’s a person, perhaps a historical figure, why not go straight to the writings of that person and/or of people who were in close contact with them or knew them well? Once you have that grounding, then you can start to work your way outward to third-party sources on that figure. If it’s a language, find someone who speaks the language natively, or even move to a country where that language is predominantly spoken.

In summary: if you want to learn something, get as close as possible, as early as possible, to that thing itself!

And with that, happy 2018, folks! 🎇

Author: jonathanaconway

Developer & Designer. Here I observe, synthesize and share my learnings from over 15 years working in software focused on user needs. Believe in relationships, empathy, evidence and results.

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