Generally speaking, the best solution is one of the solutions not yet explored (simply because it requires a juxtaposition of ideas that are distant in conventional semantic space). Both conventional curricula and just-in-time learning follow conventional paths & therefore double-down on both path dependence and intellectual monoculture.

A fairly straightforward way to break this pattern is to simply invert it: discover what your peers already know, and go out of your way to learn things that your peers don’t know. If something is concretely important and your peers know it, they will explain it to you (or point you to resources, or take care of it) — the collective understanding is more important than the individual understanding — and so filling in the gaps in order to cover more total ground is a low-risk high-reward endevour.

Concretely, what does this mean? It means that if you are writing Javascript and C++, you ought to learn PROLOG, COBOL, and MUMPS. If you’re writing webapps, you ought to study the culinary history of the ancient near east. If you’re doing QA, you ought to study midcentury continental philosophy. If you’re working with databases, you ought to study professional wrestling.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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