How to Become a Programmer in 9 Weeks: Week 1

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Recap: Follow Me from HTML Illiterate to Professional Programmer

 

In case you haven’t read Week 0 (about my preparation), I am currently a student at a programming bootcamp called Coding House in the San Francisco Bay Area. I finished college a few months ago, but decided my business degree wasn’t going to let me do what I really wanted: to build rather than manage. This realization and my love for startups (and California) led me to begin working toward a career in software development.

 

3 Highs:  Success!

 

A Whole New World: Learning to code with absolutely no computer science experience (like learning to do anything without field experience) is mind boggling. We generally learn best by relating to the concept we want to learn to something we already know – its called mind mapping. There are terms and concepts that I not only haven’t heard of , but can’t really connect with other pieces of knowledge either. This makes the learning process a bit harder for complete beginners (like me), but the feeling of accomplishment after understanding something new is all the better too.  completed-javascript-road-trip-part-1-b9f5af5196fb596271f7f97b6b477d24

 

Balance, Young Grasshopper: Although I’m certainly no expert, having learned a good chunk of HTML5 and CSS3 in the couple weeks before making the trip to San Francisco has been extremely advantageous. Obviously, I wish I’d had time to learn more about JavaScript (considering this is a MEAN stack boot camp), but having what little background I managed to build is great for building confidence. Every time I have trouble with a concept, there’s always something else I can contribute from what I do know – which is a good ‘frustration buffer’.

 

Coding Builds Character: Debugging has probably consumed most of my time as an upcoming developer, which is frustrating because I never know if my code isn’t working because of a conceptual mistake or just a missing semicolon. The high, though, is that this is such a typical part of the job that my patience before becoming frustrated and angry has increased significantly after only being here for a few days.

3 Lows:  That Time I Fell Asleep on My Keyboard

 

Falling Behind: The worst thing is feeling as though you are the most behind in a group and are slowing everyone else down. Although I am certainly not as far in the learning process as I would have liked to be by now, apparently everyone gets this feeling and it works as a driving force. My solution thus far has been to prepare for lectures ahead of time. I generally try to find out which topics will be covered in the next few days and find video tutorials (Code School is my favorite for JavaScript!) and articles (JavaScript is Sexy; perfectly appropriate for work, I promise). I use these to pick up whatever basics I can so that I have at least been exposed to the terms and concepts I hear during class.neuropsychology

 

Slower Learning Process: This just comes with the ‘Whole New World’ territory – trying to learn something without any exposure to the topic can be a much slower process. I generally pride myself on being a fairly quick learner, but learning the logic behind programming can be tough (don’t believe me? Look up some loops within loops within loops – super nested loops. Loop Inception, seriously.) and can make things frustrating very quickly. My solution thus far has honestly been to suck it up. There are some things that just take time to pick up, but are necessities.

 

Sleeping is Silly: At least, that’s the philosophy around here. Most nights, I’m up until 2:30 in the morning and have to be up by 7:30 for the daily workout. 5 hours doesn’t seem too bad (as a result of a bad habit – really, 8 hours is ideal), but staring at a computer screen all day after what usually is a killer workout in the morning can be really taxing. They’re not kidding when they say you code 90+ hours per week at Coding House! Note: This is only okay because its for a few weeks. Obviously, lack of sleep will result in low productivity in the long term.

 

The Immersion:  The Food.  That is All.

 

Amazing Weather: Coding House is closer to the San Jose area, where people can’t really appreciate the perpetually beautiful weather like I can as an Ohioan (who went through a ridiculous Winter this past year). Plus, its always nice and cool in the evening to ward off a hot day’s fatigue.

 

Fantastic Food: Sarah, our Food Service Director, is probably going to be Betty Crocker in a few years. Needless to say, she’s an amazing cook! From Chinese to Indian to Thanksgiving dinner staples, she makes amazing everything. I was a fan of the Maple Pepper Chicken this week, but check out her blog – her recipes are definitely worth trying out at home!

 

Discipline: We wake up by 7:30 (at the latest) every morning, have what is usually a very intense workout, start working by 9-ish, have lecture until noon with a 30 minute break for lunch and then get back to it until around 6pm when we have dinner. Then, we work on projects on our own until we start dropping like flies. Generally, people are done with the day between Midnight and 2:30. Then we do it all over again. Workouts and team bonding activities are mandatory and we have healthy meals at our set times. Being in the schedule can be grinding at times (especially when you claim an allergy to exercise like me), but it is obviously good to fall into a disciplined daily schedule. Don’t get me wrong – everyone has tons of fun here! There are plans to go to the Redwoods next week to play Airsoft and camp out over night. I am 100% a city girl who doesn’t mesh well with the wild, but it will definitely be an interesting experience even for me!

 

Insights

 

The fact that Coding House is a full immersion bootcamp where we all eat, sleep, code, and repeat together is definitely its competitive advantage. Its one thing to spend 8 hours a day coding in class and completely different to literally spend all day learning. The bootcamp itself is a bit shorter than the average 3-month programming bootcamp, but the sheer amount I’ve learned in a single week speaks for itself in terms of quality. I’m looking forward to diving deeper into JavaScript next week after this week’s intro – and hoping to survive my first camping trip in a forest. Check this series out next week to follow my learning curve and pick up some tips on learning to program yourself!

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The Flight of Autodidactism: The Wright Brothers

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When we think of the Wright Brothers, its easy to remember that they were the team responsible for the world’s first functioning airplane.  It is worth it to pause and look at the way each brother came to become some of the world’s greatest innovators with their invention.  You can probably guess what it is that made them capable of their achievement: autodidactism, of course!

By definition, innovators are people who pave a path that hasn’t been taken before.  As such, a formal education could have only gone so far for Orville and Wilbur Wright.  What they needed was a desire to learn on their own beyond the limits of school – a trait that both had in abundance.

 

Wilbur Wright

The older and more responsible of the two brothers, Wilbur was a well-rounded child with a lot of focus and dedication.  He was an avid athlete growing up and did well in his classes.  In fact, he was going to go to Yale after finishing high school.  Just before leaving, a hockey accident caused Wilbur to loose his front teeth. Although his injury was more harmful cosmetically than physically, the loss of his teeth delivered a heavy blow to Wilbur’s confidence, causing him to become more withdrawn.  Shortly after, his family’s quick move to Ohio from Indiana resulted in Wilbur never receiving his high school diploma.  These two incidents combined prevented him from attending Yale.

Wilbur’s dedication and ambition began to dwindle a bit at this point and he took a break of sorts for the next few years, helping his mother at home and father at his Church.  The big turn-around in his life came when Orville (who was five years younger) caught up in age and drew Wilbur into his own endeavors.

 

Orville Wright

Orville was always a mischievous child who was constantly getting caught and into trouble.  Largely different from his brother, he had very little interest in school and dropped out after his Junior year in high school to start his own printing business.  He pulled Wilbur into this business as well, extracting him from the rut in which his injury had placed him.

Taking on a leadership position over his brother, Orville led his newspaper to becoming a daily print and eventually turned to commercial printing.  Ever the entrepreneur, Orville went on to capitalize on the biking craze and opened a bike repair shop with Wilbur taking more of a partnership position.

 

Two Heads are Better Than One

Their bicycle repair shop is where most of their autodidactism occurred – at least in terms of the skills they later used to build the first functional airplane.  At the same time, during the mid 1890s, there was an increase in global interest in aeronautics.  Flying high due to the success of their shop, the Wright Brothers decided to take part in the craze.

Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Museum to request some of the more recent publications about aeronautics and the brothers began essentially teaching themselves aerodynamic engineering, building only on the knowledge of mechanics they had amassed from building their bike shop.

The rest is history as Orville and Wilbur began their experimentations and failed every time, filing for patents in aerodynamics along the way.  Eventually, they successfully developed the world’s first human flying machine in 1903.

 

Their work was surrounded by controversy and questions about their legitimacy, but regardless of all that, the Wright Brothers successfully pushed forward the concept of an airplane – an invention that the modern world probably couldn’t exist as it is without.  What’s more impressive, however, is the fact that Orville and Wilbur both managed to teach themselves the aerodynamics of the time and rose up as the world’s foremost engineers without so much as a high school diploma.  Autodidactism at its core, people!

How to Become a Guardian of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

After a fantastic opening earlier this month with great critical reviews as the cherry on top, Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be a win for Marvel.  Of course, being the superhero nerd I am, I went and saw it opening night.  Superhero-Nerd-Me loved the action, tech, and comedy while E-Learning-Nerd-Me spent the entire movie whispering loudly to my poor friend (and everyone within a 4 seat radius) that Star-Lord is a total autodidact!

Just as a quick reminder, autodidacts are fabulously awesome people who love learning and teaching themselves new things.  Star-Lord probably turned to autodidactism more out of necessity than a pure love of learning, but he still dances to sweet ’80s music and refers to ‘The Legend of Kevin Bacon’ from Footloose – so he retains the awesome factor, in my opinion.  Check out these instances that proved Star-Lord AKA Peter Quill caught the autodidact bug.

 

 

Musical Tech Prowess

Depositphotos_9262656_xs26 years after being abducted from Earth as a child by ‘space pirates’, Peter still listens to music on the same
walkman from the same audio cassette with the same headphones.  It is probably safe to assume that in all his struggles and travels from planet to planet, Peter’s beloved music system broke down from time to time.  Considering that he likely didn’t have contact with too many Earthlings, he had to figure out how to fix everything himself.  The key words here being: ‘figure out how’.  Plus, I don’t know of any battery from the ’80s that would still have enough juice to power a tape player after 26 years – so Peter probably had to engineer a replacement power source on his own.  Conclusion: Autodidact.

Bonus:  Peter’s ship, The Milano, had a cassette player and speakers installed.  Considering we don’t make extraterrestrial spaceships here on Earth (at least not to the knowledge of us ordinary folks), he probably installed that himself too.

 

The Ultimate Linguist

Here on Planet Earth, we have hundreds of different languages – sometimes dozens within the same country.  Unless every being on every planet except Earth exclusively speaks English, there were probably several different languages that Peter had to learn in order to jump from world to world and continue to communicate with ease.  Considering the fact that he grew up around pirates, there probably weren’t too many maternal figures or teachers around to teach Peter – which means that he largely picked that up on his own too.

When he left Earth, Peter was definitely more than 8 or 9 years old – well past the threshold where humans can pick up languages extremely rapidly.  The fact that he picked them up so well at his age points to his fantastic self learning skills as well.

 

So You Think You Can Dance?

Well you don’t have much on Star-Lord, the Amazing Dancing Alien!  Kids don’t have fully developed motor skills – that’s a well known fact that explains why kids are usually not the best dancers.  That’s also why it is so extraordinary that Peter left Earth as a child, didn’t have access to Terran movies or culture, but picked up how allguardiansmovieto dance (albeit ’80s style) completely on his own based solely on 26-year-old memories.  He beat his ultimate nemesis in the movie by distracting him through a dance off !

Imagine what he would have been able to do on Earth with access to a dance teacher and pop culture.  Granted, becoming known as a Guardian of the Galaxy is a pretty cool title, but the Next Michael Jackson would have been pretty spectacular too.

 

If you think Star-Lord is an ultimate autodidact, check out Groot!  He learned to dance as a baby:

Images from: Marvel Comics and Marvel Cinematic Universe
http://marvel.com/guardians

 

 

 

Mahatma Gandhi: Learning by Doing

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After researching autodidacts for weeks, a trend has become quite apparent – often, these self learners start out performing poorly in school and formal education.  They then begin teaching themselves what they love and go on to be geniuses.  Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci – and Mahatma Gandhi.

 

Humble Beginnings

It is difficult to imagine that the pacifist who strategically and very intelligently inspired an entire nation was a poor student.  Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was exactly that as a child.  More enamored by sports and games, his performance in school was mediocre at best with his only real strength in English class.

This may have been what inspired him to study law (on his family’s insistence) in England.  Gandhi never became a great lawyer due to his inability to interact cooly with witnesses, particularly during cross examination.  His profession eventually took him to South Africa, however, where perhaps his true education began.

 

Education to Inspiration

While Gandhi always had a passive interest in politics and ethics, he never became truly passionate about them until his time in South Africa.  In the late 1800s, South Africa entered a period of drastic change with its Civil Rights movement.  Gandhi had arrived to serve as a legal representative for some Indian traders in the country, but law was soon forgotten as he began to witness the turmoil unfolding around him.

By this point, Gandhi had spent his time in London focusing less on Law and more on reading texts that interested him and began to form what would become his later stance on life – the Bhagvad Gita and the Bible. These texts eventually influenced his perception on the truth and the purpose of life, but more immediately they sensitized him to think deeply about the conflict in South Africa.

The discrimination started with the native Africans in the area, but Indian immigrants weren’t spared either.  Gandhi was even thrown out of a train once for refusing to leave the First Class car and beaten later for refusing to move for a European traveler.

Exposed to discrimination and racism up close as he had never seen it before during his sheltered life in India, Gandhi began to question the rule of the British Empire and its impact on his people back home.  The sizable Indian population in South Africa faced extreme oppression and as he learned and developed as a social reform leader for the Indians in South Africa, Gandhi’s attention already began to shift toward the conditions back home.

 

The Great Spirit

After gaining great acclaim in South Africa for his work for Indians and later the native Africans, Gandhi returned to India with his nationalist reputation and a new vigor to reform the Indian government.  He entered politics and eventually rose as leader of the Indian National Congress, which served as an intense learning period for him as he met some of the greatest minds in India and picked up on the crippling issues throughout the country.

While he believed in Independence from the British Empire, Gandhi also believed strongly that the problems India was facing was largely because of its own people.  Wedges between political parties, the internal oppression caused by the caste system, unethical cultural traditions like child marriage and feminism were issues that he sought to educate Indians about.

What made Gandhi’s efforts so different from others, though, was his utter devotion to ahimsa, or nonviolence – a concept he picked up during his childhood due to exposure to Jainism.  This point combined with his newly pioneered philosophy of Satyagraha (devotion to the truth) touched his ‘students’ in an authentic way that had yet to be achieved.

He performed long term fasts, led peaceful protests, and spread his word to the entire country.  He taught people that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  He preached the biblical teaching that if someone slaps your right cheek, turn your head to offer them the left – nonviolent aggression.  Advancing his goal of equality by largely decreasing the negativity of the caste system, Gandhi achieved some level of success in the majority of his goals.  He became a national hero and earned the title Mahatma, a Sanskrit term from the roots maha (great) and aatma (spirit).  He literally became The Great Spirit.

 

Although Gandhi didn’t achieve every one of his goals exactly the way he hoped to, he inspired an entire country (one of the largest in the world) to accept change and embrace unity – he did it by learning from his life experiences and spreading his knowledge quickly and efficiently to those around him.  His main strength wasn’t his IQ or ability to devour and apply theory quickly.  It was his ability to learn from the situations around him and find the appropriate solutions for a given problem.  That’s real world experience!

The Most Important Thing Employers Want From You

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It isn’t the ability to code like a champ or your beastly social media savvy (although those are increasingly attractive attributes for many positions) – what employers really want from you is ‘teachability’.  They want to be able to teach you how to do the job their way quickly and efficiently.  To accomplish this, you will need to prove to them your ability to learn things very quickly.

Were you praised for picking things up quickly, ever since you were a child?  Great!  Now do better!  There’s always room for improvement and little more satisfying than being able to tell your boss that you finished the job perfectly- and in a fraction of the allotted time.  It would be great to be able to train yourself to become a more efficient learner so you can pick things up faster on the job, but learning velocity is largely inherent.  Luckily, the trick here isn’t to increase your learning ability.  Instead, the focus should be on preparation.

If you need to write business plans as a part of your job, for example, you should learn how to write a standard business plan on your own first and spend office hours recognizing your company’s unique twist instead of spending extra time to learn from step one all over again. .  Now the job is easier and will get done faster – and you can show off to your supervisor how quickly you picked up their way of doing things.

 

You are your own Yoda.

It’s true – you know yourself better than anyone else.  Why not take advantage of this fact and teach yourself a thing or two about the skills you know you will need for your job?  If you arm your mind with the basics, picking up your company’s twist on things will be easier (and quicker!).

You can learn awesome stuff from all over the internet now – from tutorials on Lydia or YouTube to full blown free Ivy League classes from Coursera, teaching yourself is the thing to do!

The first step is to narrow down the skills you should master for your industry.  A visual designer, for example, might benefit from learning HTML basics while a marketer could take their work to the next level by building solid creative writing and copywriting skills.

Figuring out what exactly you need to learn is the hard part – now, you can just Google it and decide which resource (tutorial, class, article, e-book) you like best and get started!

 

Be the Tortoise.

Remember that story about the tortoise and hare where the hare gets really arrogant and ends up losing a race to the tortoise?  It actually applies to your career progression really well.  The worst thing you can do is to come off as being full of yourself to your co-workers or boss.  Not only does that essentially flash a bright neon sign saying ‘Not Willing to Learn’ above your head, it also sets you up for a whole lot of lost opportunities.

Learning can come in the form of actively seeking knowledge by studying or taking a class, but it can also happen simply on the job if a good mentor takes a liking to you.  A mentor at work can provide important insight, fast-tracking tips, and invaluable feedback – but no potential mentor is going to take interest in the new kid who thinks she knows everything.  Remember to project the humble student within!

 

Be Proactive.

Being able to pick things up quickly, having great tech skills, and busting through assignments are obviously amazing achievements to have under your belt – but keep in mind that everyone on your team will try to display these things.  Going out of your way to add value even when you weren’t specifically instructed to do so shows that you care about the team’s performance as a whole, not just your own.  If you are a copywriter at a startup and you know about an upcoming feature-release or company re-branding, offer up your ideas right away and even provide samples to show that you’ve really thought about it.

Of course, it is always important to keep in mind that your ideas are suggestions that your supervisors can choose not to take and you shouldn’t overload them either.  Imposing on someone else’s pet project can become annoying, even though you’re really just trying to help.  Just remember, be humble and realize that you are the student.  Soak up the experience of your co-workers and throw in some of your own fresher ideas without overdoing it.  You will have impressed your boss before you know it!

Ultimate Autodidacts: Einstein to Moffat

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The Guru

Going from a high school dropout to one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, Albert Einstein was the embodiment of autodidactism.  His idea of a perfect date was to read physics texts for fun with his girlfriend – enough said.

Einstein’s introduction to science and mathematics by a childhood friend established an interest in a topic far beyond what he was learning in school.  He taught himself calculus by the age of 13.  Thirteen!  Thus began his foray into the world of self learning; It was simply far more interesting than the grammar and basic mathematics he was forced to sit through in school.

Perhaps Einstein’s greatest secret for success was his approach to learning.  He said:

“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

He always believed in imagination, individuality, and inquisitiveness.  This is likely the reason (along with his accomplishments in the field of physics, advocacy for civil rights, and general good human-ness) why he became so widely admired.  This is also likely how John Moffat came to regard him so highly.

 

The Disciple

In the 1950s, Albert Einstein’s career had taken a nose dive.  He had written and spoken about theories that he had been unable to provide proof for over the last several years, which caused his reputation to take a tough hit.

At this point, a Danish painter by the name of John Moffat had just depleted the funds he was living off of in Paris as he honed his art.  He returned home to Copenhagen, Denmark where he returned to his love for reading at a nearby library.  Moffat devoured book after book about mathematics and physics, in mere months learning what took years for the average student to learn at University.

As he absorbed the knowledge, he became a fervent follower of Albert Einstein and his writings.  Familiar with the genius’ slump, Moffat (a high school dropout and painter with no credentials in physics) wrote Einstein a critical letter that analyzed all the things Moffat believed Einstein was doing wrong.  He didn’t expect a reply, of course, from such a famous and admired physicist.

Lo and behold when several weeks later, a hand-written letter in German came addressed to Moffat.  His lack of fluency in German forced Moffat to ask his local German barber for help translating the letter, which proved to encourage his efforts in physics.  Einstein took Moffat and his thoughts very seriously, pointing him to his newer writings and encouraging further replies.  This conversation continued for several letters during which Moffat successfully pointed out a poorly based mathematical assumption in Einstein’s calculations.  This interaction expanded into meetings with other great scientists of the time including Niels Bohr and Erwin Schrodinger.

It was Schrodinger’s recommendation, along with the extensive knowledge Moffat had amassed on his own, that allowed him to become the first accepted PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge without completing an undergraduate (or even secondary school) degree.

 

The Ultimate Autodidact

Albert Einstein is an undisputed genius who took on autodidactism as a fortunate hobby in addition to his more traditional education and work at Princeton University.  John Moffat took his Guru’s efforts a step further and forwent 8 years of (usually) compulsory formal study on the path to his own prestigious PhD.

Einstein and Moffat didn’t even have the beauty of the Internet at their disposal back in their times.  Imagine a modern day Moffat immersed in a MOOC with a Physics e-text on his Kindle in one hand and his online mind map on his tablet in the other.  Now that would be a force to be reckoned with.

How to Get Your Dream Job Without the Required Experience

Ambition of a young architect

Right major?  Check.  Enough software knowledge?  Check.  Cultural Fit?  Check.  Sufficient years of experience?  Uh-oh.

You’re looking at the job listing for your ideal gig just a little while after graduation and feel the excitement mounting inside of you with every requirement you know you can fulfill.  Then you see that you need 2 years of work experience – which you don’t have as a new grad.  Ugh.  Do you pull back and look for a position that you don’t want as much?  Do you resign yourself to a job you know will bore you for the next couple of years?

No.  Stop and think like a hiring manager. They are looking for candidates who know their stuff.  It just so happens that the general consensus says knowing your stuff requires some experience in the industry.  This study by McKinsey & Co. and Chegg even says that college graduates are under prepared but overqualified for employment…a finding that will naturally push hiring managers away from hiring recent grads.

So clearly, your next step should be to prove that you are sufficiently prepared for employment.  How?  Build a portfolio of work similar to what you would be doing on the job and submit it with your job application.  Refocus the potential employer’s attention on your skills and potential and away from metrics that don’t necessarily describe what you can do properly.  Here’s how.

 

Step 1 – MOOCs:  Learning the Skills

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are classes from well known Universities that professors modify for distance learning to allow access to any student for free.  Many of these courses teach exactly the same material as what the professors teach in their traditional classes, but you can take them in your spare time without spending money to build your knowledge and skills base.

Keep in mind that your major and college classes are not the full span of your capabilities.  An English degree is a great base for a copywriting career, but taking a few classes on your own time in marketing techniques can give your writing the boost you need to land that job at an ad agency.

Websites like Coursera and EdX provide great platforms for MOOCs.  It is important, however, to record your work for the class.  The assignments and projects you complete are great additions to your professional portfolio, as they legitimize the coursework you do through MOOCs.  You can keep track of all this by downloading your work as you complete it, or by using websites like Accredible to transfer all of your online coursework to one place that can be linked to the rest of your portfolio.

 

Step 2 – Speculative Projects/Case Studies:  Applying the Skills

There are case studies all over the internet – taking a few and using skills you learned from college and your MOOCs to write an analysis for each can help get your feet wet in the kind of thinking you need to solve problems in your industry.

Speculative or freelancing projects are also great ways to simulate what you will be doing later in a full time job.  Telling a small or mid-sized business or nonprofit organization that you are willing to help them out for free or little charge is an easy way to land some of these projects – this is time you are spending building work experience regardless of the amount you are getting paid.

Specifically working with nonprofit organizations in a volunteer position not only gives you the added experience for your newly developed skills, it also shows a more human side of your personality.  Maybe your volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity relates to your passion for fighting poverty, or perhaps your commitment to proper healthcare is showcased through your extensive work with the Red Cross.  Talking about your volunteer work in an interview is also great way to transition to you personal qualities and cultural fit.

 

Step 3 – Research:  Effectively Showcasing the Skills

Know what’s going on!  Read the news, find new articles on techniques and technology, and learn to use the newest software.  Once your profile gets you to an interview, you still need to prove that you can hit the ground running upon receiving an offer.

Having background knowledge about developments the company and its industry can help you come up with possible solutions to their problems before you are even working there – there is no better way than that to show that you would be an asset to the team.

Follow those three steps and you can show the hiring manager that you are perfect for your dream job because even though you don’t have years under your belt, you have the necessary skills and can demonstrate initiative to continue building more in the future.

He Flunked, Was Rejected, Went Bankrupt…And Then Founded The Walt Disney Company

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An actor, animator, filmmaker, and wildly successful businessman, its kind of shocking at first to hear that Walt Disney only had around 9 years of formal education.  He started school at the ripe old age of 7 and dropped out at 16 to join the military.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, he was rejected for being underage and spent a year in France with the Red Cross instead.  After returning to the United States, Disney received his first job as a cartoonist in 1919, and the rest is history.

 

“Children have got to be free to lead their own lives.” – Sebastian, The Little Mermaid

small_2917335255Despite having strict parents, Walt grew up doing what he wanted when he wanted.  He was a shrewd businessman even as a child.  After his father, Elias, bought a newspaper delivery route, Walt was made to work for him without pay.  He knew how to make the best of his situation, though.  From delivering medicines for the local pharmacy on his route to selling extra papers without his father’s knowledge, Walt developed a thriving business of his own without any help, encouragement, or formal education.  This continued throughout his few years in high school and, of course, eventually led to exemplary management of the Walt Disney Company.

 

“The very things that hold you down are going to lift you up.” – Timothy Mouse, Dumbo

Classes came second to work for Walt during his schooling years.  His exhausting work schedule left little time to study, which had a heavy impact on his grades.  Even as he worked such a demanding schedule and small_6635533755trudged through school, however, Walt always found time to indulge in his passion for drawing.  He traded his cartoons for haircuts, became the cartoonist for his school’s newspaper, and later submitted to magazines and drew for his co-workers in Paris – all learned from just a couple of brief stints in art classes.

All the work, discipline, and cartoons did very little for Walt’s grades as a child, but he grew up to build The Walt Disney Company – so it is difficult to argue against the merits of his childhood activities.  He learned how to run a business, work with colleagues, and develop a skill that would redefine animation and serve as a catalyst into a new age of cinema.

 

“If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.” – Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio

Walt’s success can really be attributed more to his attitude than any form of education (and perhaps even small_2486345776experience).  “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”  This was the philosophy he lived by: to achieve excellence and watch the theaters fill up as his reward.  This attitude inspired Walt to take risks (like starting a business) that sometimes caused him to fail (he had to declare bankruptcy in 1922), but then he got back up again and made Alice in Wonderland.  

Teaching yourself anything can seem like an insurmountable challenge when you get a good look at just how much there is to learn, but the real magic is in the learning, not the teaching itself.  A teacher (whether its a person, software, book, or audio recording) can only teach as well as its student can learn.  Walt is an ultimate example of a sponge learner – he soaked up his experiences so well, he never even needed a teacher to hold his hand.

 

“You just need to believe in yourself.” – Rex, Toy Storysmall_9594201177

So basically: Walt Disney went to school for 9 years, flunked most of the time, dropped out of high school, never went to college, taught himself to be a businessman and cartoonist purely by learning while doing, and became the roots of one of the most admired companies in the world.  He must have done something right.

 

“Hakuna Matata!” – Timon and Pumbaa, The Lion King

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3 Traits that Made Sherlock Holmes a Genius

ALDERNEY - 2009: shows Sherlock Holmes

Whether you think of him as the quirky young gentleman from 19th Century Britain or the high functioning sociopath with a drug problem from present day London, Sherlock Holmes’ genius is undisputed.  The question is, how did Arthur Conan Doyle develop his legendary character’s powers of deduction?  An excellent formal education?  Natural skill?  Well, natural skill certainly had a lot to do with it, but the secret ingredient is a healthy dose of autodidacticism.

 

Lots of Reading & Background Junk

Sherlock Holmes was always reading something new – whether it was in Doyle’s books, one of the several subsequent movies, or the most recent Sherlock series, Dr. Watson mentioned the stacks of papers and books all over Sherlock’s work space and apartment several times.

Naturally, with all this reading came a wealth of background knowledge.  In his most modern adaptation, Sherlock is seen conducting research and tests that only trained professionals are able to do.  Yet, Sherlock Holmes is known to have attended college only briefly and never finished his undergraduate degree.  His natural talent and ability to learn quickly opened him to information that a formal education never provided.

This extensive background knowledge is integral to Sherlock Holmes’ powers of deduction.  After all, to deduce something, you must be able to rule out options which is only possible if you have enough information about it to make a decision.

 

Chaotic Creativity

Anyone who has seen the most recent, highly acclaimed Sherlock series can attest to the the fact that the apartment the detective shares with Dr. Watson is not only messy, but straight up gross.  There are disgusting eyeballs in the fridge and human skulls on the mantle of the fireplace.  In one scene, one such eyeball even falls into Sherlock’s tea – which he continues to drink contemplatively.

Such chaos (except maybe a bit more hygienic) is characteristic of a number of creative geniuses.  Mark Twain always had the messiest desk that spawned some of the best loved literature of all time.  Albert Einstein was cool with a crazy workspace too, saying, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

So basically, keeping himself surrounded by chaos kept Sherlock’s mind in a chaos as well, with everything zooming around in disarray.  Often, things lined up in the right order, and the result was Arthur Conan Doyle’s infinite success.

 

Focus

It is contradicting to say in one breath that Sherlock’s mind was full of chaotic creativity, and in the next that he had an amazing level of focus. His ability to focus on certain parts of the chaos is what allowed him to zone in on the things that had lined up in the right order. Clearly focus is important.

But Sherlock Holmes’ biggest strength was not his ability to concentrate on something in particular – rather it was the organization with which he quickly refocused on detail after detail.  The infamous scene where Sherlock deduces that Watson had been in a war, for example, required him to zoom in and out with his observations very quickly (considering he deduced this after a mere glance).

Even without an extensive formal education, Sherlock Holmes was able to teach himself what the average person would require several formal degrees to learn even a fraction of.  Why?  Because he learned for the sole purpose of knowing and utilizing information rather than with the specific goal of obtaining a degree or job.

The beauty of how things work today is the sheer number of free resources available to all aspiring autodidacts.  From MOOCs to free online books to YouTube tutorials, it’s all there – along with tools like Accredible that can help focus and organize your learning process.  So do you want to be as smart as Sherlock Holmes?  Go do some reading, drive your mind to crazy chaos, and then focus and organize it.  Easy as pie.

5 Awesome Online Learning Tools

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Whether you’re a high school student studying for a test, a college senior cramming for your last exam, or an entrepreneur taking an online class to improve your leadership skills, online learning tools can become your best friend.  Not only are they easy to use, but are also increasingly accessible and decidedly a leap into the future of education.  Here are 5 such tools to keep on your radar.

 

Anki – Powerful, Intelligent Flashcards

photo credit: ekai via photopin cc

Many of us are familiar with the beauty of online flashcards through Quizlet or StudyStack (fantastic classics that everyone should have bookmarked!), but Anki takes the undeniable efficiency of flashcards to the next level by making them ‘intelligent’.  Using spaced repetition software (SRS), Anki can predict what you already know and what you still need to learn, which lets it present only the information you still need to learn when you need to learn it.  So it pretty much organizes your brain for you – pretty cool and kind of scary (in a cool way).

If that isn’t enough, Anki is also highly customizable and controllable due to an open code and storage format.  Plus, you can download the app and study on the go (if you’re that hard core about it) or access the software online to prep from a different computer.  Conclusion:  Click on this link.  Stat.

 

Memrise – Learning, Powered by Imagination

Memrise is more of a tool to help you hone your mind and thought process than to help you study for a particular class.  Think Karate Kid: “Wax on, wax off.” Before you know it, you’ll be kicking butt on all your tests and projects (waxing rag in hand).

Memrise is the epitome of the gamification of learning.  You can learn the basics of languages, history, science, and trivia all while earning points and competing with other users.  It may not be the perfect tool to help you understand Organic Chemistry, but its definitely a solid summer tool to prepare for your upcoming class.  Conclusion: Check this out during your next study break!

 

Evernote – Remember Everything

Remembering a complex equation from your advanced calculus class, all the instructions your boss just gave you while you were drooling over your amazing chocolate cake from lunch, and the recipe for said chocolate cake can get complicated.  Evernote has your back with its family of apps that will help you stay organized.

Saving pictures, notes, screenshots, multimedia links, and documents in one place is the best way to make sure everything gets done, and Evernote makes it easy with a simple interface and myriad of features.  Conclusion:  Watch these videos. The background music sounds kind of like a Michael Buble song…and they’ll convince you to give the app a try!

 

Feedly – Read More, Know More.

mouse-306274_150Best thing about Feedly – it makes you sound smarter than you really are.  Just set up a few notifications for subject areas you want to know about and wait for Feedly to update you on the newest published material.  Next, just read, process, and voila!  You know about the new big thing before your non-Feedly-er interviewer or classmate and get to sound well connected and…well…smart.

Plus, its really easy to use.  You literally go to the website or download the app, pick a few websites and blogs, and start reading.  The only real effort you have to put in is to scan a few lines of words and process them.  Conclusion:  Unless you look into the Mirror of Erised and see nothing but yourself and your awesomeness, go here and pick a square.

 

ExamTime – Transform Your Potential

This one is the ultimate learning tool.  You can make mind maps and flashcards, take quizzes, and make notes.  The awesome part is that you can literally learn anything!  On my first visit to the homepage, the first thing I saw was a Breaking Bad quiz.  The second was a set of beastly chemistry notes.

If the founders of Quizlet, Evernote, a couple MOOC platforms, Google docs, and YouTube were locked in a room, they would probably come out pitching something like Examtime.  Conclusion: Give it a try!  Worst case scenario, you can brush up on some trivia.