A few years ago, I read an article making a strong argument that Ctrl-F is the most important computer skill for the modern researcher or student. For those of you who don’t know about Ctrl-F, it’s the keyboard shortcut that allows you to search for content in a page. It is one of my most-used shortcuts; I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I use it every single day, whether to find my place in a Twitter feed, seek out notes left for me by a colleague in a document, or locate the information I want to cite.
I really like what I do, so I don’t spend a lot of time regretting my educational and professional choices. That said, there are two major things I wish I’d done earlier in my career that I think would make me more successful (read: effective) today:
Spent a semester or summer abroad. I’ve always loved languages, and have dabbled in several. For a while in graduate school, I even neared fluency in Spanish, being able to read full-on novels in a reasonable time span. But because I never spent an extended period of time relying on and experimenting with a language, I didn’t cement my knowledge. Not only does being multilingual open direct opportunities to work in other cultures, it also makes your cognitive structure more flexible and enhances creativity.
Learned to program a website or a mobile app. Computer science was still a bit outside of the mainstream when I was in college so I never ventured into a class. I did teach myself some basic HTML (so I could have a rockin’ homepage with pics of my cats and my ear piercings), and that small skill is actually still useful today. I feel like I’d be a much more effective program designer if I were able to do at least some of the coding myself, if only to experiment with possibilities and communicate with software developers in more informed terms. I’m not even sure the programming language matters as much as developing some basic proficiency with technology.
Fortunately it’s not too late to pursue these skills, although it’s harder now than it would have been when I was a full-time student. I’m not sure I’ll ever have an opportunity to spend an extended period of time in another country speaking the language, given my full-time job and my full-time employed spouse. That doesn’t mean I can’t consume media in other languages, talk to native speakers, and travel. I’ve also really enjoyed using Duolingo to refresh basic grammar and vocabulary knowledge and to begin working on new languages.
Ditto on learning to program–given that I don’t seem to have natural talents in the area, it would be great if I could just add a class to my courseload, but nowadays I don’t have a courseload. I’ve been flirting with online educational tools to try to bridge the gap, although I haven’t found quite the right one for me yet. I tend to get frustrated when I’m not good at something and so most of my autodidactic attempts at programming end with frustration. Any suggestions of tools I could use to learn more programming would be much appreciated.