committed to social justice ~ health-tech researcher
<fail: fast & forward>
Advice on Learning How to Make Tech
Approaching technology projects is akin to learning a language or statistical programming software: regular exposure and constant immersion resulted in a faster ascent up a steep learning curve. Two exercises early on in particular helped with becoming comfortable learning different forms of technology: 1) posting to Wikipedia and “playing in the sandbox,” both as individually creating different pages and collaboratively adding to an existing wiki page in small groups; and 2) using a WordPress blog to interact with fellow students in a graduate-level course with the support of a network of professors, students, and their contacts. These exercises built my confidence in learning how to develop technology, as they provided a forum to learn basic skills, including HTML, using widgets, and searching websites such as http://Stackoverflow.com to troubleshoot errors. In addition, I learned common technology practices in the safe space of a sandbox, where I didn’t need to worry about “breaking” things.
I also took a variety of in-person hands-on technical workshops, including Adobe Photoshop, ARC GIS, visualization, WordPress, and data mining. In addition, I was a member of the New Media Lab (NML), which works with Graduate Center and CUNY faculty and doctoral students to conceive and create groundbreaking multimedia projects based on student and faculty scholarly research. The NML’s goal is to “integrate digital media into traditional academic practice, challenging scholars to develop fresh questions in their respective fields using the tools of new technology.” Having classmates and an appointment at the NML allowed me to lean on others for technical support and to have a community of people who were experiencing similar challenges. In addition, the NML offered another forum to present my work, including discussing obstacles as they arose and participating in brainstorm sessions with fellow students and NML staff. My network allowed for collaboration with individuals I might not have been exposed to, such as meeting with experienced web developers in the for-profit industry. Even the on-line Ruby on Rails (RoR) class I took had collaborative elements where knowledge was crowd-sourced through on-line chat functions. In one instance, I even posted a call for help on a personal social networking page through which I was connected to an experienced RoR coder in California who happened to be 14 years old. After seeking permission from his mother, he was able to help with several discrete tasks.
My advice boils down to practice makes better and celebrate new errors because it means you are failing forward. It’s a long road but one that is more easily travelled by seeking help from on-line resources and live-and-in-person.