To me, the best thing about tech-related industries is that they can be easier to learn than any other industry out there. In fact, that’s exactly how I built the computer science foundation that supports my work. Without the internet full of resources, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Like many who share my path, I initially gobbled up every online resource I could get my hands on. But as I invested more and more years in my career, I became more and more aware of the material shortcomings that are most commonly encountered.
At first, I found myself having to relearn some concepts that I thought I understood. Then, the more that solidified, the more I discovered that my self-taught peers had also gotten lost at certain points.
This led me to examine how misconceptions spread. Of course, not everyone gets everything right all the time. Mistakes are human, after all. But with such a wealth of knowledge available online, misinformation shouldn’t, in theory, be widespread.
so where does it come from? In short, the same market forces that make computer science fields so lucrative are the ones that provide fertile ground for questionable training material.
To give back to computer science education in a small way, I wanted to share my observations on determining the quality of teaching resources. Hopefully those of you who are on a similar path will learn with ease what I have learned the hard way.
Initialize our self-development environment
Before I begin, I want to admit that I understand that no one likes to be told that their work is less than excellent. I certainly won’t name it. For one thing, there are so many things to name that heuristics are the only pragmatic way to do it.
More importantly, I want to give you tools for self-assessment rather than just telling you where not to go.
Heuristics are also more likely to point in the right direction. If I claim that site X has below average content and I’m wrong, no one gains anything. Worse yet, you may have missed out on a valuable source of knowledge.
However, if I were to highlight the signs that any particular site might not be appropriate, while they could still cause you to inadvertently underestimate a trusted source, they would still give draw reasonable conclusions in most cases.
The invisible hand of the market makes for a firm handshake
To gauge where information of questionable quality is coming from, we’ll have to scrap our Econ 101 notes.
Why do tech jobs pay so much? High demand meets low supply. There is such an urgent need for software developers and the trend of software development growing fast enough, tons of resources have been produced quickly to train the latest wave.
But market forces are yet to be realized. When demand outstrips supply, production feels the pressure. If production speeds up and prices stay the same, quality will decline. Sure, prices may simply go up, but the main draw of tech training is that much of it is free.
So if a site can’t stand the drastic drop in user numbers when it goes from free to paid, can you blame it on being free? Multiply this by a modest fraction of all the free training sites and the result is that the training is, overall, of poor quality.
Furthermore, because software development activities are iterative due to innovation, so does this cycle of education decline. What happens when production training material hastily sold out? Over time, the workers who consume it will become the new “experts”. In a short while, these “experts” will create another generation of resources; and so it goes.
Bootstrap Your learning with your own Bootstraps
Obviously, I’m not going to tell you to regulate this market. What you maybe however, learn to identify reliable sources yourself. I promised heuristics, so here are some methods I use to get a rough estimate of the value of a particular resource.
Is the site run by a for-profit company? It may not be too sure or at least useful for your particular use case.
Many times, these sites are selling something to tech illiterate customers. Simplified information to appeal to non-technical company leaders, not detailed to address technical grumbles. Even if the site is for someone like you, for-profit organizations will try to avoid giving away handmade products for free.
If the site To be for the technically minded, and distribute the company’s practices freely, their use of a certain software, tool, or language may be radically different from the way you do, will or should do.
Is the website founded by a non-profit organization? If you choose the right type, their documents can be super valuable.
Before you believe what you read, make sure the nonprofit is reputable. Then confirm how closely the site relates to whatever you’re trying to find out. For example, python.org, which is managed by the creators of Python themselves, would be a pretty good choice to teach you Python.
Is the site primarily geared towards training? Be cautious if it is also for profit.
Costumes like these often prioritize getting students to work and fast. The quality of trainees ranked second. Sadly, good enough is good enough for most employers, especially if it means they can save a bunch of money.
On the other hand, if the site is a large nonprofit, you can often give it more weight. Often, these types of training-oriented nonprofits are on a mission to build the sector and support its workers — a lot of it depends on the people getting the right training.
More to review
There are several other factors that you should take into account before deciding on the severity of resource usage.
If you’re viewing a forum, measure it by its relevance and reputation.
General purpose software development forums are sometimes a disappointing mistake because no specialization means specialized experts are less likely to hang around.
If the forum is clearly aimed at serving a specific job role or software user base, you will most likely get better results, as you are more likely to find an expert there.
For things like their blogs and articles, it all depends on the strength of the author’s background.
Authors who develop or use what you’re learning probably won’t steer you in the wrong direction. You can also have a good developer relationship for a large tech company, as these entities can often attract top talent.
Be skeptical of authors writing for a for-profit company who are not developers.
If you wanted to distill this approach into a mantra, you could phrase it this way: Always think about who wrote the advice, and why.
Obviously no one is trying to be wrong. But they can only start from what they know, and there are other focuses that the person sharing the information can have besides being as precise as possible.
If you could uncover reasons why a knowledge producer might not put textbook correctness first in their mind, you would be less likely to blame their work. them without reason.