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Build skills before you need them

Oh ok, then I'll win the lottery, trip over a cure for cancer and land inside a supermodel.

That has to be one of the most vapid pieces of advice I've ever heard. It reeks of quintessential motivational-self-help-guru-dom. It sounds like great advice, but when you break it down, it brings absolutely nothing concrete to the table. He might as well add 'Water is wet, so take off your clothes before you jump into the beach'.

Everyone, including 'Ryan', already knows this.

I would usually ignore something like this, but doling out buzzword laden one-liners like 'Networking is not a dirty word' seems to have become a trend these days. Restating the obvious in memorable sentences doesn't help anything. What does help is taking his resume, deciding if he can hook him up, and directing him towards a contact he knows, since he's in the same field as Ryan. You know, actual concrete help.

Or maybe it's the smug 'see how well I condense my ideas into 2 lines? that's just too cool to ignore' attitude dripping all over this self-promotional article.

P.S. You know what's even shorter - 'Sorry. I have no clue how to help you.' It's just one line!

I don't agree. I've met plenty of people, especially in tech, who won't spend time broadening their horizon. At my previous job, a couple of my colleagues attitude was, "I was hired with no experience during the .com boom, I've taught myself VB, then forced to transition to C#, and I get by fine so I don't need to know anything new."

At my current job, we're doing "boring" J2EE stuff, but not a day goes by without someone in the office discovering something new and exciting, and talking about it. We've tried three times to crowbar some Scala into the project, just to see if it sticks (it didn't, unfortunately), we're all excited about Ruby and Python and we know how they stack up against Java.

That's building skills before you need them. If my colleague from the former job is fired, he will need to land exactly the same position somewhere else, while we're much better aligned to switch to something else.

I never said people shouldn't build their skillset. Of course we should broaden our skillset. What I said was it's one of those incredibly obvious truisms that we're taught from the age of 4. So merely stating it doesn't help 'Ryan' in any way whatsoever, since Ryan already knows it.

Instead, I would have preferred to see Ramit look over Ryan's resume, whip out his rolodex and see if he can hook him up somehow, given that Ramit is in the tech field. And if he can't, direct him towards someone who can. Basically, give him some actual help.

"I don't agree. I've met plenty of people, especially in tech, who won't spend time broadening their horizon"

But 'learning things before you need them' is a different thing. It should be something like "always keep learning towards your goals". And that's what people do. Unfortunately different people have different goals and motivators. That's why many will stay away from books and from exciting new stuff, as long as they still get to keep their job.

Since you talked about Scala, when I worked on my last Java project for a former employer (a period that lasted like a year) the architecture and the tools (imposed to us by upper management) were so bad, that I was desperate to find new things to alleviate the pain (that's when I read Code Generation in Action). When I got into a data-mining project I read something like 4 books in the research phase.

Nobody likes learning for the purpose of learning. It's a painful process if the learned skills aren't applied (not to mention that memory tends to garbage collect useless information).

"Nobody likes learning for the purpose of learning."

I do.

I have found few things more pleasurable than learning only for my personal enlightenment

I doubt it. Our brains aren't designed that way (I even saw studies about it, but right now I can't search for any, 'working). There are always other motives for doing it.

For example I'm learning new things out of belief that doing it will improve my life in some way. I liked computer science because of the thrills of building things, and I keep on learning to break my own limits, always wanting to build better applications / algorithms. Seeing the results of my work makes me really happy (that's not too uncommon among us developers I believe). I also liked math in college because I've always enjoyed solving puzzles, and for the satisfactions of doing it before the others did.

"I also liked math in college because I've always enjoyed solving puzzles"

Is this not learning for learning's sake?

I dunno. I watch and enjoy documentaries on subjects I've got no particular interest in, and will likely never come across again. What's my motive there, if not learning for the sake of learning?

PS: Our brains aren't designed, 'that way' or any other.

Ahmen, I'm currently employed in a company that is attempting a metamorphosis from failed e-retail reseller into a "social shopping" startup. The code that's been acquired is absolutely awful, however, and I'm consistently confused. Coming is as a Graduate CS + Phil I'd had no experience in Web-dev and this was reflected in a reduced income offer, which I accepted grateful in the knowledge that it's a leg on the ladder and I'd have the chance to get involved in a web enterprise project and learn a great deal. Sadly this has not been the case.

After just over 6 months I have been passed from pillar to post and received literally NO training whatsoever. Our code implementation is a spider's web Java/Stuts2/Springs/Hibernate setup that boggles the mind of both senior developers (who's combined brain power spent 3 hours trying to figure out the specifics of checkbox implementation on our architecture.... seriously - 3 hours!)

I'm really beginning to see that my limitations as a developer are more imposed by upper-middle management and the lack of interest my fellow developers seem to have in my skill set (they actually ignore me when I ask for help most the time (and it isn't because it's a rtfm issue - it's usually because they are still trying to unravel this awful code!))... I'm looking forward to a time when I can recapture that invigorating enthusiasm for collaboration and learning that came so easily at Uni.

and in regard to "that guy" in the office (some other comment post on this thread) - my favourite excuse for not being able to help is "oh, I don't know - I'd have to look at the code"

..... even though he's sat next to me! but still we're on an svn!!!.... how is that an excuse for not helping a fellow dev!? would you be able to help /without/ looking at the code!?


(I'm the author of the article.)

I actually know exactly what you mean -- if I had just stumbled upon this post, I would probably think the same thing.

I wrote this for my community, who know exactly what I mean: Don't try to charge $ too early, focus on the long term, invest in yourself and be entrepreneurial, etc. Many of them have read my articles from years ago that go into detail on this.

But for people that just clicked through and are seeing this for the first time, I can understand the skepticism.

Hopefully this doesn't make you think of my site as just another guru-blah-blah-blah site, because my readers have really done some amazing things -- saving millions, starting companies, automating their money, etc -- over the years.

If you had replied to Ryan with the thoughtfulness you display here, your post would have come across far better. You are giving very banal advice in a rude way to a guy who is temporarily down on his luck for very understandable reasons. Sorry but I called you a douchebag in your comments section (You can take it off)

Hey Ramit,

I didn't mean to offend you. My apologies if you were. It was the smug attitude that really got me to comment.

Still, I stand by my point - there are so many ways for people to offer concrete help for people in need and all I'm seeing is one-liner advices being bandied about. Especially considering the fact that Ryan seems to be a reader of your blog and already knows your advice regarding 'being rich'. He was obviously looking for more.

Just out of interest, could you point me in the direction of a guru who does think of their site as just another guru-blah-blah-blah site?

To be fair to Ramit, he is a pretty well received author of a book that's relevant to his blogging field:


(As a disclaimer, I own a copy of said book, and I think it's good.)

I can make you a vast list of books that are pretty well-received, but still unadulterated bullshit from cover to cover. I'd have proved nothing relevant either.

(Just to be clear: I'm not implying Ramit's book is or isn't bullshit - just that it's entirely beside the point)

Totally agree. Here are excerpts of my book -- feel free to take a look and decide for yourself:


I have no clue how to resolve this argument.

Words put in the right style can have the most meaning to individuals. Ramit uses language everyone can understand.

I do infact also wonder if Ramit actually "concretely" helped this guy. But I'd rather wonder.

I agree with you on that. However, I did think the advice about not acting like every other job candidate is particularly good and something many people fail to realize

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