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It has struck me upon occasion (most recently as I was reading Amel's tutorial Lexical vs. Package Variables ) that frequently when I am learning something for the first time (be it Perl or kayaking), it is often difficult to come up with the appropriate questions to ask to learn more about whatever it happens to be at the time. I think that this is so simply because at the outset, my frame of reference is simply too limited to fully understand all (or even enough of) the ramifications to know what to ask.

For instance, several years ago, I started work as a third-shift computer operator at a hospital. I had about 2 weeks of training from the operator whom I was replacing (so he could switch to first-shift). There was quite a bit of information to absorb in a short period of time. At the end, he asked me if I had any questions but at that point, I was simply too inexperienced with the nuances of the job to be able to frame appropriate questions. Questions that did not occur until I had actually been doing the job on my own for a while. The old adage "practice makes perfect" rings true but we also have to consider that we are never perfect, so we are always practicing to improve our skills (whether those are programming, kayaking or whatever).

Someone mentioned in the ChatterBox the other day about looking back at code s/he had written 6 months before and thinking about how poorly it was written. Then in another 6 months, looking at code that s/he was currently writting and thinking the same things. Learning is evolutionary, we are always learning new and (hopefully) better ways of doing things.

So, how would you know what to ask when you don't have the appropriate background with which to frame a question? On the one hand, when dealing with specifics, you can't. However, by being able to make connections and tieing in the currently available information to that which you might already possess, it is possible to ask leading questions so that you can get the proper background with which to ask questions that can lead to further enlightenment. Sometimes though you simply have to let things fester in your skull for a while and play around with it in order to get a better understanding of the in's and out's before going back to sit at the master's feet for more lessons. Since our frame of reference is always changing, we need to constantly ask new questions. As teachers in school frequently said: the only stupid question is the one not asked. We can't be expected to learn everything at once and so are constantly growing in how we do things (this can apply to things outside of coding/programming as well). The Japanese have a neat little phrase for this: o-negai shimasu. Which means, loosely translated, "please teach me."

So, what is an answer to the little dilemma posed above? Practice and patience. Of course, as with many things, "There is more than one way to do it" and there are more possible answers than there are stars in the heavens above. :-)

"Ex libris un peut de tout"


In reply to I Don't Know What I Need To Know by nimdokk

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