Teach Yourself to Teach Others

Posted by admin on August 10th, 2013 filed in Development, Games, Technical Writing, Wiki

“I’d Rather Be Writing” has beome a popular blog and source of advice for tech writers. I just published a book about an open-source project for 3D game developers (jMonkeyEngine Beginner’s Guide), and what Tom writes about 7 Ways to Learn Difficult Subjects in Order to Write Useful Content is identical to my own experience:

1. “Start with a real problem before moving to books.”

— In my case with jMonkeyEngine, there was no book, just a basic wiki and a forum. I set myself a short-term goal (“Program a 3D character that walks on a planet surface”) and I looked for targeted information about hwo to solve this specific task first. While doing that, I came across other things I could do with the 3D engine.

2. “Learn in short chunks (pomodoros) of time.”

— Well, I might not have adhered to that advice. :D The time I spent on learning jMonkeyEngine was very irregular, either “none at all” and then again “every day for a month”…

3. “Remove mental blocks about your intellectual capability.”

— Screw mental blocks, I want to make a planet, no one will ever see it anyway! :D

4. “Get engaged by solving problems.”

— Very similar to item #1, but seen from a long-term engangement point of view. Take your first programming exercise and expand on it. How can I make my walking character look better, act smarter, how do I scale up and optimise performance, can I add obstacles and path finding, can I make it multiplayer?

5. “Learn the basics first, then the advanced.”

— Sounds obvious, but many don’t realise that the easy task that they envision is actually advanced. Several beginners joined our jMonkeyEgnine forum who wanted to “make an MMORPG” and were surprised there was not an MMORPG Java class that they could extend. They had not realised which basic components make up an MMORPG, so they could not start with these basics, and dropped out because it seemed too hard… It was very interesting to learn from advanced team members and see behind the curtain of how MMORPGs are made — and realising why I will never write one on my own.

6. “Antecipate gradual change, not overnight brilliance.”

— Yeah… I’ve been going at this for, how long now, five years?

7. “Use questions to go deeper with knowledge.”

— Literally the first thing I did was I write my own FAQ on the project wiki. I had lots of dumb questions that resulted from my misunderstanding (not knowing) the best practices. The experienced developers thought the best practices were obvious, while the new-joiners had not the foggiest idea. This was the first time that someone wrote up all the “dumb questions” next to the “best practices”. My notes are what eventually turned into the jMonkeyEngine 3.0 wiki, and finally became a printed book.

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