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May 19, 2022

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The best thing for me about tech related topics is that they are probably easier than any other to learn online. In fact, that’s exactly how I built the Computer Science Foundation that supports my work. Without the Internet full of resources, I would not be where I am today.

Like many who shared my path, I initially devoured every online resource I could get my hands on. But as I invest more years in my career, I have increasingly noticed the shortcomings of the material most likely to be exposed.

At first, I found that I had to re-learn some concepts I thought I understood. Then, the more concrete it got, the more I discovered that even my self-taught peers were disoriented at some point.

This inspired me to investigate how misconceptions spread. Of course, not everyone gets everything right all the time. It is human to make mistakes, after all. But with such knowledge available online, in theory, misinformation should not spread widely.

So where did it come from? In short, the same market forces that make computer science-driven fields attractive are those that provide fertile ground for questionable training material.

To give back to computer science education in a small way, I want to share my observations about determining the quality of instructional resources. Hopefully, those of you who are on a similar path will learn from the easy way what I learned the hard way.

Starting our self-dev environment

Before we begin, I want to admit that I understand that no one likes to be told that their work is less than stellar. I’m definitely not going to name names. For one thing, there are so many names that a heuristic is the only practical way to go.

More importantly, instead of just telling you where not to go, I’ll provide you with the tools to evaluate for yourself.

Heuristics are also more likely to point you in the right direction. If I declare that website X has subpar content and I am wrong, then nobody has achieved anything. Even worse, you may have missed out on an editing source of knowledge.

However, if I outline the signs that suggest any website may be off the mark, while they may still lead you to mistakenly discount a trusted resource, they still have them in most cases. Sound conclusions must be drawn.

The invisible hand of the market joins a strong hand

To understand where information of questionable quality is coming from, we need to delete our Econ 101 notes.

Why do tech jobs pay so much? High demand meets low supply. There is such an urgent need for software developers, and software development trends evolve so rapidly that tons of resources have been rapidly produced to train the latest wave.

But the market forces are not yet complete. When demand outweighs supply, production feels pressured. If production picks up, and the price stays the same, the quality goes down. Sure, prices can easily go up, but a major highlight of technical training is that much of it is free.

So, if a site can’t cope with the sharp drop in users that comes with moving from free to paid, can you blame it for staying free? Multiply this by even a modest share of all free training sites and the result is a drop in quality of training, overall.

Furthermore, because innovation in software development practices tends to iterate, so does this cycle of decline in educational quality. What happens once the hastily prepared training material is consumed? Over time the employees who consume it become the new “experts”. In a short time, these “experts” produce another generation of resources; And in this way.

Bootstrap your learning with your own bootstrap

Clearly, I am not asking you to regulate this market. What you can do However, learn to identify credible sources on your own. I promised estimates, so here are some I use to get a rough estimate of the value of a particular resource.

Is the site run by a for-profit company? It’s probably not that solid, or at least not useful for your specific use case.

At times, these sites are selling something or the other to tech-illiterate customers. The information is simplified to appeal to non-technical company leadership, not detailed to address technical grunts. Even if the site is intended for someone in your shoes, for-profit organizations try to avoid handing out Tradecraft for free.

if the site Is For the technically minded, And While the Company independently distributes practices, their use of a given software, tool or language may be completely different from how you do, will or should.

Was the site set up by a non-profit organization? If you’ve chosen the right kind, their stuff can be super valuable.

Before you believe what you read, make sure the nonprofit is reputable. Then confirm how closely the site is related to what you’re trying to learn about. For example, python.org, administered by the same people who make Python, would be a great bet for teaching you Python.

Is the site mostly ready for training? Be cautious even if it is for profit.

Such organizations generally prefer to place apprentices in jobs more rapidly. Apprentice quality comes second. Sadly, that’s good enough for most employers, especially if it means they can save a buck on salary.

On the other hand, if the site is a major nonprofit, you can usually overestimate it. Often these types of training-driven nonprofits have a mission to build the field and support their workers—which relies heavily on people being trained properly.

to consider more

There are a few other factors you should take into account before deciding how seriously to take a resource.

If you’re looking at a forum, measure it based on its relevance and reputation.

General purpose software development forums are a frustrating amount of time because no expertise means there is little chance of specialized experts turning around.

If the forum is explicitly intended to serve a particular job role or software user base, chances are you’ll get a better advantage, as it’s more likely that you’ll find an expert there.

For things like blogs and their articles, it all depends on the background strength of the author.

Writers developing or using what you’re learning probably won’t lead you in the wrong direction. You’re probably also in good shape with a developer from a major tech company, as these entities can usually hold top-notch talent.

Be suspicious of writers writing under a for-profit company that isn’t even a developer.

summative assessment

If you want to limit this approach to a mantra, you can put it like this: Always think about who is writing the advice, and why,

Obviously, no one is ever trying to be wrong. But they may leave only what they know, and a share of information may have a focus other than being as accurate as possible.

If you can find out the reasons why the creator of the knowledge can’t keep the accuracy of the textbook at the front of his mind, you’re in less danger of inadvertently putting your work in his mind.