What Should You Learn Next?

With so many things to learn what you should you take on next? What’s necessary to learn in order to become a better designer or developer? I’ve taught myself X, but don’t know whether I should now learn Y, Z, or Q. These are common questions and I want to offer some thoughts in reply.

This topic crossed my attention recently while listening to an episode of the Shop Talk Show with Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert. As you might know a big part of the show is responding to listener questions and the question of what to learn next was asked as it very often is.

Chris and Dave have a quick answer. Just build sites. Choose projects and let those projects determine what you should learn based on what those projects need. I agree, but think a little more should be added.

Theory and Practice

I’ve talked about this before and so won’t rehash it all here, but I think both theory and practice are important.

  • Practice — teaches you how to do something

  • Theory — teaches you why it works

If you could only choose one, I’d go with practice. Practice without theory will take you further than theory without practice. The two together will take you further than either alone.

I bring this up, because I think the advice offered by Chris and Dave leans a little more toward practice than theory.

Just Build Websites

It’s great advice. Here’s a secret you already know. The learning is never going to stop. Technology will keep advancing faster than you’ll be able to learn. Don’t worry about it. The reason many people struggle with what to learn next is because they worry that they’ll choose the wrong thing. Stop worrying. Just learn something. Learn because you need to in order to complete a site.

Every site will have its own needs. Build a site because you want to or because a client wants you to and learn whatever is necessary to complete it. Do the same with your next project and the one after that.

If you continue to do this you’ll keep picking up skills and techniques. One day you’ll look back and realize how much you’ve learned without having worried about the question what to learn next.

You’ll learn techniques you can use again and again. You’ll continue to refine those techniques to make them better. You’ll be learning the how of your craft.

The specifics of what you’ll know will come from the unique path you follow. You’ll be learning how to do things based on your own interests and the direction your business takes you. It’s a zen-like way to develop your talents and skills.

A Little Planning is a Good Thing

While I’m a big believer in following your Tao, I think it’s more than ok to lead it a little. Follow your path in life, but feel free to bring a map with you.

Sometimes you don’t have a site in mind you’d like to build and realistically clients aren’t going to give you projects unless you’ve given them some reason to believe you can do the job. It’s ok to think about what you’ll need to know to get some of those jobs and prepare in advance.

Say you want to build more ecommerce sites. Aside from the basic html, css