Lessons Learned About Independent Learning

I have had many significant life experiences that simply confirmed the importance organically to me of independent and mentored learning.

Learning to Skate and Ski

I don’t know how much blood I left on concrete learning to skate as a kid. I was never supremely good at it (pun intended). But the only way to learn was from someone else and then failing over and over and over again until I landed even the simplest trick.

I do need to say that learning to Ski definitely would have been better having at least a few lessons first. The school of hard-knocks will destroy your knees if you are holding up your buddies who are way better than you.

Learning to Dance

I spent probably 30 hours a week dancing at alternative music clubs in the 80s. There’s no class on 80s dancing. You absorbed that skill through your skin from those around you. [Yes, I still dance.]

Chatting with Rastas

I taught myself French and Caribbean Creole while living on Martinique for two years. Does my learning matter less because I don’t have a degree stating I did it? It certainly didn’t to the Rastafarians I got to befriend and make smile with my white-guy accent. [Never smoked “ganga” once when I was there.]

Learning Not to Die

It took a lot of direct, mentored learning to obtain my advanced first-aid certification and white-water river guide license — yeah sometimes laws require a credential.

Learning directly from other white-water masters how to spot “domers” and “eddies” and throw a good life-line would become life-saving skills. Not only were these things best taught by mentoring from a master — it was the only way to learn them.

I have too many stories from my year as a white-water and moutain-bike guide. I can’t fit them all here including one of saving someone who didn’t think he needed to follow what the other guides and I told him, telling him not to take a route he was sure he could do. I’m just happy the current let his body float to the top so we could revive and stitch him up (another master did that, one far more experience than me).

⚠️ Often a grade, certificate, diploma or credential can actually be very dangerous — producing the opposite effect of its intended purpose. When improperly executed and assessed a bogus credential can provide a false sense of confidence causing people to attempt things they have no business doing and ending up destroying a system or killing someone.

Learning About Russian Operations

I was also a Russian tour guide and cruise director having mastered Russian syntax and writing in college but mastering conversational Russian by taking work in the country instead of paying some stupid “study abroad” program for the privilege. I lived in St. Petersburg for a time and frequently spent time in Moscow and the other cities of “the golden ring” and Ukraine.

While in Russia leaders and presidents from American organizations sought me out for my skills and street smarts all of which I obtained from different mentors while there — including Stalin’s grand-daughter who was very pro-West and signed up to help us bring Russians and Americans together on the ship to have some of the first such dialogues in history.

I met more than one bona fide American spy cultural attache — in church of all places.

I toured the American embassy with a friend from my time in the Caribbean who went on to become an account there.

I had amazing conversations and lost many chess games to brilliant Russian scholars taking on work in the travel industry — even as bus drivers — because their English skills on a single week-long tour paid more than two-months wages as a senior professor.

I got to stand in with retired KGB to be Samantha Fox’s private IT helper and wanna be security professional while she toured from the ship filled with Oscar-level Russian film and music stars. [My God the stories I have about that trip. May I never forget them.]

I chased a thief out of our train car after breaking in and trying to steal the naive French newly-weds’ luggage they foolishly left in the middle instead of hiding under the bed.

No college or organized “study abroad” could ever have produced the massive learning — and wealth of experience — all that gave to me. I actually pity the poor students who were my peers who did otherwise.

Learning Relevant Tech Skills as the Web was Born

I took one Pascal class in college that I hated and was horribly out of date. Then I taught myself spreadsheets, HyperCard, and HTML that the CS department didn’t even offer. Yet I’ve produced some pretty significant systems including Nike’s first Intranet web portal, an encrypted networking protocol and data warehouse system to gather compliance data from 52,000 servers at IBM, and more.