The learning curve

My thirst for knowledge never seems to diminish. There are always things I’m curious about, want to know more about, pique my interest enough to go exploring further. Much of my curiosity is transient – I’ll read a blog and look up something on Wikipedia or remember something someone mentioned in passing and do a net search for more info. In a work context, learning is often referred to to as CPD, a horrible clunky acronym that belies the reality of the simple need to stay ahead in one’s profession and the simple pleasure of learning for its own sake.I still remember clearly the day 20-odd years ago I started working on a computer the first time – the sense I was out of my depth, struggling with something alien to me but determined to master as much of it as I needed (and a little bit extra) in order to be able to keep working.  I’d sensed this was a permanent shift.

And so it continues. I learned some DOS, then early Windows, then switched to a Mac and Quark Xpress, then back to a PC… I’ve been blogging for more than 10 years and while I wouldn’t describe myself as an early adopter, compared to the general population I probably am. Workwise, it always seemed logical to me to embrace change and exploit it. In an industry that is shifting rapidly, it makes sense to use the tools online that are available to expand the opportunities to work.


The need to stay ahead as a freelance was what prompted me to sign up for inFUZE. I almost didn’t apply, thinking it wasn’t aimed at tech-savvy hacks like me, and in a way I was right. When I turned up for the week of workshops, I was not only a fair bit older than the rest of the intake but also more technologically advanced in many ways. This surprised me – I’d have expected the 20-somethings there to be comfortable using blogs, Twitter and other social media platforms. I had a frustrating day or two sitting through sessions on how to blog, which I obviously didn’t need, but it shows just how important programmes like inFUZE are if younger journalists coming up through the ranks are not being taught these skills as part of their job or degree course. I suspect the real benefit for me will be when I go on the staff placement early next year, where I’ll get to share my social media skills in exchange for other experience I’ve not yet had despite a lengthy career in journalism.

I also like to grab other opportunities to learn when I can. I’m not only interested in technology and how I can use it, I sometimes write about it too. I’m fortunate to live in Manchester, a city long renowned for its creativity, which these days it’s just as likely to be technological as musical. The city is awash with tech developers of all hues and the events calendar is full of possibilities to meet up and learn for the fun of it. The hottest initiative in town right now is the MadLab, the Manchester Digital Laboratory, a community project born from the desire to have a permanent hackspace for geeks to come together and share their knowledge. Based in the Northern Quarter, the MadLab is a welcoming meeting place for all kinds of local techy groups to collaborate.  It’s a non-profit enterprise so events can be held for free, making it a valuable resource.

Pic: © MadLab, used by permission

I was delighted to be able to attend the #ARdevcamp at MadLab last weekend. I’m not a coder, a hacker or a developer but I’m interested in augmented reality and mobile apps so the chance to learn about AR was too good to resist. Dave Mee, one of the brains behind MadLab, introduced the day-long session with potted history of augmented reality using video clips and other examples and then the developers were off, busy dismantling strings of code and trying to hack solutions. I felt out of my depth but it was a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere in which to soak up other people’s knowledge and I left hours later considerably wiser than when I’d arrived. MadLab will undoubtedly be hosting more workshops of this nature – it’s a fantastic initiative that not only benefited my own understanding of a certain type of technology but will benefit many others once it really becomes established as an integral part of Manchester’s growing and expert digital community.

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