Wednesday Jun 16, 2004

Learning Information Technology by Misinformation

When I encounter almost any tutorial designed to launch me into a new space of IT, for example Java Server Faces, I almost always bounce off it; as if there was an impedance mismatch between my brain in its current state and my brain as it should be if it were going to grasp the new concepts. There's an attitude that says "You need to understand it first in order to understand it". I find it almost totally useless almost all of the time, and it's frustrating.

If I keep searching around the web, there usually seems to be a point at which the bubble bursts—that impedance layer between my brain and the new concept rips a little bit—and suddenly I'm on my way.

Now here's the strange part: it's usually a flippant or inaccurate remark that clues me into a core concept. A comment like The whole point of Java is to keep you from shooting yourself in the foot would offend and bother the typical Java purist (the kind who write official tutorials, incidentally), but remarks like this have helped me learn IT ever since I first started in this business. Here are some others:

  • XML is just HTML where you can invent your own tags.
  • JSP is just an alternate way of writing a Servlet.
  • SQL is pretty much just English commands for a database.
  • If Perl is spaghetti code, then Java is ravioli code.

This phenomenon isn't really a revelation, but it always strikes me that so many attempts to teach don't acknowledge the power of these flippant remarks. The impedance barrier needs to be broken in order for people to learn, even if it means offending technology snobs. I propose a website where different concepts in IT are ripped apart and made fun of, for the greater good of giving those who wish to learn a chance to shred the impedance barrier and jump into the fray. After that we can browse back to java.sun.com and read the inscrutable tutorials with a more enlightened eye.

Viva la Ravioli!

About

My name is Greg Reimer and I'm a web technologist for the Sun.COM web design team.

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