Use Wish lists and certifications to extend your knowledge

How I learn knew skills in an efficient and durable way

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IT industry is moving fast, very fast ! And nobody can deny that.

I am not going to teach you something new but being industry-aware is really a Big advantage in IT world ! One way to stay up-to-date on major topics is to study for certification exams. It will also help you expand your knowledge.

I found out, on my way to the exam, that I was learning a lot.

And not just about the topics I needed to pass, but also a lot of other side points I was not aware before. This leads me to try the process in the reverse. I was then trying to learn new things having the certification path in mind to guide me through the journey.

I was trying to learn new things having the certification path in mind to guide me through the journey.

Even if everything I will tell you here worked well for me, it might not work the exact same way for you. I am sharing a way to get new skills in an efficient and durable way. You should definitely adapt my story to your personal experience. Try to find out what are the things that can work for you and apply them to get the best out of your training time.

The Wish List method

Everyone knows what a wish list is !

Santa, weddings, birthday and even IT releases sometimes. Wish lists are the way to keep track of our desires and to fulfil them when the time comes.

Wish lists are great !

And they can even be useful for learning. Weird idea ? Absolutely not !

I am sure everyone got lost at least once in the infinite curiosity loop of internet.

You know, when you read an article, or watch a video and you go check one detail on Google. You click on the first link that have another question in it… and then an hour slipped by.

And you will not memorize for long a big part of what you just read. Wish lists are the key to avoid this and enjoy even more the content you can find through your learning path.

The idea behind Wish lists is simple:

For every topic needing a digression, to check some details or explore an other related topic, you add an entry in your Wish list.

This entry should be well classified into the right part of your Wish list. It should be very easy to check on it later.

For example, it can be a link to a useful blog post.

I was learning about AWS Lambda service and I saw a blog post about Lambda performance.

I immediately add it to my Wish list for later reading !

In this case, reading this at the beginning of my learning would have been kind of a mistake. I didn’t have enough knowledge to get all the technical points. But I felt there was something interesting for later.

I added the Lambda article to my Wish list, in the Lambda>Performance chapter. I knew that the day would come where I would remember this article as ready to be read with my acquired knowledge.

This is a good example but don’t get fooled, I didn’t use this method on the first try ! This is the result of all the mistakes I did, trying to learn a lot in a small amount of time.

After a quick training, I started working on my Solution Architect Associate certification. This is when I began to think about my learning strategy. After a lot of trial and errors, I started to build a habit about learning new things in a regular way. I can tell you: Wish lists are clearly part of this process.

1. Find guidance

As it was my first AWS certification, I looked for some kind of guidance to know where to start. I needed to plan my learning and find a way to check that my knowledge was covering all the exam scope.

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This is step one to get an overview of your learning scope.

Here are some of the main sources you should start with for every new big topic you are trying to learn. I don’t talk about the documentation written by the provider or the community around the topic. It should be of course the first resource to explore !

1.1 Video courses

Beside the AWS guides and documentation, I found some courses on learning platforms:

This is a good starting point. They organise the content in different sections corresponding to the existing domains in the exam.

They usually also include some labs. Those help you to get a better understanding on how to apply the knowledge you are acquiring through the videos.

From my point of view, this is a good way to plan your journey.

It is a bit like having a tourist guide book showing you the path. You can go the other way but it will always try to have your back if you feel a bit lost in the middle of nowhere !

A woman ready for the learning adventure !

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1.2 Articles

Blog posts or articles can be a good source of inspiration when trying to build your agenda. Big companies usually have their own blog(s). Reading them gives you a hint on new products, but also practical use cases or tutorials.

Community is very powerful. You will find a lot of people writing on their previous experience. They sometimes even talk about how they organized their learning to pass the exam.

You will find a lot of resources in blogs, be careful not to be diverted from your main goal.

A good way to handle all those resources is to use the wish list method. Be sure to organize your findings in a way it is easy to dive into it later.

1.3 Books

Books can also be useful, as learning material but also as guidance.

Inspire your agenda by the book table of contents.

We can usually assume that the authors have a good understanding of the topic they are writing about. The organization of their work has been knowingly chosen. Make sure you checked several books as they can give you different point of view.

For some interesting references, books can of course be part of your wish list. They can be time consuming but retains also great knowledge. Try to get the best out of this

2. Make your Wish list

The Wish list is the key element of the strategy to be able to reach efficiently my certification goal as well as to learn long-term and valuable knowledge.

You can use whatever software you want (even paper if you want, but this is not very convenient to keep links). Build the wish list template that works for you and the topic your are trying to master.

It can be a simple text editor (Markdown can be a good way to deal with presentation layer). You might even make your Wish lists public.To do so, track them into a GitHub repository (GitKraken would be a good tool to help you with that). Productivity tools like Trello are also nice a way to organize your Wish lists even if it can ask for a bit more organisation at the beginning.

During my AWS architecting journey for example I had a Wish list mostly split by AWS services or sometime by big domains like performance, high-availability, security…

The Wish list can be really huge if you are adding stuff without never reading it. That’s why the organisation should be easy to read for you. When starting an exploration session, you don’t want to spend five minutes looking for the right topic to dive in !

Oh wait ! I didn’t introduce you to Exploration sessions, right ? …

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3. Split your learning between Sprints and Exploration times

This is a good way to keep your motivation intact through your learning.

Sprints are learning sessions during which you try to cover exam topics. The goal is to progress on the direct path to the exam. It can be by watching a training video, trying some sample questions, memorizing concepts, preparing some training material like notes or cue cards.

Exploration times are here to please your curious self as well as starting to build the knowledge you are looking for. The idea for you is to take the Wish list we made on the previous part and start reducing it. Try visiting the links, digging into the topics, watching videos, reading the articles…

These two kind of learning session are complementary.

Nothing stops you from mixing Sprints with Explorations but make sure you set some time limit for exploration. Indeed, the more curious you are, the more you risk to spend a lot of time digging topics until you land on another one.

“The more curious you are, the more you risk to spend a lot of time digging topics until you land on another one.”

As attractive as this idea sounds, this snowball phenomenon is not the result you want to achieve. You will quickly fall under a lot of equally interesting pieces of information that your brain is not going to be able to prioritize. The consequence is that you are not going to memorize very well what you have just explored.

Start to set specific timing limits. You can just store the underlying topics into your wish list and save it for a later exploration session.

Conclusion

Learning knew things is challenging and time consuming. You knows that if you are a curious human being !

The Wish list method gives you an easy way to organise your learning and to stay focus on your goal during Sprint times.

On the other hand, you will expand your knowledge beyond your smallest goal during Exploration times by building up a strong background knowledge.

Using this method to improve your knowledge through certifications path is a great way to become industry aware of a lot of topics. It gives you a significant advantage when looking for interesting opportunities.

I hope this method can improve the way you think about learning.

Having a great time learning is the most important to enjoy what you are learning!

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