Introduction and TLDR;
For me reading and writing are synonymous with learning and sharing. In this short post I reflect on some of the professional development reading and learning that I’ve done in my spare time during 2023 and share with you some of the things that worked for me and helped me achieve my learning goals. If you are like me struggle to sit down to read books or watch videos, etc. then read on.
They key takeaways from this post are:
- Identifying the optimal recipe to consistently tackle a learning task is as important as embarking on the task itself.
- Small, regular habits prove to be more enduring over time compared to one-off large efforts.
- Engage with individuals who share similar interests, as they may offer valuable insights that contribute to your quest for discovering your own effective learning recipe.
An Effective Reading Recipe
I have some of the classic tech books (e.g. The Lean Startup) in my bookshelves for almost a decade now, but in all honestly I never got the time to actually sit down and read some of these books cover to cover. With the exception of programming and Geoffrey Moore’s books (Crossing the Chasm, The Chasm Companion & Inside the Tornado), I struggled to finish some of the others. I just could not find the time to sit down and read because I’m always moving, be it exercising, doing chores around the house or driving. I was chatting to a colleague last year about this and she suggested to try Audible, which I did and voila! that was a turning point for me. In my quest to find my own recipe I like to talk to like-minded people and during these chit-chats I always find some useful tips or inspirations.
I started listening to some fiction books for which I already owned a printed copy, the experience was enjoyable and convenient. I then started to listen to some of the professional books that were decorating my bookshelves. Now I can listen whilst driving or exercising, and because I owned some of the printed books, I could mix between book reading and listening, specially when I have to sit down anyway, for example during traveling or waiting for appointments, etc.
Capturing notes was also an important activity for me specially with interesting topics or topics that I want to recall later. In the case of a printed books I just highlight the section of interest and in case of Audible books, Audible provides the ability to bookmark a location with a note. So this was my recipe for reading, basically a mix of Read+Listen, it worked very well for me during 2023. Here is a list of the professional development books I’ve read / listened to during 2023:
- The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
- Radical Candor, by Kim Scott
- Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, by Patty McCord
- How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn Your Knowledge into Words, by Joanna Penn
- Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations, by Nicole Forsgren, et al
- Think Like Amazon, by John Rossman
I’m looking forward to continue with these books during 2024:
- No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer
- The Phoenix Project, by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford (already halfway through the book)
- The Unicorn Project, by Gene Kim
- Cloud Strategy: A Decision-Based Approach to Successful Cloud Migration, by Gregor Hohpe
- The Pyramid Principle: Long in Writing and Thinking, by Barbara Minto
- The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni
The Quest for Professional Certifications
I always loved certifications, you learn and you get rewarded for this learning with a certificate. Based on my experience with some of the AWS certifications during 2022 I found out the following about my learning habits:
- I’m deadlines driven, having a cutoff date gives me a clear timeline to learn and imposes some desirable pressure as well, otherwise without a deadline or pressure other commitments will take over.
- I prefer a condensed learning style, ideally over 4 to 6 weeks, but not more than this to ensure the information is fresh on my mind. Otherwise longer periods of studying mean I’ve to repeat the content again to refresh, so double the effort.
- I prefer reading over watching videos, so I get the training course slides and go over these. I only watch the videos for topics I’m not familiar with. As I mentioned above finding time to sit to watch videos or read slides might be a challenge, in this case, depending on the topic if I won’t miss much by not looking at the slides then I simply listen to the video whilst doing physical activity.
My recipe for certifications is to lookup my calendar and choose a date for the exam, anywhere from 1 week ahead to 6 weeks and then just book the exam, the rest will sort itself out.
Here are the AWS certifications I’ve managed to clear during 2023:
Yo Aprendo Español Con Duolingo
Yes I started learning Spanish during 2023, I don’t know how this came by, but I’ve embraced it. Although not directly a professional development activity, there are many micro habits to acquire from learning a new language which could prove useful in professional settings. My story with wanting to learn Spanish started back in Jan 2021 just before the COVID pandemic when I travelled to Mexico on a work trip. I travelled to a few states to present to multiple audiences, and in some instances we needed to have a translator, during those moments I wished I could speak Spanish so I could natively convey my passion of the topic I was speaking about. It wasn’t until last summer when we visited southern Spain as part of a family holiday that I started learning Spanish. I got inspired by my daughter who is learning Italian on Duolingo reaching a 500 day streak by making it a habit to do a little everyday. The recipe here is “little but consistent and every little helps”
Making 2024 A Year of Writing and Sharing
My last personal blog post was in 2016, the year during which I had to write my PhD thesis. I won’t go into details on how difficult and tasking this was, having to juggle this with work and family commitments, mental blocks, etc. (if you are interested in my part-time PhD experience, checkout my blog post reflecting on the whole experience “How I Satisfied My Passion for Software Development and Open-Source by Doing a Part-Time PhD”.
To be honest after completing my PhD thesis I felt I’m done with writing outside of work, my writing batteries were depleted for good. However, almost 8 years on as I look into 2024 I feel those batteries are still rechargeable, I feel a flare for writing again starting here and now!