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Ask HN: Have you taken 6 months to 1 year break to do self study?
99 points by sun123 on Feb 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments
There are so many nice lectures on AI, Machine learning etc., by Stanford, MIT etc., Have anyone took a break from work ,went home just to study these ? I am thinking about taking a break.How does it feel to be not earning that time ?

Good question. I've done this a couple of times. Self-study can be incredibly useful. Being able to do it within the "distraction" of a full time job can also be extremely rewarding.

I have a very conservative financial point of view in that if I got fired tomorrow I would want to be fine for the next year without working.

This has in the past allowed me to work on my own stuff a couple of times without much worry (although in Australia, lack of health insurance isn't the issue it is in the US).

It's very easy to get distracted and not finish things (at least for me) without the external pressure of someone pushing you to finish. YMMV.

As far as "not earning" goes, these periods of self-improvement are pretty much directly responsible for me getting the great job I have now (at Google) so I'd say it was a worthwhile investment.

Pick something you want to learn. Don't be directionless and say "self-improvement" is your goal. As long as you can reasonably afford to do it.

"(although in Australia, lack of health insurance isn't the issue it is in the US)"

OT: When are we here in the US going to start listening to these comments, and fix it?

Job mobility is a great feature of an economy. When, because of health or mortgage or whatever, you can't move your brain from one job that isn't the best one for your brain or that job, to a job that is much better for your brain and that new job, that's a loss to the economy. Multiply that by however many and it's a handicap to the economy.

In the US if you quit your job you can buy the same health insurance plan you had, for up to 18 months ("COBRA"). It's not going to be the cheapest thing in the world, but if you're talking about taking a year off, you're probably not on the verge of going broke. (It looks like it'd be far less than what I pay for rent, for example.)

Another option could be to take a part-time job. A fair number of stores seem to offer health insurance for any employee working 20 hours a week. Of course, that may or may not be compatible with one's idea of a "break".

When I quit my job last year to join a start-up the cost to continue my COBRA benefits would have been $700/month (and I'm a healthy guy in my 20s). Fortunately, I'm in MA with its private health insurance market, and I was able to find a plan for $200/month. I still had to go without health insurance at all for a month, though, to make myself become inelegible for COBRA and therefore eligible for the other plan.

"Not the cheapest thing in the world" is quite an understatement.

From what I'd found (also for a young single person), it would have been more like $500/month, but even at $700, that's still cheaper than rent at any apartment I've seen since I was a college student.

And remember the context: this is someone who wants to take a year off with no work at all, and so is voluntarily giving up tens of thousands of dollars, in exchange for his own time. Yes, there are almost certainly cheaper health insurance options, depending on how much effort you want to put into the research, but COBRA is the upper bound, and takes practically no time to sign up for, which, again, was the whole point of the exercise.

Have you checked these claims in the "real world"?

Costs have been rising substantially each and every year. The number of employers willing to give even full time employees insurance has been shrinking and the cost of your employer's health insurance plan willing be quite high considering you don't have your employers tax incentives.

Wow, such vitriol! Yes, I have.

It's not hard to find names of employers who offer healthcare even for half-time workers, using any "search engine". I'm sure there are also companies who are dropping their health insurance plans, but that doesn't mean that all companies are.

I agree, pick something you want to learn. I took about 6 months off. The first 2 I relaxed and didn't do much. Then, I bought a nice DSLR and got into photography. I would spend my days reading photography books, blogs, etc and my nights going out taking night photos of New York (http://www.flickr.com/photos/blakeperdue/sets/72157625542951...)

It was awesome to be able to have time to dive into a hobby and really soak it all in. I developed some great skills that will be useful to me for the rest of my life. It was also during this time that I realized what I wanted to do next.

lack of health insurance isn't the issue it is in the US

Here's what I've found about health insurance in the US:

1) It's not terribly difficult or expensive to get, at least, emergency coverage. In my 30s and single, I've found interesting plans for around $150 per month which cover simple doctor's visits a few times per year, with around a $10k deductible for 'real' stuff. This is very doable with reasonable financial padding. ehealthinsurance.com is the site I've used every time I've been unemployed over the last decade.

2) The whole thing about guaranteed acceptance with continuous coverage only applies when you are coming off of "group coverage" (i.e. through an employer or some industry associations, I think). Bizarrely, having maintained continuous coverage on my own now for three years means absolutely nothing if I want to change from a personal plan to a new personal plan. I was rejected out of hand for a neck injury I had over three years ago, and I'm effectively uninsurable in this state (Oregon) for another seven years!

In the UK, it costs $0, employed or not, previous neck injury or not, prior condition or not!

No insurance required and it's always good care from experience.

Healthcare is the last thing you want to have to worry about if you are unemployed.

Do you also have dental and eye (glasses) insurance covered by the government?

In Canada we don't, unless its really a health issue; your health is in peril if you don't treat your cavities or this kind of gravity.

You get free dental treatment and glasses if you are a student/unemployed.

NHS dental charges for the employed are as follows: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1781.aspx?CategoryID=74&SubC... - each charge covers everything for 2 months subsequently as well.

It is not much really! In 2002, I had to have surgery to have 2 teeth removed which were growing through the roof of my mouth and 4 others removed due to my jaw being too small. It required a general anaesthetic and a day in general surgery at my local hospital, two aftercare visits and one consultant appointment. It only cost me £15 (the lower rate at the time) as it was a referral to a hospital orthadontist. That was it!

You can get GOOD glasses for £30 or WONDERFUL ones for £70 on the high street now in the UK without NHS intervention. You usually get 2 pairs for that. That includes the sight test and consultation. You can also get FREE sight tests and vouchers from your employer.

The UK is wonderful place to live for healthcare!

You're right. I'm gravely pessimistic about the UK in many areas but healthcare is an area I'm really happy with. Due to shortages at the time, I'm "private" for dentistry, and even private prices aren't onerous compared to those in the Americas.

I've paid £30 for a checkup, £400 for a root canal and crown, and £40 for an extraction before. Fillings are between £50-£150 depending on complexity. And then I hear of insured Americans who've paid $300+ for an extraction AFTER their insurance company paid the majority of the bill! :-)

We certainly have it good here. Unless you have cancer and want to get a radical new treatment, of course..

TBH I'm in London and I've never had to wait for dental treatment. I thought it'd be rather busy here.

With respect to "radical new treatments", I'd rather go out with my dignity intact than hold onto some hope of some snake oil possibly working.

Under 18s do, and students can claim back the costs (At least for the dental, I'm not 100% on the glasses).

Adults don't get those 2 for free though, same as you.

I think the idea of taking the break to learn is a great one, but only if you have the purpose for it already decided. There is an endless amount of fascinating content on all sorts of topics available, but if I were to take a break to really brush up on a particular area, I'd want to know that when I was done, I'd be in a better position (For a particular job I want, startup idea to tackle etc.)

If it's more general though, I think it's harder to justify (of course, learning while building a personal project is a different scenario altogether!)

There's some big problems with individual high-limit coverage:

(1) $10K is a big deductible if anything actually happens; if there's anything serious, you should assume you'll hit the $10k.

(2) Some of the better medical offices (eg my orthopaedic surgeon) are pretty picky about what brand of insurance they take because what the insurance pays for, how much they pay, how quickly, and with how much hassle vary quite widely. My point is, insurance is not all the same. You may find the better doctors unwilling to see you depending on the brand of insurance you have.

(3) If you do something like, for example, breaking your ankle, you'll be shocked at how much stuff is not covered by insurance. So add 50% to your out of pocket estimates. This is for things like: parking at the ortho / physical therapist office ($5-$8 per visit; 30+ visits, $200), taxis to and from work since you can't take public transport ($34 / day, 6 months on crutches, $4k), drugs (typically separate from the insurance deductible for no reason but to screw more money out of you, $300), buying all OTC stuff you can get at any drug store which is therefore not covered (advil, ice packs, compression bandages, etc -- easily $200). Plus if you actually have a bad accident, you'll probably spend a couple thousand dollars on takeout, etc.

(4) deductibles reset on a calendar basis. I fortunately injured myself in march and had 8 months of treatment, with both surgeries covered in the same deductible year. If you were to hurt yourself in October, you could cross deductible years so double your out of pocket costs again.

(5) Also, you should be very careful about coverage restrictions and in/out of network bullshit. As I mentioned, I broke my ankle. When you have an injury like that, you don't want to go to a random orthopaedic surgeon. I was fortunate and Anthem Blue Cross covered UCSF so I could go to an ortho surgeon who only repairs ankles instead of a generic ortho surgeon. The difference is between someone who has treated my particular injury 600+ times vs someone who has done so a handful of times. Lots of research suggests that outcomes correlate with the amount of times your doctor has treated your injury.

My experience was a bit unusual because the recovery time -- 8 months -- was so protracted, but not unprecedented for joint injuries. Recommendation: don't break your ankle =P

tl:dr: in a worst case scenario, where you have a moderate to bad injury that spans a deductible year, your $10K can be $25K in practice. Make sure you have the cash.

All good points. To some extent you can work up to a $10k deductible using an HSA. First year, you elect a $4k deductible -- the premiums are more expensive but you have lower exposure. Drop the max into your HSA. If, at the end of the year, you've been healthy and haven't spent much out of the HSA, then change your insurance up to the next deductible level (e.g. $7500). Drop the max into your HSA. Assuming you stay healthy, your HSA accumulates a large balance and you can gradually lower your premiums. Keep in mind that you aren't required to spend from your HSA if you have expenses: if you can pay out of pocket for minor expenses, do it. This keeps your HSA balance up so you can afford the risk exposure of the higher deductible.

As a bonus, the HSA contributions are tax deductible and if you hit retirement age with a balance in the account, you can (more or less) treat it like your other retirement accounts.

I quit my job and worked only on open source projects for almost two years. This is the article I wrote about my decision at the time:


I never wrote a follow up to it, I guess in part because I'm still not sure exactly what I got out of it. I certainly improved a lot as a programmer - I'd say I worked harder on programming than at any time in my life, and doing almost all of my work in public held me to a higher standard than what I was used to. I spoke at several conferences and managed to get over my fear of public speaking, which was another goal of mine.

Most importantly, I also got to be a lot more present in my 1-year old son's life for that time, which I will never regret.

It did however take a big toll on my family financially, and I can't help coming away with the feeling that there are ways I may have accomplished those same goals without having gone to the extreme of sacrificing almost all income. I'm almost 40 now and given the historic ageism in our profession I worry a little about the kinds of jobs that will remain open to me over the next 20 years.

Anyway I think that if you're at the point in your life where you have enough money to satisfy the kind of lifestyle you want to live, but don't have the responsibility of a spouse and children, then absolutely go for it.

I've taken several 6 month - 1 year breaks, but probably not for what you have in mind when you wrote this question.

Still, I think it was very much worth it.

Initially, I would spend my entire years off travelling, pausing from time to time at a spot with good rock climbing. Eventually, I started adding a bit of freelance development work into the mix, and spent a few years turning that into a consulting business that meant I didn't ever need to come home.

Nowadays, when I'm on the road, you'll often find me working on my own products, which incidentally are a much nicer form of income than consulting. A lot of the things I do during these periods might in fact fit your description of self study, since there's a lot of non-programming knowledge that you need to take a SaaS business from "pile of code" to "product that pays your rent".

Overall though, I'd consider all my years of travel to be about learning. Self study, studying the world. As I said above, I'd highly recommend finding a way to do it.

I've built up a solid fund over the past 4 months for this kind of self-study. The plan is to quit my job around May 1st, and use the resulting free time to spend 20 hours more a week on edification and 20 hours more on personal projects.

I'm explicitly committing for six months, with the option to continue it six more without even giving a thought to job-hunting.

The downside is that, at the end of it, I'll be down a bit more than 12 months of savings than I would be otherwise. So compared to the "stick with my job" plan, in my particular case I'd have 75% what I otherwise would. That's assuming I don't change my consumption habits from current.

In terms of intellectual growth, I've stagnated at my current position. So the skills built by taking this route are pure benefit. There's no trade off. The alternative of getting a job where I'm both challenging myself and getting paid (likely more than I am now) is more appealing, but getting a much more solid grasp of the fundamentals seems to trump that (I've never taken any CS classes).

I figure that the investment should pay itself off financially within 5 years, as a pessimistic estimate.

As far as the actual feeling... that's an open question for me, too. The big issues I see are making sure that I follow through with my intentions. No wasting any time on HN/Reddit. I shouldn't be doing that now, even.

Did it 12 years ago after a tiny windfall from stock options...

During that time I launched one of the first distributed computing projects and almost finished porting a console game to Java. At that point, I made the decision that getting paid is good and went back to work.

More recently, I took a month off after working briefly at Google nearly sapped my will to live. But in this case, I already had the next and better gig lined up.

But I made the call that the first hour of every day from then on would be devoted to reading tech books. In just a few months I went from crusty niche engineer to working knowledge of Javascript, Python, Django, GWT, and HTML 5 and I'm already applying all of it. Ironically, I think if I had gone into google with this in my head, I would have had far more opportunities made available to me instead of the wretched allocation that was my only choice.

(Now if any googlers are about to chime in about the smoke blown up one's patootie at orientation that it takes ~6 months to come up to speed there, I was told point blank by my manager that rule only applies to NCGs and that I was already falling short by not having come up to full speed in 2 to 3 weeks)

In late 2003 I was laid off from my job as a hardware/firmware design engineer. I spent the next two years away from work. During this time I spent nearly a year on self-study, got married, and then went travelling with my wife in Europe and south-east Asia. We worked on and off while travelling to be able to afford to continue our adventures.

If you are a self-motivated learner I would highly recommend a study break. The stuff I learnt during my break helped me secure my current job. I spent most of my time learning about web development, both client-side and server-side technologies. I now teach these technologies at a local college. I also do contract web work on the side.

As others have mentioned, be sure to pick some solid learning outcomes. Map out your study goals. Give yourself timeframes and be sure to reward yourself when you meet these milestones.

I'd recommend either blogging about your experiences or putting together a portfolio of work. This will come in handy when future employers ask about the gap in your resume. Working on one or two open-source projects might also be worth while.

Learning to live frugally and within your means is also key.

I second the idea of creating a portfolio of work as a blog. I have done this and it lead to several opportunities for training workshops and consulting.

> Learning to live frugally and within your means is also key.

Spot on! That is one of the most important things in my mind. I live very frugally but I live very well!

I took much of last year off to focus on learning the technologies needed to build the product for my startup -- graph databases was the big one, and during the time I built Bulbs (https://github.com/espeed/bulbs), a Python framework for graph databases like Neo4j Server.

Eliminating all distractions has been key -- no side jobs, no girlfriends, no going out -- a period of complete focus.

Working out and exercising has been critical though for keeping my energy level up and maintaining mental clarity.

After I dropped out of a theoretical physics Ph.D. program a long time ago, I decided to try to become a computer programmer. I had not taken a single computer science course in college. I was lucky that my parents allowed me to live at home for a year while I spent my entire time teaching myself programming. A friend told me to learn Scheme, so I went through all of SICP using my sister's Mac (I did not own a computer at the time). Then I started to learn C and Unix, hacked a bit with that, learned C++, and applied for jobs after doing some open source work so that I could have something to show. I got hired as a software engineer a year after I started my self-study.

i took 3 months off at the end of 2010 because my partner was on sabattical in the states and i wanted to travel with her (and can't work their due to visa issues). it was great not working (or more exactly, being able to choose what i did), but i don't think i learnt much more than i would have in, say, 6-9 months of doing stuff on an evening and at weekends. the biggest win was that it brought us closer together (another bonus, more particular to my case, was that living in the usa gave me access to new egg, amazon and adlibris, so i read a pile and built a new machine - mini-itx based - that came back as hand luggage) .

financially i didn't have any worries - i had a pile of savings, a job to return to, and my partner earns enough for us to survive on anyway. one thing i would suggest is talking to your employer about it - while they may be unhappy to have you take time off, it is also likely in their interest to take you back afterwards (assuming you're a decent programmer, which i would guess is the case if you care about learning) (although a year ago the economy was heading down, so it made more sense to give me a break then).

> How does it feel to be not earning that time ?

You are earning during this study time, you are earning through a long term investment in yourself.

It would probably helpful to have a very clear goal with what you want to accomplish. And some way to force yourself to actually sit down and put in the hours. For me, it would be too tempting to have coffee dates all the time, or refresh hacker news every minute.

Every morning (or almost every morning) I get up at 5am for self study. Then finish up and go to work from 8-5. I find myself less motivated to work during the night after work. I've still been able to put in a few hours every other day. There has been 3 times where I snuck in some study during my lunch hour but I find that harder to 'get into'.

I have no kids so that might be different from your situation.

You can perform self study while still working full time hours, you just need to be motivated and find the time out of your day. You need to focus on the long term goal, which shouldn't simply be 'Finish AI lectures' but something potentially life altering, 'Finish AI lectures to better my chance at a job for Y/to create Z'.

I think it worth every penny lost. But, I would suggest to do enough groundwork on what you would like to achieve in that period.

No financial earning periods can be quite challenging but if you have a job, like I had, that does not allow any time to explore yourself, I think it is worth taking time off if you are really serious and confident about doing something different. Also, bear in mind that your efforts could (will) take substantially longer to bear fruit. So, it is really important to set your expectations appropriately before taking the step forward.

As far as I can see, all successful stories are basically breaks that involved a lot of hard-work, luck and which finally materialized!

Just my 2p.

Not earning for 6 months, a year or more isn't a big deal. Just plan for it financially ahead of time and leave a nice buffer so you are comfortable.

If your going to come out with a new skill set or even just a better outlook on life it's worth it IMO.

In the UK we have The Open University (which is open for international study too).

You can get a real degree in your spare time without a massive spend, working or not.

I'm doing a mathematics degree at the moment, whilst employed. No holiday/vacation required!

In the UK, if you work for a company with 250 or more employees, you are also entitled to request time off work to train (including degree study): http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Employees/Timeoffandh...

Good to know, I'm starting a math degree with them too. Would you mind getting in touch?

How do future employers look at this time of unemployment?

I took a year off to travel before my current job. Best thing I ever did. Before leaving, I made sure I had several standing job offers. Get your foot in the door when you're in a stronger position. Do it for your own peace of mind if nothing else. You don't want to spend half of your sabbatical worrying about what to do when it's over.

You found companies willing to wait a year for you to start? That's surprising, I wouldn't have guessed that would be easy to do. I'm thinking about this myself, but I'm looking to join a startup and I can't imagine that would be feasible given that a year is a long time for a startup.

Of course. Why wouldn't they be willing to wait? It's that or nothing.

that or nothing or someone else who can start 6 months earlier.

If they are looking to fill a fixed spot, sure. But more often than not, that isn't how hiring works.

Is that still a thing? It's not like you'll be applying to law firms. I've found making yourself less available only makes your demand higher.

It is absolutely still a thing. Since the current top comment (from cletus) mentions working at Google I'll relate a story from when I interviewed there. From what I understand, I made it pretty far in the process (to the "executive committee review") and that's when they asked me to explain a gap in my resume. They pressed me for a detailed breakdown of what I did during the gap and the reasons behind it, and said that they take it seriously. This was after 8 technical interviews and after I'd passed their hiring committee. I didn't get the job, although I suspect that this was not the reason. I'm sure experience varies here, and this would likely be less of an issue at a startup or other small company where a record of getting shit done is more important, but it's worth noting.

I would recommend that if you take time off for whatever reason, prepare for questions like these and be ready to provide a succinct and compelling explanation at the drop of a hat, because being blindsided isn't fun.

Jeez, good to know. As mfalcon mentioned, freelancing would be a good fallback, but you'd still have to talk about what kind of work you were doing etc.

> It is absolutely still a thing.

A bit of a pity.

Unfortunately, yes. Employers, and the non-technical gateways in particular, still have the mindset of "reject for anything, weeding people out means I'm doing my job!"

Make yourself look so valuable that they wouldn't dream of rejecting you for some invented reason. If front-line resume screeners are the issue, get an existing employee to submit your resume and vouch for you and get buy-in from their boss. That way HR can't reject you on a flimsy basis.

If you're a programmer and you're taking time off to learn and build things, then I can't see how it could hurt you with future employers.

"Why did you take the time off?" "I was building this thing that has since been forked 200 times on Github and is running in at least a dozen shipped projects" "Ok then"

This is a reason to worry.

Sorry if I'm just ignoring something(I'm not from the USA) but isn't it possible to say you were freelancing or something similar to cover the gap?.

I think most employers would look at it positively. Those who don't are probably the employers you don't want to work for anyways.

Just posted this on Google Plus. Thought I should re-post it here too.

I often think about doing exactly this. There is so much I want to learn:

- many awesome free online courses ( http://www.crypto-class.org , http://www.ai-class.com , http://www.ml-class.org , http://www.modelthinker-class.org , ... )

- dozens of non-fiction books sitting on my shelf I have yet to read (on computer science, programming, design, UX, software project management, system administration, computer security, business, time management...)

- thousands of articles and blog posts, bookmarked in my "to-read-later" folder

I've sometimes been asked if I'd want to go back to school to do a master that would complement my engineering diploma (e.g. MBA). But I think I could learn so much more by simply taking a year off and doing self-directed learning, using all these resources... Of course, I've set aside some learning time outside of work, but it feels like I'll never catch up.

Reminds me of this great article: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/04/21/135508305/the-...

I think self directed learning is far better than going back to school. You can pic and choose and curate the exact learning experiences you want.

Don't mean to self promote, but you are welcome to be part of the free peer learning community on http://diycomputerscience.com/ You might actually like the 'Elements of Computing Systems' course a lot.

Nice to see others who rather take some time to study instead of only working.

I studied business and landed a job as a Project Manager. Meeting developers, I felt the urge to learn to code and become a programmer. While doing Project Management work at day time, I used my evenings to practice and learn coding. I loved working with developers because I could learn from them.

But there is only so much you can do working full time, taking care of your other stuff in life and find as much time to learn and practice coding. I thing it's easier if you can focus full time on something instead of the learning being too much spread out.

So I talked to my boss and asked to work 4 days a week and have three days for learning and coding (with less salary of course). I did this for five months and my skills really improved.

After five months, it was clear for me I was ready to earn money from developing. So I stepped down as a Project Manager, had to give in some more salary and started as a programmer (junior).

It was one of the best decisions in my life.

For me, it's not relevant for the moment to stop working and study, because I learn so much working as a dev. But I can imagine myself stop working for a couple of months if I reach a plateau and want to focus and learn in a specific field.

It is a lot of fun to be able to focus on something and improve fast. So if you can afford it and you want it, I think you should do it. It's not only a lot of fun, but you probably be worth more on the job market.

Totally worth it. Write open source code, it just might turn out to be the foundation of a career.

Just to reiterate what others have said: work on something concrete. Opensource projects, your own side project, a subject-specific blog, etc.

A year of study is worth significantly less if the results are only in your head.

Also - working on something real can give you measurable milestones to work toward completing. (The fact is, the longer time you set aside, the more time you are in danger of wasting.)

Honestly, I've found that getting a job in a field that I'm interested in is a much faster way to learn. You have the advantage of working with people already in the field, an existing codebase and set of data to tap into, and clear projects with deadlines and impact to the bottom line.

Example: Machine Learning. I learned much more in a few weeks at a job at a Machine Learning company than I ever did trying working through Elements of Statistical Learning on my own.

How do you get into Machine Learning company in the first place? You need certain basics to get into one.

If you can prove that you're smart and capable of contributing to the bottom line, it's very possible to get hired with the assumption that you'll quickly pick up anything you need to know.

Eg, at a previous job I'd saved the company $3MM/year using a technology I'd never really worked with before. With that kind of track record this company was happy to hire me even if I didn't have direct ML experience.

I have worked independently for over a decade., so I often factor in time for study in my regular work schedule, but at times I have also taken longer breaks.

One I too about a year off on a startup idea I had. It did not work out, but I learned some important lessons.

I have also taken 3 months off to be part of a startup accelerator as a fellow. I did not have any product, but just spend my time working on a few experiments / prototypes and generally helping other teams wherever I could.

The ideas experimented did become my startup, which I have been working on since the past year or so. It is actually related to peer based learning (http://diycomputerscience.com/), so I am hoping that learning will be an integral part of working for me.

I don't think you'd need to quit or take off for a year, many people have full time jobs and go to school at the same time. You should be able to take these classes at your leisure while maintaining a paycheck. Or you can just quit and focus fully on this for a year.

I did something like this to study math after a startup exit (so money wasn't an issue), around 2005, well before the recent spate of free online courses. I did a combination of self-study (reading books), informally sitting in on classes in the local university, and some small study groups I organized. That was all well and good, but it eventually became clear I'd make much faster progress in a more formal setting, so I went back to school. Formal deadlines are a powerful motivator. Also, reading math is hard and conversations with experts can often speed along understanding. Five years later, I'm in my 3rd year of grad school in a pure math program.

I just graduated from university and have been relishing in the sudden freetime. I can easily spend 8-10 hours per day just consuming and practicing new technology, or just reading unrelated literature that I had little time for. I've been more active in my sideprojects than ever before in my life.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the wherewithal that unversity might not be for me until I was 51% done with my degree. Sometimes I fantasize about taking the past four years of debt and expenses, going back in time, and using all that money to live in Bangkok for a fraction of the rent and work on my own craft/projects for a few years.

I consider self-study to be a key part of entrepreneurship. In particular, extended self-study has worked very well for me whenever I've wanted to change careers, geographies or industries. Indeed a major professional change justifies this effort.

However, given the current pace of technology, it might be a better idea to develop a discipline for continuous learning and try to fit your educational/updating needs into a conventional agenda.

As far as "not earning" goes, granted, it sucks, but consider the option of doing this while freelancing, writing a book or starting a new company... there are many, many ways to skin a cat.

Took the Stanford Database class online (while working) at the end of last year. It was one of the best technical education experiences I have ever had. That said...

Self study does not include credentials and evidence of specific work that traditional education does. If your future work is largely freelancing, this is probably irrelevant. If you are targeting work in the corporate world HR still looks for gaps in employment.

Forget a few months, I took a few years.

Of course survival is neccesary during that time. You could do any of the following:

1) Move home 2) Consult with a higher rate and work very part time (5-10 hours a week tops) 3) Move somewhere cheap with your savings 4) Consider going back to school or see if there's a program you can use for learning / training that will help.

I took a combination of #1 and #2, worked great.

In my opinion 1 year break is far too long. I find that 2 weeks of intensive self education every now and then is perfectly enough to stay up to date with the industry.

Example: Last week I played with backbone.js & Co., this week I'm playing with the cutting edge stuff from HTML5. And next week I'll probably get another job for which I'll be able to use my new knowledge.

Learning the basics of new frameworks/libraries can be done in two weeks. Learning an entirely new field of study or research can be justified in terms of many months.

I disagree - unless you are talking about becoming an expert. But I prefer to become an expert in the course of using things in the real world.

This applies to the theoretical knowledge as well - you can easily learn new data structures or algorithms in two weeks. Then you can master them when you have a problem that requires you to use them.

I'm going to have a break doing exactly this while trying to make something out of my ideas starting in July, and I'm aiming for six months before I'll see if I need a job or have something working on my own.

So if anyone in Frankfurt wants to hang out or have some tips on available coworker offices feel free to send me an email.

Such a break would be more effective with structure. Everybody can benefit from a coach. Even those who are the best in the world (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan) use coaching. Humans have a natural lazy instinct and a coach can make your efforts more effective than if you were left to your own devices.

I am engaged in a one-year course of self-study. My focus is on quantitative, numerical subjects. So far I have not narrowed it any further. I was raised in an atmosphere of "well-rounded generalism." I would welcome any suggestions on how to overcome a congenital inability to specialize.

Not that long but I did take 3 months vacations, or 2 weeks to learn something.

It feels absolutely great to be able to just learn for the sake of learning (but that learning can be: build a product etc too).

Now you have to secure your finances: know your burn rate, define a date in advance to start looking for work etc.

I have - I left a a very stable job and pursued self-study for 9 months. I still pursue it, but not in a rigorous fashion as I had for those 9 months; once my startup levels out a bit more and I can hire more people to do my job, I will probably start going after more self-study.

Yes. I dropped out of high school during my sophomore year, I spent the next 18 months of so teaching myself to program, economics, and a bunch of other stuff. It wasn't taking a break from work, but I figure it's relevant.

I'm currently doing self education beside my full time job. Did not take time off for self study, but I'd like to if I get chance.

I tried to, given the opportunity. I thought it time to level up yet again.

A bit of hard earned experience: Check for health problems. If you hate what you're doing, you might just be sick.

That said, it is really good to think about what you really want to do every few years.

You mean periods of time where you earn little to no money, and learn new skills constantly? That's a startup.

You can self-study your entire life, whenever you make the time for it. I do.

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